It’s five years since Leah Sharibu was kidnapped. Sadly, she is one of thousands who remain in captivity.
Leah Sharibu celebrated her 20th birthday on May 14. But unlike many 20-year-olds, Leah doesn’t celebrate with her family and friends. Leah was kidnapped by Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) in 2018, and has now celebrated 5 birthdays in captivity.
Leah Sharibu’s face has become a symbol of Christian courage in the darkest of circumstances.
On 19 February 2018, 14-year-old Leah Sharibu was among 110 students kidnapped from their school in Yobe State, Nigeria, by Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP). Tragically, one girl died in captivity.
The others were released within a month, but Leah was kept because she refused to deny Jesus.
Promise but little progress
Leah turns 20 this year. Despite government assurances that she will be freed, the agonising wait goes on for her and her parents, Rebecca and Nathan.
In January 2022, General Lucky Irabor, Nigeria’s Chief of Defence Staff, reassured Leah’s parents in an interview on Nigerian television that ‘concrete plans are being put in place to secure the release of not only Leah, but all those being held captive by terrorists’.
“With the privileged position that I hold, I am aware of plans and, of course, processes that are in place to ensure that not just Leah Sharibu but every other person held captive is released,” he added.
“There have been several such promises before,” explains Jo Newhouse*, Open Doors spokesperson for work in Africa. “One would therefore not blame Leah’s parents for curbing their excitement over such statements.”
In 2018, during a visit to the USA, President Buhari pledged to secure Leah’s freedom. Further assurances from the government emerged in 2019, around which time they also issued a denial that Leah had been killed. In December 2020, Maj. Gen. John Enenche, the Nigerian Defence Headquarters’ Director of Information, said he was unaware of any negotiation for the release of Leah, but said discussions could be being held at a higher level.
Thousands of ‘Leahs’
Given the global coverage around Leah Sharibu, it may seem that her story is unique. Sadly, the reality is that there are thousands of ‘Leahs’ whose names we may never know.
Kidnapping has been an issue in Nigeria for many years, and is increasing. It makes for a horribly bleak picture as far as Christian women and young girls are concerned, particularly in northern Nigeria but also increasingly in the south. Christian communities have been terrorised by Boko Haram, Fulani militants and ISWAP, as well as armed bandits, which has included women and girls being raped, forced into sexual slavery, killed for ransom, and even killed.
Christian men and boys are also targeted by such groups. Husbands, fathers, and sons are killed with the aim of destroying livelihoods and depopulating Christian communities. Young boys are at risk of being recruited as child soldiers, while church leaders and church members are vulnerable to abduction for ransom.
We’ve previously reported that more Christians are killed for their faith in Nigeria than anywhere else in the world. The same applies to faith-based kidnapping, with the country accounting for two-thirds of cases worldwide. In total, the number of Christians abducted in Nigeria last year was 2,510 – an increase of more than 150% on the previous year.
Nigeria is #6 on the Open Doors World Watch List 2023.
*Name changed for security reasons
Pray with us:
- That God will give Leah and her parents fresh hope, courage and strength
- For a breakthrough in negotiations between the government and Leah’s captors
- That God’s loving presence will surround and protect all ‘Leahs’, and that all of them will soon be reunited with their loved ones.