Leah Sharibu: What Really Happened at Dapchi | By: Deji Yesufu

Leah Sharibu and a hundred and nine other girls were kidnapped from their school at Dapchi town, Yobe State, on 19th Febraury, 2018, a Monday. Their abduction quickly became world news – with calls from all over the world asking for the release of the young women. The situation was going to prove a disaster for the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), especially with the nation’s elections around the corner – the following year, 2019. In 2014, there had been a similar kidnapping of young girls from a school at Chibok town in Borno State and that incident, more than any other, caused much embarrassment to the government of Goodluck Jonathan and might have influenced their failure to be re-elected on a second term. So, a month after the kidnap of the Dapchi girls, arrangement were made and the girls were released. The Nigerian government never agrees that they pay ransom to kidnappers, so it is sufficient to say here that the girls were released because the kind of militant Islam that Boko Haram practice releases school girls kidnapped at no cost. Whatever might have happened, the country was relieved that the girls were returned – all of them, except one – Leah Sharibu.

What the Press reported for all of us to read was that Leah was not released because she did not renounce her Christian faith. This is true. What we however did not know were the little details that surrounded Leah’s decision. In a book titled “Leah: Hero for Jesus”, Dr. Gloria Samdi-Puldu and Rev. Peter Fretheim made a collection of first-hand accounts of events surrounding Leah’s capture. They gave us accounts by Leah’s mother, Rebecca; her father, Nathan; and accounts from her friends and classmates. The account by the girls who were captured with Leah was the most intriguing. If you have the opportunity of finding the book, do read it – it is quite revealing. This article will however reveal some details with the express aim of helping us appreciate a momentous moment in our nation life – a moment that is almost being forgotten by all of us.

My growing up years were in Zaria, Kaduna State. My father was a staff of the Ahmadu Bello University, so I had all my schooling there: elementary, secondary and even university education – all in Zaria. There is an account in this book on Leah that every Christian in Northern Nigeria can identify with: it is the fact that there is a general antagonism against Christians in the north. In Zaria, where the university offers a lot of liberal thinking, the antagonism was not that much (although we did have instances of Christians beings persecuted and killed for their faith). So when the book opened with the account that Leah Sharibu and her family lived in Dapchi town as minority Christians, I could understand. Their own situation was even more profound because Dapchi, Yobe State, does not have the Zaria liberal bent to Islam. Here is a classmate’s account of life in Dapchi as stated in the book:

“Dapchi is a predominantly Muslim town where only about 10% of the people are Christians. There are only four small churches in the Dapchi area and each church has a congregation of less than 30 people. The pressure to deny your faith and to live as a Muslim starts at a very young age. Generally, in Yobe State it is hard for Christian children to receive any formal education. As for Christian adults, they are often overlooked for jobs or leadership positions at the local or state levels due to religious discrimination. The persecution is real, and we live it on a daily basis. However, this kind of everyday persecution was nothing like what we were about to face…”

Another thing about living in northern Nigeria is that due to this ever present persecution, the nature of Christianity in Northern Nigeria is a lot different from the one in the south of the country. When you live day after day, knowing that one day you could pay the ultimate price for your faith, your commitment to Jesus Christ is real. There is a sense of not holding to the things of this world that is ingrained into your psyche; and then you join biblical accounts that tell you that the Christian life is one that is laced with persecution – including the reality of paying the ultimate price of being killed for your faith. From one’s early commitment to Jesus, the doctrine of never denying Christ no matter what is ingrained into your psyche. A deep Arminian theology also puts the fear of both renouncing faith in Christ and losing one’s salvation on the same stead. So when, in 2014, the Chibok girls were kidnapped in Borno State, all boarding schools in North Eastern Nigeria were put on red-alert. Everybody knew that it was only a matter of time before another school was ransacked by the terrorists. So, in school, and at the Christian fellowship gathering, the students encouraged themselves in the faith and continually drum the fact into themselves that if ever their school was taken over by Boko Haram, there will not be a situation where any one of them will renounce their in Christ. It was doubly so for Leah Sharibu because she was actually the president of their Fellowship of Christian students. She was the one who taught the doctrine and it was her that must of a certainty live out its reality if ever it happened. Patience, one of Leah’s schoolmate, gives the account of events that happened at their dormitory, a day before the attack on their school:

“On the Sunday evening of the very day before the attack, all the Christian students gathered in Leah’s dormitory for normal devotions. As we chatted after the devotion before bed time, Leah’s best friend in school, Liatu, brought up the issue of Boko Haram. As if Leah knew something was going to happen, she asked all of us a question: ‘if you were taken away by Boko Haram tonight and they ask you to renounce your faith in Jesus, would you do it?’ Some said they would if that will help get them released, and said they will later come back to the faith. But Leah boldly said, ‘that is what I will never do, no matter what happens!’…”

Quite poignant you would say. True to it, the following day, at the evening, the girls were just preparing to have their dinner, when sounds of gun shots ripped through the air of the school. The children knew immediately that this was a Boko Haram attack. The school had taken them through drills before, in case of such attack, so they quite naturally knew what to do. But in the face of real life guns, it is easy for the lessons learnt to fly off one’s head. Many of the girls began scurrying around for safety. Some were able to run to the staff quarters and found refuge in the homes of some teachers. Others fled into the neighboring bushes and since it was dark, there was no point chasing after them. One girl, Comfort, recounted that she was actually with Leah at the time of the attack. She had been ill and Leah had brought her dinner to her in the room. She was just about trying her hand on the food, when the sound of gun shots began. Quickly, she and Leah ran out of the dormitory and were headed towards the school gate. At some point, because she was weak, she could not keep pace with Leah and then she tripped over and fell into a ditch which had grasses that covered her. She would later hear some of the Boko Haram militants milling around where she was, asking each other where are the Christian girls. “We thought they said there are Christian girls in this school…” she overheard them say.

Another girl, Vashti, recounts what happened that led to Leah’s capture. The school drill had taught the girls to head out of the school gate and into bushes, hiding until the military authorities came. Alas, as the girls were heading out of the school, there was a military truck by the school gate. There were also men in uniform, holding weapons and encouraging the girls to enter into the truck for safety. Vashti made an attempt to climb in, but in the ensuing pandemonium, someone pushed her and she fell to the ground. It was while she was trying to get up that she noticed that these men in uniform did not have boots on. They wore mostly slippers or scandals. She remembered that the Nigerian soldier always wore his booths. It was at this point she began to make attempt to alert her schoolmates but no one will listen. She then bolted away from the truck and one of the men pursued after her. She successfully hid herself behind a tree and was not caught. Unfortunately for Leah Sharibu, she was one of the girls that was taken into the truck and driven away. It was only after they had journeyed for close to three hours, did the girls realize that they had been abducted. It was too late at that time.

Another thing this book revealed, which unfortunately some of us did not see reported in the news, was that Leah Sharibu was the only Christian girl captured in that truck. You will remember that I had noted earlier that Dapchi town was predominantly Muslim and thus most of the girls in the school practiced Islam. It is safe to say that negotiations to have these girls released came through rather easily because the captured girls were Muslims. The case was a bit different with the Chibok girls because most of the girls in that case were Christians. Besides, going by the account of Comfort earlier, the insurgents had come to the school with the sole purpose of capturing Christian girls and turning them into Muslim by force and it happened that the only Christian girl in that group was Leah.

Chapter Nine of the book reveals the account given by the captured girls, who were all Muslims. You cannot read that account and not see humanity in display; at some point while reading this chapter, I broke down and sobbed uncontrollably. The girls were driven for about three hours to a river in the heart of Sambisa forest. When they got there, they were then transported by boat to the enclave of the insurgents. This trip on the river took three days. When they arrived at the destination, they were taken into a building that had many rooms and they were fed only white rice – no stew, no vegetable, no oil; nothing. One thing the insurgents insisted on, though, was that the girls were to say their daily prayers faithfully. They will herd them to some point, get them to do their ablution and then they will say their prayers. This was about the time that Leah was becoming increasingly distinguished from her colleagues. Leah will just sit there and watch them. Incidentally the terrorists did not discover this until a day before their release. Here is the account by the Muslim girls:

“When Boko Haram realized that she wasn’t performing any of the rites, they asked her why. Leah boldly told them that she was a Christian. It may have been brave, but it was obviously going to make her their target. Sure enough the men hurried off to notify their leader. The leader came marching in with an angry scowl on his face. He leaned towards Leah and demanded her name. Not only did Leah reply with her name, but she also added that she was a Christian. She may have been scared – she had to be – but she didn’t show it. The leader became furious and threatened to kill her if she didn’t renounce her Christianity by reciting the Islamic creed – Kalmar Shahada. Leah refused. The men then gave her a brutal beating, ordering her to renounce her faith in Jesus and join Islam. Though she knew yielding will make them stop the beating, she refused to turn her back on Christianity. We pleaded with her to tell them what they wanted to hear, and even said we would recite the creed so she could voice it out to them, but she remained adamant…”

Now, that is humanity and that is the difference between Boko Haram’s militant Islam and the regular Islam we see around. The captured Muslim girls may not have practiced Leah’s faith, but they could not stand the sight of a fellow human like themselves being beaten like an animal. Their account said that the beating continued and even became more brutal but Leah will not budge. She simply said “no”. Then the terrorists did something that got to Leah. The following day after the beating, and still locked up in another cell, all the Muslim girls were marched out and put into the vehicle that brought them. Leah could see her mates being returned and at this point, she began to plead with her captures to be released. They will not listen. They also said no.

These all happened in 2018 and Leah Sharibu is still in the den of those animals – Boko Haram. A number of girls that have escaped these evil detentions have returned to speak of the fact that Leah Sharibu is still alive and well. She is still holding on to her faith in Jesus Christ. Some other accounts say that she has been married off to an insurgent commander and even given birth to children. Whatever the case is, the account of this young girl’s faith in Jesus Christ is not only intriguing, it is also convicting and humbling. It is convicting because I am certain that very few of us Christians can stand up in our faith against such evil men as this young girl has done. It is also humbling because Leah’s predicament is an indictment on the kind of religion that many of us practice here in the south of Nigeria. We carry on as if there are no troubles in this country; we are selfish and self-centered, and we build a religion of self-preservation and personal prosperity. We forget quickly that militant Islam is taking over Northern Nigeria mainly because those of us who ought to do the difficult work of missions to north, have given up such laudable work for a prosperity Christianity. We forget that if we do not do the work, it is only a matter of time before militant Islam takes over the whole of the north and begin to threaten incursion into the south.

May God use the story of Leah Sharibu to awaken our humanity and our Christian calling. May he cause us to remember that as Christians, we are pilgrim on this earth. Our calling is to be witnesses for Christ both through our words and our lifestyle. Leah’s classmates, who are Christians, said that they were convinced that only Leah Sharibu had the kind of courage to face those insurgents. They said that with benefit of insights, it was as if she was prepared for a time like this. The reality of Christianity is this: God took up flesh and came into the world to die for the sins of all men. The path to this redemption was the crucifixion of Jesus on a Roman Cross. The Bible says that if the devil had known, he would not have killed the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:8). God has a way of manifesting the greatest work through weak men. I am convinced that the last has not been heard of Leah Sharibu. From the weakness and vulnerability of this dear young woman, will come a manifestation of God’s power and glory. Boko Haram took the wrong person – they just did not know it.

Please remember to pray for Leah Sharibu: that God will manifest his good will through the predicament that has befallen her and her family. We know that God’s greatest work is the redemption of all men. May Leah’s testimony continue to redound to the glory of God and continue to cause for those who do not believe in Jesus Christ to turn to him in repentance and faith. Amen.