WASHINGTON — The mother of Leah Sharibu, a Christian girl kidnapped by Boko Haram last year, visited the United States this week to call on President Donald Trump to pressure the Nigerian federal government to work harder to secure the release of her daughter.
Rebecca Sharibu told attendees gathered for a Tuesday panel discussion on persecution in Nigeria hosted by the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation that she has not heard from the Nigerian government in months about the effort to secure the release of her daughter.
This is despite allegedly being promised by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari that he would do his best to secure the release of the 16-year-old girl.
Leah Sharibu, who turned 16 last month, has been held by a faction of Boko Haram called Islamic State West Africa Province since February 2018. That’s when she was kidnapped along with over 110 other schoolgirls in Dapchi. About five died and all others were released weeks later.
The jihadis reportedly did not release Sharibu with her classmates because of her refusal to renounce her faith in Christ.
“I am Rebecca Sharibu. I stand here pleading with government of U.S. Please help me!” Sharibu said at the opening of the event as she started crying. “Please help me bring my daughter back.”
Sharibu continued crying as she was consoled by her translator, Gloria Puldu.
“We stand here with Rebecca Sharibu, the mother of Leah Sharibu,” Puldu said. “Her daughter is still in captivity. We have tried the best that we could to get the attention of our federal government and the state government and the local governments to make sure that she is released. But up until today, Leah has not been released.”
In October 2018, Sharibu held a press conference calling on the Nigerian government to do their best to ensure that Leah is released. According to Puldu, the press conference was held because there hadn’t been any government official that visited the parents to tell them the information they had on their daughter’s kidnapping.
After the press conference, Sharibu finally spoke on the phone with Buhari months after her daughter’s abduction. Puldu said that Buhari promised to do his best to secure her daughter’s release.
“After two weeks of the president speaking with her, we got the attention of three ministers that he sent to Dapchi,” Puldu explained. “That was the first official government people that came to see them in Dapchi. But after that one, we never heard anything again.”
Reports at the time suggested that the militants were demanding a ransom of about $275 million for Sharibu's release.
“In February 2019, we held another conference crying out that the president has promised that Leah will be released. But up until now, we haven’t heard anything from the government since that time,” Puldu added. “After that, nothing. We didn’t hear anything.”
Puldu said that there was a nationwide advocacy day on May 13, the day of Leah’s 16th birthday. The advocacy spanned across multiple states.
“Especially for us women, we focused on our first lady, Aisha Buhari, that she should speak to her husband so that we will be able to have our daughter released because she is a prisoner of conscience,” Puldu said. “Up til now, we did not get that attention. That is why we are here. [We want] to plead with your government to pressure our government because our government seems unable to secure her release.”
“We are pleading with you to please call on our government or to step in and do something,” she continued. “[We want] to call on all of you. We know that President Trump can do something about it. Your administrators can do something about it. All of you sitting here can do something about it.”
Puldu added that the Nigerian government should be held responsible since they are unable to stop Boko Haram from raging across the northeastern part of the country.
“Women and girls are going through Hell. Please pressure our government,” Puldu concluded. “Help us. We are out here. [Rebecca] is crying, just wanting her daughter to be set free.”
Former Congressman and longtime religious freedom advocate Frank Wolf, the namesake of the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2016, spoke during the event and called on the U.S. government to be more active in monitoring the “genocidal” acts being committed in Nigeria.
“In the Bible, Peter denies Christ three times,” Wolf said. “There is a 14-year-old Christian girl who would not deny Christ. The church in the West has an obligation to speak out. Secondly, this administration — career and non-career — and Congress ought to be engaged.”
For as engaged as the U.S. was in the international coalition fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Wolf stressed Boko Haram has been just as deadly, if not deadlier, than IS.
“Until the idea of genocide began in the Ninevah Plains [of Iraq], our government was relatively silent,” Wolf recalled. “I called an expert before I came here because I wanted to make sure we weren’t exaggerating and throwing the word around. Boko Haram is guilty of genocide. We have a museum not very far from here saying, ‘Never Again.’”
Nigeria ranks as the 12th worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to the Open Doors 2019 World Watch List.
Along with Leah Sharibu, Boko Haram has kidnapped hundreds of schools girls.
In 2014, the group kidnapped about 276 school girls from the mostly Christian town of Chibok, Nigeria.
After years of global advocacy, a little over 100 of the Chibok schoolgirls have been released. But about 112 others are still missing.
"They [the government] are not talking about our girls anymore,” Chibok parent Enock Mark, whose two children are still missing, told Al-Jazeera in April. “They are acting as if they are happy about what happened to us."
Other participants on Tuesday's panel event discussed the genocidal horrors Christian farming communities have faced at the hands of Fulani radicals in the Middle Belt of Nigeria. The Christian Post will report on those remarks in a forthcoming article.