By Paul Samasumo
When Nigeria’s Boko Haram militants returned the abducted Dapchi schoolgirls to their families, last week, they held-on to Leah Sharibu. The Nigerian government negotiated the release. The freed schoolchildren then told her parents that Leah had been held-back because she had refused to renounce her Christian faith and convert to Islam. Five other students died during the five-week-long captivity at the hands of Boko Haram.
Catholic Church in Nigeria wants government to secure Leah’s release
On Wednesday, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria, (CBCN) urged the government to double its efforts and secure Leah’s freedom.
“We use this medium to appeal to the Federal Government (of Nigeria) to go the extra mile in re-negotiating the unconditional release of Leah without further delay,” CBCN Secretary General, Fr. Ralph Madu told Vatican News.
Leah - a symbol of persecution
Fr. Madu added that the abductions, death of the five Dapchi learners and Leah’s current ordeal were a stark reminder of how difficult it has become to be a Christian in Nigeria.
“The 15-year old Leah has indeed become a symbol of the suffering, persecution, challenges and intimidation Christians face daily in Nigeria for expressing their faith especially in public,” Fr. Madu said.
The Christian Church in Nigeria praying for Leah and her family
Leah’s father, Nathaniel Sharibu, a Police officer who is a member of the ‘Evangelical Church Winning All’ has also pleaded with the government to secure the release of his daughter before Easter. Nigerian media quoted Nathaniel Sharibu as saying, “I am very sad, but I am also jubilating because my daughter did not renounce her faith.”
The Evangelical Church Winning All is one of West Africa’s largest Protestant denominations.
Following in the footsteps of Christ
Some media commentators in Nigeria have described Leah’s stand in the face of danger as “unwise.” However, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria describes her as following the footsteps of Jesus the Messiah whose passion, death and resurrection Christians commemorate this week.