Leah Sharibu, a 15-year-old Boko Haram captive the jihadist group refused to release along with her classmates because she rejected conversion to Islam, resurfaced in an audio clip published in Nigerian media Monday urging President Muhammadu Buhari to rescue her.
Sharibu is believed to be the last of 110 girls kidnapped from Dapchi, a town in northeastern Yobe state, in February 2018 and still in Boko Haram captivity. Following the release of the other captives in late March, reports surfaced that Boko Haram terrorists refused to hand Sharibu over because she was the only one who rejected Islam and insisted on maintaining her Christian faith.
On Monday, Nigerian newspaper The Cable published a 35-second audio clip of a young girl speaking in Hausa, a local language, identifying herself as Sharibu. The newspaper cites unnamed sources that said the audio was of Sharibu and that Boko Haram jihadists handed over a photo of Sharibu wearing hijab as proof of life to Nigerian authorities in addition to the audio.
The publication’s translation of the clip notes that the girl identifies herself as Sharibu and explicitly requests the aid of President Buhari to end her captivity.
I am Leah Sharibu, the girl that was abducted in GGSS Dapchi. I am calling on the government and people of goodwill to intervene to get me out of my current situation.
I also plead to the members of the public to help my mother, my father, my younger brother and relatives. Kindly help me out of my predicament. I am begging you to treat me with compassion, I am calling on the government, particularly, the President to pity me and get me out of this serious situation. Thank you.
Sharibu’s father, Nathan Sharibu, confirmed to CNN that the clip sounds like his daughter’s voice.
“I thought she might have been killed since we were told by those released that Boko Haram kept her because she is a Christian. I can only imagine the way they would have treated her,” he told the news outlet. “I have been calling the government to save my daughter. It has been seven months since she was taken, I believe they can get her from Boko Haram if they want to help us.”
The audio has renewed pressure on Buhari’s administration to free her and the unknown number of children and young adult captives that Boko Haram keeps in captivity. Buhari won the presidency in 2015 and became the first head of state in Nigerian history to peacefully transition into power after a democratic vote largely on a platform of eradicating Boko Haram. He has personally claimed that Boko Haram is “defeated” and no longer a threat to the country since his election, only to have the Islamic State affiliate raid yet another village or conduct a mass kidnapping in the immediate aftermath of his comments.
The Buhari administration responded to the audio tape through Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity Garba Shehu. Shehu issued a statement on Twitter reading: “We are aware of the audio in circulation concerning the unfortunate situation of our daughter, Leah Sharibu. In dealing with terrorists, nothing is too trivial.”
“For President Buhari, nothing will be spared in bringing all our girls home. He will not rest until all of them are free,” Shehu continued, according to the Nigerian newspaper Vanguard.
Buhari’s administration is also responding to controversy following the publication of a report by the United Nations that accused Buhari of paying ransoms to Boko Haram to release the children. Following the publication of the report, a former senior official in the administration, former Aviation Minister Femi Fani-Kayode, confirmed that Buhari had paid ransoms.
Fani-Kayode claimed that Buhari paid ransom for all the Dapchi girls – “and what a scam it was!”
“The only girl that the ransom did not cover was courageous Leah Sharibu, the only Christian amongst them. Buhari refused to pay for her!” Fani-Kayode wrote on Twitter.
The federal government has denied the charges.
Humanitarian aid organizations and the government alike have largely failed to compile a precise number of captives held by Boko Haram, a difficult task made more complex by the fact that many girl and woman captives are “married” to jihadists in the group and bear children, who are then added to the hostage count but have no legal documentation having been born in Boko Haram control. The terrorist group also tends to conduct these abductions in villages deep in the nation’s interior, far from modern infrastructure and police.