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Christians in Nigeria Asked to “keep fingers crossed” amid Efforts to Rescue Leah Sharibu

Leah Sharibu at age 15. Credit: ACN

A Christian peace and social justice advocate in Nigeria has called upon Christians in the country to remain hopeful that Leah Sharibu, a young Nigerian woman kidnapped in 2018, will regain her freedom soon.

Rev. Gideon Para-Mallam, a missionary and president of the Para-Mallam Peace Foundation, which promotes justice and peaceful co-existence told Catholic Pontifical organization Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) United States, that church organizations still have numerous opportunities to work around Leah’s release, adding that a plan is already in place to rescue the woman who was kidnapped aged 14.

Rev. Para-Mallam was asked what room for maneuver there is for Christian churches to negotiate Leah’s release, to which he responded, “Such possibilities do exist.”

“The most viable chance was in late 2018, but we lost it,” the social justice advocate said, and explained, “Negotiating with terrorists is highly unpredictable. A quiet back-channel attempt was made in early 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic slowed the whole process down.”

In a report published by ACN on October 7, Rev. Para-Mallam mentioned that a plan is underway to rescue the girl who was kidnapped alongside 109 other girls when Boko Haram militants attacked Government Girls’ Science and Technical College (GGSTC), Dapachi in Nigeria’s Yobe State.

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The official of Para-Mallam Peace Foundation did not, however, disclose further details of the plan to rescue the girl who has remained in captivity for declining to convert to Islam, after all those she was kidnapped with were released.

“Another attempt is being made but I won’t say more than this,” Rev. Para-Mallam said, and added, “As Christians, we believe in prayer and trust that God can open impossible doors. Let’s keep our fingers crossed while holding on to God in faith for divine intervention.”

“Leah and others will be freed one day. My prayer has always been: ‘Lord, please make it sooner than later!’” he said. 

The Christian advocate said that he had received the good news that Leah is still alive.

“One of the captives got to see her recently and I also received news last week, from diplomatic circles, that Leah is alive. Apart from this, I am also in touch with another source who is familiar with this issue, and it also confirmed that she is alive,” he said, and expressed regret that Nigeria was in a celebratory mood for the country’s 61st Independence anniversary with Leah still languishing in captivity.

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Rev. Para-Mallam also refuted claims that talking about Leah’s situation could harm the chances of her being released.

“Sometimes, from a security standpoint, this view has been suggested. However, I personally do not agree,” he said, and explained, “There is always a creative tension, whether to talk or not. Perhaps we need some balance.”

“The Bible says that there is a time for everything under the sun, a time to talk and a time to be silent… I would say one needs to speak with discernment,” the social activist said, adding that he had received some information about people in captivity and chosen to keep the information to himself.

“I have sometimes received information about Leah, and others in captivity, that I have not shared publicly, sometimes not even with their family members, for the protection of Leah and those in captivity,” he said, and added, “There is classified information which could be detrimental to the cause if made public. However, to keep silent and say nothing by way of advocacy for Leah and others is ill advised.”

The official also provided the situation of Alice Loksha Ngaddah, the Christian nurse who worked with UNICEF and who was abducted a few days after Leah’s kidnapping.

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“Alice Ngaddah is a mother of two young children. Leah was kidnapped from her school in Dapchi, Yobe State on 19 February 2018, and Alice, a young nurse with UNICEF, was kidnapped on 1 March 2018 during her humanitarian work. Only nine days separate them,” Rev. Para-Mallam narrated and added that while Leah had spent 1,322 days in captivity, Alice Ngaddah had spent 1,312 days with his captors.

“By God’s grace our peace foundation will continue to actively advocate for Leah Sharibu, Alice Ngaddah and others,” he said.

Rev. Para-Mallam notes that at one point, Leah Sharibu and Alice Ngaddah were both held in the same camp, in 2019 and early 2020, but they are in separate camps right now.

He said that encouraging family members of the two women who are in captive has not been easy and that they are traumatized.

Asked to “put a face” to the suffering in Nigeria, the Christian advocate gave a list of some of the women who are still being held by Boko Haram.

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“They are so many,” he replied, and added, “But let us mention some of them: Grace Tukka, Lilian Gyang Daniel, Praise Austin, Grace, Justina, Ruth, Suzannah, Grace, Jummai, Caroline Malakarlia, Grace, Mwanret, Mama Hauwa, Bayo, Joseph, a Muslim woman- Jamala, Fayina and most recently Christiana, kidnapped by Boko Haram on July 8, 2021.”

“Our Peace Foundation is also in touch with several of these hurting families. I can say one thing for sure: they are all traumatized, but they remain hopeful,” Rev. Para-Mallam said.  

He said that he does not believe that the reported death of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in June has had an impact on Leah’s future.

He added that the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), which kidnapped Leah does not like killing or keeping Muslims in captivity, and tends to release them soon after their identity as Muslims is known.

However, in some cases in which Christians are forced to convert to Islam under Boko Haram’s threat, the women are kept as sex slaves while the able-bodied men are conscripted into their army, indoctrinated, trained, and sent to fight for the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate, the Christian advocate said. 

Asked to describe the situation of Christians in Nigeria, Rev. Para-Mallam said, “The situation for Christians in Nigeria could be described as ‘deadly and horrible times.’ Christians in Nigeria have never had it so bad.”

“The killings are real. The effect of the persecution is palpably severe is some parts of the country, especially the Northeast, West, and Middle Belt,” he said, and explained, “Let me be clear, the deadly insurgency in Nigeria has also led to many Muslims being killed by Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen, and bandits. However, the fact that Muslims are also victims does not hide the fact that Christians are being persecuted today in Nigeria.”