In a Monday Facebook video, Kyle Abts prayed that world leaders would pressure the Nigerian government to secure Leah Sharibu’s freedom. Leading up to the Friday three-year anniversary of Sharibu’s kidnapping from her boarding school, International Committee on Nigeria (ICON) and the Leah Foundation held a week of prayer for her, along with other victims of persecution and an end to terrorism in the country.
“We pray for Leah and other girls that have been taken hostage and captive,” Abts, ICON’s executive director, said. “Father, we pray that their families would be comforted knowing that You are fighting on their behalf.”
On Feb. 19, 2018, insurgents from the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP), a Boko Haram offshoot, abducted 110 girls from their school in Dapchi, Nigeria. The extremists returned all the surviving girls except Sharibu, a 14-year-old Christian who refused to renounce her faith. Three years later, Nigeria continues to face growing religious violence and unrest.
The Nigerian government seems to have made little progress on Sharibu’s case. In the only proof-of-life video, released in August 2018, she pleaded for the government to help her and support her family. In January 2020, an aid worker abducted by the same insurgent group said Sharibu was alive and doing well. Last month, her father Nathan told the BBC he heard rumors Sharibu had converted to Islam and had a child with one of the militants, but said he could not verify the report since authorities have not updated the family on her case.
Gloria Puldu, the executive director of the Nigeria-based Leah Foundation, said the family last heard from authorities on Oct. 19, when Nigeria’s Women’s Affairs Minister Pauline Tallen visited them. But Puldu said the officials just offered the same reassurances as before. The U.S. assistant secretary of state was scheduled to visit just days later. “They knew they were going to ask questions about Leah,” she said.
In December, the United States designated Nigeria as a country of particular concern due to increasing violence from insurgents and armed groups. On Wednesday, unidentified gunmen killed one student and abducted 42 other people, including 27 students, from a boarding school in central Nigeria. Boko Haram and ISWAP conduct attacks across the country’s northeast, while armed assaults and abductions for ransom plague residents of northwestern states. Across central Nigeria, armed Fulani extremists have raided Christians and other communities and kidnapped people. In some southwestern regions, clashes between herders and farmers have left local leaders scrambling for solutions.
During a Tuesday panel hosted by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, International Crisis Group Senior Adviser Nnamdi Obasi urged state and local authorities to coordinate with the federal government to respond more efficiently to insecurity. “The judicial capacity to prosecute is currently lacking in some of the states,” he said. “At the end of the day, there is an air of impunity all over the environment.”
On Friday, ICON wrapped up its week honoring Sharibu with a three-hour virtual event encouraging people to continue to speak up for her release. In one of the pre-recorded videos, Sharibu’s father Nathan thanked everyone and asked “Christians in the whole world, [to] keep on praying for Leah and the family entirely.”