Three years ago this month, Boko Haram abducted 110 girls from a school in Dapchi, in Nigeria’s Yobe state. One girl remains in captivity. Her parents remain hopeful she will be freed but say the government is doing nothing to ensure her release.
A month after the February 2018 abduction at the Government Girls' Science and Technical College, the government negotiated the release of most of the girls, except for Leah Sharibu, aged 14 at the time of her capture, and the only Christian in the group.
One of the girls who was released said Boko Haram held her back because she refused to convert to Islam.
Leah’s mother, Rebecca Sharibu, says she and her husband are still counting on the promises made by the government of President Mohammadu Buhari regarding her release.
“Out of the 110 girls abducted, it is only my daughter that has not been released,” she said. “Why did [Buhari] not adopt the same means he used in gaining the release of the others to free my girl? They negotiated the release of those kidnapped in Katsina state; why wouldn't they negotiate for my daughter's release? Just one girl.”
Nigeria’s schools are increasingly targeted by Boko Haram and criminal groups.
Gunmen on Feb. 17 kidnapped 42 people at a boarding school, including 27 students, in north-central Niger state. They have yet to be released.
In December, gunmen kidnapped more than 300 schoolboys in northwest Katsina state. Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the kidnapping; officials blamed bandits, and the boys were released in less than a week.
Boko Haram became infamous for school kidnappings in 2014, when the group took 276 schoolgirls in the town of Chibok, in northeastern Borno state. More than 100 of the girls are still missing.
Security expert Lionel von Frederick Rawlins says the government is caught in a bind when it comes to securing the release of Leah Sharibu.
“The only way they can do that is by offering money, because we can't go and storm the Sambisa forest (where Leah is suspected to be held) with a forceful rescue. So, you have to give money in return for her or give up some prisoners in return for Leah. The problem with that though, is that if Leah is released and the government paid for her release, other parents who have children who were kidnapped by Boko Haram and who are also held in the Sambisa, they would ask, what about me?” von Frederick Rawlins said.
There were reports in 2019 that Leah delivered a baby boy in captivity, but her father, Nathan Sharibu, says that is not true.
He is calling on Buhari to ensure Leah’s safe return.
“He has promised several times to the family, he promised the nation, he promised the whole world that his administration will do his possible best to see that my daughter returned home safely. So, I’m pleading to him to be a father, a grandfather, to do his possible best to see my daughter return home safely. Please, I'm begging him,” Leah’s father said.
Buhari in 2019 said officials would ensure the release of everyone being held by Boko Haram and other armed groups.
Boko Haram alone is believed to be holding more than 100 captives, almost all of them "Chibok girls,” the group abducted seven years ago.