Save the Persecuted Christians Keeps Close Watch on Plight of Kidnapped Nigerian Teen, Kept by Boko Haram for Not Renouncing Her Faith in ChristWASHINGTON—On a horrible day two years ago, then-14-year-old Nigerian Christian teen Leah Sharibu was kidnapped by a Boko Haram faction, the Islamic State West African Province, one of the most violent terrorist groups in the world, along with 109 of her female Dapchi schoolmates.
In the days following, five of the girls died in captivity, and 104 were released on March 20, 2018. Leah alone was kept because she refused to renounce her faith in Jesus Christ and convert to Islam, as demanded by her captors.
Save the Persecuted Christians, which advocates on behalf of hundreds of millions of Christians facing heavy persecution worldwide, has followed Leah’s story closely, calling on Christians worldwide to come together to demand her release. For many months, STPC has been working mightily for Leah to be freed—and continues to do so on this sad anniversary of her Feb. 19, 2018, kidnapping.
“Over many agonizing months for her family, it has been reported that Leah was alive, then killed in captivity, thought again to be alive and, most recently, that she is the mother of a newborn son,” said STPC Executive Director Dede Laugesen.
“Just last week, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari claimed the Nigerian government is committed to ensuring that every child taken by insurgents will be released. Two years after Leah was taken, the world wants to see action rather than talk.”
At a Feb. 10 side event to the 33rd African Union (AU) Summit in Ethiopia, Buhari told those in attendance at a breakfast dialogue with the theme of “Stop the War on Children Affected by Armed Conflicts, Dividend of Silencing the Guns” that his government “will not relent until every child, boy or girl, every Nigerian adult in custody of Boko Haram, is freed.”
“Let me categorically reassure you of the steadfast commitment of the Government of Nigeria to ensure the freedom of all kidnapped children from the shackles of Boko Haram,” he said.
In an effort to protect believers like Leah, STPC has urged a U.S. special envoy to Nigeria and the Lake Chad region because of extreme and heightened violence against Christians there, and in fact delivered an open letter to President Donald Trump about this urgent need in January. At least 1,000 Christians were killed in 2019, with more than 5,000 killed since 2015, according to a U.K. report.
Another recent article quoted Leah’s father, who said his daughter’s ordeal will not cause him to stop attending church or serving God. He also said the Nigerian government knows Leah’s whereabouts.
In June 2019, STPC, along with the International Committee on Nigeria (ICON), aided in bringing Leah’s mother, Rebecca Sharibu, to Washington, D.C., to discuss her daughter and the ongoing persecution of Christians in Nigeria. Dr. Gloria Paldu, the head of the Leah Foundation, was also in attendance, and the two met with members of Vice President Mike Pence’s senior staff.
The Leah Foundation, founded by Leah’s parents, advocates for Nigerian girls seeking to gain an education without fear or harm. Last year, UNICEF reported more than 13 million children in northern Nigeria are not in school—the highest in the world. Many refuse to go to school out of fear. Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who visited Washington, D.C., last October to sound the alarm on incessant and increasing insecurity, told Laugesen the number of children out of school in Nigeria is likely higher than that reported by UNICEF.
Voice of America reports: “Education psychologist Mayowa Adegbile explains that increasing numbers of out of school children in Nigeria adversely affects economic growth. ‘Sixty percent of that population are girls only, and you know when you bring it back home, every girl becomes a mother or a woman who would in turn take care of other children. And for a woman who goes to school it has a ripple effect, an economical ripple effect. When she goes to school, she has education, she gets a job, even if she doesn’t have a job… even if it’s just basic secondary school education, she can communicate basic English and mathematics,’ Adegbile said.”
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation at 196 million in 2018, is among the world’s poorest nations. It is also growing very fast. The population, growing at 3.2% a year, is expected to double by 2050 and overtake the United States as the third most populous nation. In 2005, UNICEF reported that about 45% of the population was under age 15, and 40% of children aged 6 to 11 were not in school. The World Bank reports that, “While Nigeria has made some progress in socio-economic terms in recent years, its human capital development remains weak due to under-investment, and the country ranked 152 of 157 countries in the World Bank’s 2018 Human Capital Index.” Adding to these ominous numbers, the unemployment rate in Nigeria has skyrocketed to over 23%.
“Nigeria’s youth face massive hurdles regarding education, employment and dire poverty,” Laugesen added. “As we’ve seen in other countries, this means they are ripe for radicalization and vulnerable to violence and abuse. The nation itself is blessed with enormous natural resources, most especially oil, making it a target for terrorist groups and state-actors looking to profit from corruption and chaos. The United States must get ahead of this burgeoning crisis of international concern with grave national security implications. If Nigeria unravels, the fallout will be felt worldwide. The appointment of a trusted, experienced diplomat as a U.S. special envoy to Nigeria and the Lake Chad region is a good place to start.”
The mission of Save the Persecuted Christians is to save lives and save souls by disseminating actionable information about the magnitude of the persecution taking place globally and by mobilizing concerned Americans for the purpose of disincentivizing further attacks on those who follow Jesus.
One way is through STPC’s newest traveling exhibit titled “Warfare on Women,” which reveals the specific terror-tactic used to demean and degrade female believers to instill fear into the heart of Christian communities. “Warfare on Women” highlights multiple stories of Christian women, many from Nigeria, who are harmed by religious violence.
The exhibit’s “Kidnapped” banner, which focuses on Nigeria and the abduction of Sharibu, states: “Nigerian girls are being terrorized and enslaved by three of the world’s most dangerous extremists, including Boko Haram, Islamic State in West Africa Province and Muslim Fulani herdsmen. Thousands of people are reportedly held captive in northern Nigeria and the Middle Belt, where kidnapping and banditry fund the terrorists’ genocidal agendas.”
The exhibit’s information banner further states: “In a growing number of countries, Christian women face many forms of discrimination and violence including: restrictions on freedom of dress and movement, employment and legal discrimination, violent assault, widowhood, forced abortions or death of children, false accusations, sexual harassment, forced conversion and marriage, kidnapping, rape, human trafficking and murder. If they survive and return, brutalized women and girls often face shame and exclusion from their families and communities. This must stop.”
Joining the “Warfare on Women” exhibit is “The People of the Cross,” which features images, facts and quotes about the persecution of Christians in multiple countries, including Nigeria. Additional banners feature countries such as Turkey, North Korea, China and others. A majority of the nations highlighted on the banners are high on Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List, including Nigeria at No. 12. After Pakistan, it ranks No. 2 on the list of most violent countries.
With so much of the world’s Christian population being imprisoned and/or harassed for their beliefs, the need has never been greater for the sort of grassroots campaign STPC’s SaveUs Movement is working to foster. Its efforts are modeled after a miraculously successful one that helped free another population suffering from heavy persecution—Soviet Jews—by penalizing those in the Kremlin responsible for such repression. Through this movement, Save the Persecuted Christians endeavors to provide American policymakers with the popular support they need to effect real change worldwide and alleviate systemicallythe suffering being experienced by so many of those following Christ.
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