Nigeria: ‘We know that Leah is alive, and we pray for her release’

LEAH SHARIBU IS A YOUNG NIGERIAN WOMAN who was captured by Islamist terrorists in February 2018. In this interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Rev. Gideon Para-Mallam, a Protestant missionary, peace and social justice advocate and president of the Para-Mallam Peace Foundation, calls for prayers for her release while he and others work “quietly” to try and get Leah back to her family.

What’s the latest news regarding Leah Sharibu?
Leah is being unjustly held by Boko Haram, but the good news is that she 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. It is very sad that as Nigeria celebrated her 61st Independence anniversary Oct. 1, Leah Sharibu is still in captivity along with many other innocent Nigerians. both Muslims and Christians.

Could talking about Leah’s situation harm the chances of her being released?
Sometimes, from a security standpoint, this view has been suggested. However, I personally do not agree. 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 (Ecclesiastes 3:7).  I would say one needs to speak with discernment. For example, 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. 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.

What room for maneuver is there for Christian churches to negotiate her release?
Such possibilities do exist. The most viable chance was in late 2018, but we lost it. Negotiating with terrorist is highly unpredictable. A quiet back-channel attempt was made in early 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic slowed the whole process down. Another attempt is being made but I won’t say more than this. 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!”

Tell us about Alice Loksha Ngaddah, the Christian nurse who worked with UNICEF?
Alice Ngaddah is a mother of two young children. Leah was kidnapped from her school in Dapchi, Yobe State on February 19, 2018, and Alice, a young nurse with UNICEF, was kidnapped on March 1, 2018 during her humanitarian work. Only nine days separate them. As of today, October 2, 2021, Leah has spent 1322 Days in captivity while Alice Ngaddah has spent 1312 days in captivity. By God’s grace our peace foundation will continue to actively advocate for Leah Sharibu, Alice Ngaddah and others.

Is Alice still in captivity with Leah?
Alice is still in captivity. At one point they were both held in the same camp, in 2019 and early 2020, but they are in separate camps right now, according to information received. Encouraging their family members hasn’t been easy—they are traumatized.

Could the recent death of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau have an impact on Leah’s future?
I would say not much. Leah, along with the other 110 Dapchi schoolgirls—all of whom were later released, except Leah—were kidnapped by the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). ISWAP does not like killing or keeping Muslims in captivity, they tend 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. 

You mentioned before “other” victims. Could you tell us their names, to give an identity, a face to their suffering?
Yes, they are so many. 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.  

How would you describe the situation of Christians in Nigeria?
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. 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.

—Maria Lozano & Anne-Marie Michel, Aid to the Church in Need