Tragic reports are circulating that 16-year-old Leah Sharibu, the Nigerian schoolgirl we’ve been praying for since March 22, 2018, has been killed in captivity. However, there has been no confirmation of the validity of these reports from the Nigerian government. Our field is approaching these reports with caution, as well.
Here’s what we know so far:
On Thursday, reports surfaced that the Boko Haram splinter group ISWAP—a group that also has ties to ISIS and routinely commits Christian persecution—had released a disturbing three-minute video. ISWAP is the Islamic extremist group that kidnapped Leah Sharibu, along with more than 100 other schoolgirls in the town of Dapchi on February 19, 2018.
Reportedly, in the video a kidnapped aid worker with Action Against Hunger, Grace Taku, pleads for her life. [Editor’s note: We are not linking to the video until we can confirm its veracity] Taku was kidnapped on July 18, 2019, by suspected Boko Haram militants, with five male workers. At the end, she references Leah and the kidnapped Christian aid worker and mother Alice Ngaddah:
“I am begging on behalf of all of us,” Taku says in a transcript of the video circulating online. “I don’t want such to happen to us and it also happened again with Leah and Alice, because Nigeria could not do anything about them, they were not released they were also killed.”
Our field team in Nigeria, which has walked closely with the Sharibus since Leah’s abduction, is cautioning against buying into this rumor.
“We, along with other observers, find the claim highly incredulous,” an Open Doors spokesperson says. “Grace is clearly traumatized and under immense pressure as she tries to relay a lot of information.” Other related facts are also being called into question.
Recently, Nigeria’s government issued a statement saying that they “remain in negotiations with the ISWAP faction for Leah’s release.” Following the release of this video with Grace Taku, Nigerian leaders made a statement but did not confirm or deny the claim about Leah’s death. They did, however, reference the two captives.
“The presidency has been given assurances that contact is being made and the captors are being talked to,” a government spokesperson says. “Besides these aid workers, there are some others about whom this engagement is about—Leah Sharibu, a religious leader and all the others.
“These discussions have been ongoing even before this time and what this latest incident has done is to bring urgency to the efforts that the secret service is making. [The] government is making contacts, in the hope that the captors will see reason to not visit hardship or even harm on these innocent individuals.”
Leah Sharibu, before she was kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists in February 2018
A call for immediate and decisive action
In response to this disturbing report and the questions surrounding it, Open Doors is calling for worldwide prayer—and urging Nigeria’s government to immediately launch an investigation to confirm this report.
If the report proves true, Leah’s death illustrates that Nigerian President Buhari and his government have “abandoned international standards of human rights by failing to provide even the most rudimentary protections to religious minorities, and to make honest efforts to hold violators to justice,” says Open Doors CEO David Curry.
“Without the resources to protect, and the will of duly elected civil government to fight the terrorist agendas of these groups, northern Nigeria and other surrounding areas may be lost to these Islamic extremist groups.”
If the report is not accurate, it is nonetheless a wakeup call to government leaders, Curry says, to take immediate action.
“Let us all take this story as reason to double down on our efforts to intervene and decisively move to protect Leah and others like her who have fallen into the clutches of Boko Haram,” Curry notes.
How then shall we pray?
Ever since Leah refused to say Muslim prayers and renounce her faith in Christ on the trucks that would take the other kidnapped girls to freedom and her deeper into captivity, Open Doors has shared Leah’s story.
Rebecca Sharibu, Leah’s mother
Our field team has sat with her mother, Rebecca, as she pleaded, “Please, don’t stop praying for my Leah.” We have given you opportunities to write letters of encouragement to the Sharibus. With each release of a proof-of-life video or photo, we’ve reported the news and shared the images with aching hearts—yet knowing we were mobilizing millions of prayers. When ISWAP swore that both Leah and Alice would be their “slaves for life,” we tearfully offered the update.
For more than 500 days, we have prayed daily with you in hopeful anticipation that we would one day get the opportunity to report Leah’s safe return to her family. In many ways, this is truly what it feels like to be a family—praying together and grieving together as one Church. When one part of the body suffers, as the apostle Paul writes, we all suffer (1 Cor. 12:26).
Please continue to pray with us for the Sharibus and Alice’s family. Share your prayers on our Prayer Wall for Leah Sharibu where hundreds of Christians like you have written their words for Leah and her parents, Rebecca and Natha. By gathering together virtually, we join our hearts and voices as a global community.
Specifically, please continue to pray with us for the families of Leah and Alice:
Pray with Leah’s parents—Rebecca and Natha—and the rest of her family. And remember Alice’s husband and children. Pray these families would sense God’s presence and peace in transcendent ways we can’t imagine.
Pray the Nigerian government will take immediate action to launch an effort to investigate this report and, if true, to take deliberate action to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Pray that if the report proves to be untrue that God will protect Leah. This report will undoubtedly bring more attention to her story and may, in fact, put her at further risk.
Pray the Nigerian government takes prompt and decisive action to protect religious minorities and to make honest efforts to hold violators to justice.