Leah Sharibu has been the hostage of terrorists for five years now.
She was just 14 years old when she was taken – the sole Christian among a group of 110 schoolgirls abducted from their school in Dapchi, Nigeria, by members of the Islamic State West Africa Province in February 2018.
Those familiar with her case will recall that just one month later all of Leah’s surviving classmates – five died in transit – were loaded onto trucks and returned to their families following negotiations by the government. But Leah was not among them.
The terrorists told her they would only release her if she renounced her faith and converted to Islam in exchange for her freedom. At just 14 years of age, Leah refused to give in to their pressure.
“We do not sleep with our eyes closed; we take a nap, then wake up and keep watch… we are just depending on the grace of God.”
These are the words of a villager from the Maro Ward of Kajuru Local Government Area (LGA) in the southern part of Nigeria’s Kaduna state. In the absence of effective security or government assistance, this is what targeted communities across the state have been forced into: spending their days and nights on alert patrolling, living in fear of terrorists who destroy their crops, take their lives, and abduct hundreds, if not thousands, for ransom.
Kaduna has been an epicentre of violence and banditry for several years now, with attacks on non-Muslim farming communities in the south increasing exponentially with the advent of the current administration amid a general deterioration in security.
5 June brought with it familiar agony for four villages in southern Kaduna state, Nigeria. According to local reports, attackers of Fulani ethnicity are said to have descended on the villages of Dogon Noma, Maikori, Ungwan Gamu and Ungwan Sarki at around noon, with violence continuing for approximately six hours.
In consistency with previous reports of militia attacks in the region, the assailants were reportedly grouped three to a motorcycle, with one man to drive, and two others to shoot to the right and left respectively.
At least 32 people were killed across the four villages, while an unknown number remain missing following the latest attack to specifically target the Adara people, who have suffered violence at the hands of Fulani assailants for several years now.
Her name was Deborah Emmanuel – a second-year Christian student of Home Economics at the Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto state, Nigeria. She should have been safe from harassment and violence at an academic institution. But she wasn’t.
On 12 May Ms Emmanuel was brutally beaten and stoned to death by a predominantly male mob who proceeded to immolate her in a pile of tyres whilst chanting “Allahu Akbar”. She was buried just two days later.
Ms Emmanuel was killed after she was falsely accused of blaspheming the Prophet Mohammed in a WhatsApp group chat in which she reportedly expressed exasperation at members posting religious articles and asked them to focus on issues relevant to course work, as it was a departmental group.
In December 2020, the United States’ (US) State Department designated Nigeria a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), finding that the government was responsible for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.”
The rather belated decision marked the first time Nigeria had been placed on the State Department’s list, despite having been recommended for designation since 2009, and was also the first time a nominally secular democracy had been designated a CPC.
It reflected the severity of an ongoing crisis in the country, which includes longstanding systemic and systematic violations of the rights of religious minorities in the north and central regions, and violence in which thousands of vulnerable citizens – many of them Christians – have been killed, while hundreds of thousands more have been forcibly displaced by armed non-state actors, including assailants of Fulani origin, and members of the Boko Haram, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Ansaru terrorist organisations.