Nigerian schoolgirl abducted by Boko Haram allegedly dies in captivity

Screenshot of aid worker Grace Taku (center) in a video taken while in captivity by Boko Haram in Borno. Taku says in this video that Leah Sharibu, a schoolgirl who was also abducted by Boko Haram, is dead.

On July 18, Nigerian aid worker Gace Taku and her colleagues with Action Against Hunger, a nongovernmental organization, were kidnapped by Boko Haram, an ISIS-affiliated militant group. In this video, Taku's testimony generated a lot of ruckus in Nigeria. She states in the video that Leah Sharibu, one of the schoolgirls kidnapped last year by Boko Haram, is dead.

Taku pleads that she does not want to be killed by Boko Haram. She says Boko Haram militants killed Sharibu along with an unidentified person referred to as “Alice,” because of the Nigerian government's refusal to accede Boko Haram's demands.

The transcript of her appeal by SaharaReporters reads:

My name is Grace, I work with Action Against Hunger, an NGO in Borno State; my base is Damasak. We went to work on Thursday, July 18, 2019. On our way back to Damasak, by Keneri/Chamba ward, we were caught by an army called the Kaliphas and they brought us here. We don’t know where we are … I am begging, on behalf of all of us. I don’t want such things 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.

Boko Haram has been responsible for thousands of deaths including suicide bombings and violent, militant attacks in northeast Nigeria, northern Cameroon, and Niger. The kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in 2014 by Boko Haram in Chibok, northeast Nigeria, led to global outrage expressed in the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

Nigerian netizens have been reacting online to the purported death of Sharibu:

A question for the government to answer, said Oby Ezekwesili, former vice president of World Bank and co-founder of #BringBackOurGirls Movement:

And for those blaming Sharibu’s death on her refusal to convert to Islam, Nigerian journalist David Hundeyin decried the lack of empathy and sensitivity:

The Dapichi schoolgirls

Tears as captured Dapichi schoolgirls return. Screenshot from CNN video.

Last year, February 19, 2018, Boko Haram kidnapped 110 schoolgirls from Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State, northeastern Nigeria. Sharibu was one of the girls abducted.

Critiques blamed the Nigerian military for the kidnapping. SaharaReporters published an intelligence memo sent to the military high command dated February 6, 2018 – one week before the Dapichi girls were kidnapped – which warned of a “large-scale Boko Haram attack” targeting public places like schools, mosques, markets and parks in Borno and Yobe states. The military not only disregarded the warning but also withdrew troops from Dapchi, Yobe State.

Many of the girls were forced to convert to Islam while in captivity. On March 21, 2018, a little over a month after the girls were kidnapped, Boko Haram released “106 children – 104 schoolgirls, a girl who did not go to the school, and a boy,” according to the BBC.

A United Nations report stated that the schoolgirls were released in exchange “for a large ransom” paid by the Nigerian government. The UN report added that this “cash economy, without controls, is conducive to terrorist groups” because it fosters more terror.  The Nigerian government denied paying a ransom to secure the girls’ release.

Sharibu, however, remained in captivity.

Leah Sharibu refused to pledge allegiance to Islam

“Leah Sharibu, the lone girl who refused to pledge allegiance to Islam, was denied her freedom.” Screenshot from this video via YouTube.

Boko Haram militants did not release Sharibu, allegedly because she refused her captors’ demands to change religions. The Nigerian Guardian newspaper described Sharibu as “the lone girl who refused to pledge allegiance to Islam” for which she was “denied her freedom.” Displeased by “her insistence to stick to her Christian faith,” her abductors “drove triumphantly into Dapchi town to drop off the other girls.”

On August 28, 2018, five months after the other schoolgirls were released — audio surfaced online with Sharibu speaking from captivity.  In a transcript by CNN, Sharibu, speaking in her native Hausa language, begged Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to secure her release:

I am Leah Sharibu, the girl that was abducted from Government Girls Science Technical College, Dapchi. I am calling on government and people of goodwill to get me out of this problem. I am begging you to treat me with compassion, I am calling on the government, particularly, the president, to pity me and get me out of this serious situation.

The Nigerian government paid no heed to Sharibu's heart-rending appeal.

Nothing happened.

On the one-year anniversary of Leah Sharibu’s captivity – February 11, 2019 – her mother, Rebecca Sharibu, broke down in tears pleading for her daughter's release.

Screenshot from this YouTube video in which Leah’s mother, Rebecca Sharibu, calls for her daughter's release in tears.

Rebecca Sharibu, speaking in Hausa, said, according to a transcript from the Nigerian Guardian newspapers:

I am the mother of Leah and I am here begging the government not to forget my daughter. I want the government not to forget the promise made to us that my daughter would be set free. The president called me and we spoke on phone. He assured me that Leah would come back and that the government was working hard on it. He also sent three ministers who came and assured me that my daughter would return. After that, it was silence because we haven’t seen Leah. By next week, my daughter would have spent a year in captivity. That is why I am begging the president … not to forget the promises made to me by ensuring that my daughter is freed.

And again, there was silence — until the video by Grace Taku, the aid worker, broke online.

The Nigerian government said that negotiations for the release of all those in Boko Haram captivity were still in progress.

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