By Sufuyan Ojeifo
Liya (Leah) Sharibu is the name of the only Dapchi schoolgirl who is still in the captivity of those who abducted her and 109 others on February 19, 2018. The innocent girls were in search of western education, away from home, parents and loved ones. But unfortunately, they became victims of the political shenanigan that currently defines the shape, form, texture and tenor of our presidential politics.
It is not that Leah craves the harsh conditions in the den of her captors. How could she have relished the cruelty that suffocated five of her colleagues to death and left the other 104 girls that were released on March 21, 2018 with skin rashes and, perhaps, other undisclosed ailments? Leah wanted to return home with her colleagues, but her captors said she could not because she dared their impudence that she should renounce her faith.
The 15-year old girl is a Christian and the only one among those abducted. She looked in the eyes of her vicious abductors and told them off: I am not going to convert to Islam because I do not understand that way of life. For her, Christianity is what she has been used to. To renounce Christianity would be akin to a renunciation of life. For her, there would be nothing else to live for.
The Leah conundrum reminds me of Daniel’s predicament in the Bible, how he landed in the Lions’ den on the orders of King Darius for praying to the God of Israel contrary to the decree of Medes and Persia that prayers should be offered for thirty days only to the Persian king. It reminds me of the three Hebrew men-Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego- who were thrown into the fiery furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon for refusing to bow to the King’s graven image.
For Daniel and the three Hebrew men, they did not care for their lives. They were fanatical in the face of death. For Leah, the Christian religion to which she has committed herself resonates in the labyrinth of fanaticism: otherwise, it would not have caused her anything to extricate herself, renounce her faith and be released; and once back home, she could revert.
That would have been wisdom. That would have been a strategic option in the face of death. But the news doing the round is that Leah did not want to gratify the Islamic extremists. She did not want to kowtow to the odious and forceful degradation agenda of the religious bigots. Leah was ready to be dehumanized for her religious conviction. At just 15 years, she has already defined her eon with her fearless conviction.
The Leah symbolism is a germane reminder of our innate courage that can be stirred up to confront the vagaries of our existential faith. Global attention is on Leah as a solitary victim plagued by the consciousness of her captors’ failure to torpedo her only weapon of defence: her morality. Many of us are shorn of that essential ingredient in the articulation and praxis of our religiousness.
Leah symbolises the archetypical Christian whose commitment to her faith necessarily explicates the true ideals of the Christendom. Christianity is a battle assailed by the expansionist tendency of Islamists. That eternal veracity must have informed Sarbine Barring-Gold (1834-1934) to write the song titled: “Onward Christian Soldiers”, which was sung by Arthur S. Sullivan (1842-1900).
The first stanza captures the thematic essence of the song: “Onward Christian soldiers! Marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before; Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe: forward into battle, see his banners go….” This, perhaps, must have been the tonic that stirred in Leah that eternal disdain for death and the obtrusive Islamic extremists.
The Leah symbolism is a reminder of sorts to Christians of the imperativeness to be prepared like the boys scouts to take up the gauntlet in the face of real threat and challenge to their faith. It is a cue for fidelity to the spiritual contract with the central devotional figure: Jesus Christ. In fact, the Leah debacle is a continuation of the persecution that afflicts the Christendom in diversity of ways, especially in Nigeria.
It is a wake-up call to Christians to up their ante and become more united in pursuit of a common front. It is time the commitment to selfish goal of building pseudo empires in vain competitiveness for religious space and acclamation was changed for the expansion of the Christendom and the universal church.
There should be global collaborative funding of activities that would promote the growth and expansion of Christendom for the benefit of humanity that Christ came to preach to and die for. That is the essence of our Christianity- to preach the risen Christ to the world. Unfortunately, other vainglorious considerations have assumed the centre stage.
The Christendom has, consequently, lost the motivation for unity and has become vulnerable to a rash of organised persecutions by extremist practitioners of the other religion. There is a deliberate and concerted agenda to overthrow Christianity. It is a tragedy that is bound to fester unless Christian leaders genuinely recommit themselves to their original and true callings.
As long as Christian leaders continue to see the Church as a means of achieving good life for themselves, so long will the Church continue to miss their place and mandate as God’s battleaxe in these end times. How many of our Christian leaders, fat and flourishing General Overseers, who go about with a horde of security men and, perhaps, in armoured vehicles, can pass through the Leah situation, dare the iniquitous extremists who are probably baying for blood, without compromising their faith?
The Leah incident has confirmed the direction of the evil agenda of islamisation of Nigeria that people like former Minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, has trenchantly spoken about. There is no doubt that Christianity faces real and existential threats. But the Christians can stand up to them. The God of the Christians has used Leah Sharibu, who is not afraid of martyrdom, to confirm that possibility.
Meanwhile, while we await the Federal Government to fulfill its promise to negotiate Leah’s release, the Christendom must not tire in prayers and advocacies to get the Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to double down on the provision of security for schoolgirls nationwide since they have become the objects of abductions by all manner of groups-both real and prearranged insurgents.
As I round off, I leave us with the words of Martin Niemoller, the German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor, who was quoted to have said: “First, they came for the communists and I did not speak out because I was not a communist; then, they came for the socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist; then, they came for the trade unionist and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist; then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew: then, they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
Leah is being held as a captive for her Christian religious belief. Nobody knows whose turn it will be tomorrow. We must all speak out to avert individual and collective captivity or persecution as well as the planned eclipse of Christianity in Nigeria.