After 110 Nigerian girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists in February 2018, all but one eventually were released.
But Leah Sharibu, 16, is still held captive by the terrorists because of her refusal to renounce her Christian faith.
The trend of Christian persecution in the African country was discussed at a Heritage Foundation gathering last month, “Insecurity in Nigeria: Eyewitnesses Speak,” featuring three Nigerian women who shared their harrowing stories in hopes of prompting action from the U.S. government.
Here’s what they had to say.
‘A Prisoner of Conscience’
In Nigeria, Leah Sharibu is celebrated today as a martyr. Songs are composed about her, videos are produced, and books are written. But for Leah’s mother, getting her daughter back matters more than anything else.
“I stand here for pleading the government of U.S.,” Rebecca Sharibu said in tears and broken English during the Heritage event on Capitol Hill. “Please, help me. Please, help me. I need my daughter back. I need my daughter.”
Gloria Puldu, a friend of the family and a senior lecturer in the political science department at the University of Jos in central Nigeria, spoke on behalf of Sharibu.
Puldu explained why Leah was singled out among the 110 girls.
“The other girls, who are all Muslim girls, are released. … When [Leah] was told to renounce her faith and recite the Kalima-e-Shahadah—’Kalima-e-Shahadah’ means the Islamic faith creed—she refused to do that,” Puldu said. “That was the only reason that she was kept back.”
After Leah’s capture, Puldu said, her family and friends did everything they could to get the attention of the federal and local governments in Nigeria, without success.
She said that even though many people advocated government action on TV and social media, the Nigerian government has not done anything to free the teen.
“She is a prisoner of conscience,” Puldu said of Leah. “She didn’t do anything, but up till now, we did not get that attention. And that is why we are here. And what [Rebecca Sharibu is] saying is to plead with your government to please pressure our government, because our government seems unable to secure her release.”
‘If I Keep Quiet, to What Gain?’
Alheri Magaji is the daughter of the current leader of the Adara tribe in northern Nigeria’s Kaduna State.
The tribe, almost completely Christian, was attacked by Fulani militants from mid-February through April. Nearly 400 people—mostly women, children, and the elderly—were killed.
The Fulani militants, also called “Fulani herdsmen,” are a tribe of Muslims who, since this year’s attacks, have become more deadly to Nigerian Christians than the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram.
Magaji, who appeared to be in her late 20s, told the Heritage audience that she was warned not to speak about the persecution her tribe suffered because she might be killed or beaten by Kaduna State police. She said:
But I asked the person that called me, I said, “What have I got to lose if I don’t talk?” My family is killed every day. My dad was locked up for over a hundred days. My tribe is now extinct. So if I keep quiet, to what gain will that be?
The people who die every day are human beings, too. And if I have an opportunity to let the world know what’s happening in my hometown, I will do anything to be able to save—even if it’s one life.
The Nigerian government describes the Fulani’s attacks as merely “retaliatory.” But Magaji said the Adara people never have attacked the Fulani.
She told the story of a mother who was nine months pregnant with her fifth child when the Fulani came to attack the Adara tribe. About 400 Fulani militants with AK-47s came into the community at 6:30 a.m. on a February morning. The Adara, as hunters with no assault weapons, ran for cover and were unable to respond, Magaji said.
The Fulani told all the Adara children to lie down on the floor, Magaji said, and one of the woman’s sons began to cry when he saw his two siblings’ heads being severed.
“But when they got to the fourth child to slaughter, the Fulani men couldn’t find the child,” she said. “And [the mother] said God was telling her in the midst of that chaos that he’s alive, and he’s there.”
They searched everywhere, but they couldn’t find the fourth child. And he was sitting right there, in front of her. And she was trying to reach out and hold her kid, but she couldn’t even. And then when they went out and she ran to her kid, to hug him, they came back inside and then they cut off her left hand, and tried to sever her head, and then kicked her tummy. She started bleeding and passed out. It was the reverend father that came and rescued her.
By the time she woke up, her 9-month-old baby had died; they had operated on her and removed the child. Her only surviving child was the child that God protected from the Fulani herdsmen.
So I want to tell you that we believe in God. We know that God is the reason why we are even here to tell our story. What we’ve been through—it’s impossible to even stand and talk, because it’s so real when you’re living in situations like that.
Magaji said that although her people are “sleeping under the skies,” they are not asking for relief supplies.
We are here to beg people, beg you, beg the U.S. government, to please wade into the armada. We want justice for our land. We need our land back. We are 95% Christian, Adara. Adara is the largest Christian community in Kaduna State.
So we know it won’t end at Adara alone. There seems to be a systematic plan to take over Kaduna State and Nigeria as a whole. It is purely religious. Purely. I’m living this. It’s not something I read in the newspaper. It’s what we’re living.
‘Where Is Your Jesus?’
Mercy Maisamari, a member of the Adara tribe who was kidnapped by the Fulani militants, described how they came to her parents’ home asking after her father for unknown reasons.
The Fulani kidnapped Maisamari along with her siblings and her mother, walking them for 12 hours to the Fulani camp. They remained captive for 11 days.
Even after her father paid the ransom the terrorists demanded, the Fulani took him into the camp and beat him before releasing the family together the next day.
After the whole kidnapping thing, the government arrested my dad twice, on different occasions. He was taken with some of the nine [Adara] elders away, locked up for 105 days, over what we know nothing about. They said 66 Fulani were killed.
Our people were killed, but nobody said anything about it, not even the media. But they arrested our elders, and locked them up for 105 days, without any proof that they did this thing.
Maisamari also shared how the Kaduna State governor paid the militants to stop the kidnappings.
“I just wonder how [the Nigerian government says] they can’t get these people to arrest them,” she said. “You find out that the government are trying to negotiate with the kidnappers, to pay them to stop kidnapping people. How? How do they agree to negotiate when they can always arrest these people?”
Maisamari also pleaded for the U.S. to help Christians in Nigeria:
We are here to beg the U.S. government to please come to our aid. Girls, your girls, like Leah Sharibu and others, are kidnapped almost on a daily basis. They kidnap you, they do whatever, they beat you up, they abuse you.
They ask you—some of them would ask us, “Where is your Jesus? Call your Jesus to come and save you!” So we are here to beg the U.S. government to please come to our aid.