My dear Rev. Ayokunle,
I feel constrained to write this open letter to the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria in the hope that someone close to the hierarchy would stumble by it and draw your attention to it.
It is now a very familiar story in Nigeria that on Monday, 19 February 2018, over 110 girls were abducted from their boarding school, the Government Science and Technical College in Dapchi, Yunusari Local Government Area of Yobe State by gunmen suspected to be members of the Boko Haram sect.
It was later revealed that the girls were taken to an island in Lake Chad known as a stronghold of fighters loyal to Abu Mus’ab al-Barnawi, a factional leader of Boko Haram. Of the more than 110 girls, about 5 died in captivity. The rest were later released, leaving only one – a Christian who refused to convert to Islam. Leah Sharibu remained the only captive after she refused to renounce her Christian faith and embrace the Muslim faith.
The released girls confirmed that the insurgents insisted that Leah must denounce her religion for them to free her. But she told them she had no knowledge of Islam at-all and couldn’t possibly renounce her Christian faith for one she was so ignorant about. She was then left out of the Dapchi home-trip on the condition that any day she accepted Islam, she would be released.
In these more than two years she has been in captivity, appeals had come from Christian communities world-wide, asking Boko Haram to release Leah Sharibu, like her other mates. Pope Francis, Jorge Mario Bergoglio had sent a message to the Nigerian government on Leah. So had many other heads of state, heads of government and well placed dignitaries across the globe.
President Muhammadu Buhari had pledged on Twitter at the time that he would do everything in his power to bring Leah back safely. But whether Leah is still alive as I write this, or whether she has been butchered by those soulless insurgents who had kept her captive all these gruesome years remains a matter of speculation.
On 22 March 2018, more that 18 months ago, Leah’s mother, Mrs. Rebecca Sharibu, told the Nigerian press that her daughter sent a message to her requesting her family to pray for the will of God to be done in her life. That message was, perhaps, the best hope Christians world-wide could hold on to, as the last wishes of a true follower of Christ – that Christ’s purpose be fulfilled in her life. It was the same way, when the burden became difficult for even Jesus, he had prayed that if it were possible, God should take the cup away from him. But then, not as he wished for himself but as God wished for him. It was a great teaching on obedience to the will of God.
One thing is certain, though. And that is, assuming Leah is still alive, why was she no longer communicating with her parents? It simply means that Leah has either remained in captivity incommunicado or she has even been killed. The Nigerian government has kept a studied silence over her whereabouts and her welfare all this while. And that is a part of the problem. As far as Nigerian Christians and the democratically elected government of President Muhammadu Buhari are concerned, Leah’s case throws up very pertinent questions that need urgent answers.
Is it morally right for her to die for her faith in a democratic country where freedom of association is a fundamental right of citizens? And if she was killed on account of her faith by insurgents who are yet to be declared terrorists by the government, what could possibly be the stake of the Christian Association of Nigeria on her situation? What role did CAN and the Peoples’ Democratic Party, the opposition party that is supposed to be the Shadow Government play in putting the required level of pressure on the ruling party to forestall giving the impression to the world that the government was not in control of the security situation in the country after all, at least by getting Boko Haram to release Leah?
Would it be right for Leah to die for her faith? To a large extent, the answer would be a resounding ‘no’. The story is told in St. Matthews Gospel 26 and verses 30 to 35 of how Jesus foretold of his betrayal by his most trusted disciple, Peter. Jesus told his disciples: “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And Peter did. But despite his shortcomings, Jesus made Peter the leader of his church, the first bishop of a church which today boasts of more than 2.3 billion adherents.
What if Leah had denied Jesus for once to save her life and afterwards confessed and went on to continue with her real faith? Would that have been a wiser thing to do, since dead men do not praise God? In a way, this fanatical and stubborn clinging to faith revealed to what extent parents usually indoctrinate their children into religious dogma. And whether such deep indoctrination helps them in the long run or whether it undermines them has also remained a matter of speculation.
Beyond this is the fact that in life, there are formidable political and religious leaders who have cult-like followership. Some of their followers would be more than willing to die in defence of their masters. In politics, former President Jonathan and the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari had such followers who would have been ready to die for them, had Jonathan not given way even before the result of the election was declared nationwide. In religion, Jesus was one such leader. Even at my age and with all my exposure and experience in life, I find Jesus so fascinating that I cannot really help myself about him. I am trapped like so many other adherents of the Christian faith.
And that is why I feel strongly that it will be a sad reflection on Christianity if Leah were to die in vain. I feel that it is the duty of the Christian Association of Nigeria leadership to begin early to immortalize her in any way possible so that at the fullness of time, her faith would exonerate her as a martyr who died in the knowledge that those who died in Christ would not have died in reality for they live in Christ. Can the Christian Association of Nigeria rise up to this challenge? Can they encourage Christians worldwide to understand that those who die in Christ do not die in vain by laying the foundation for Leah to become a martyr? The story of the faith of this young girl is a testing ground for the spiritual leadership of the Christian community in Nigeria. If we allow that poor little girl to die in vain, Christianity in Nigeria and indeed around the world would become one huge joke, one laughing stock. And so, for the sake of our belief and our faith, if for no other reason, we must not let Leah down.
Will the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria rise up to the challenge?
Chief Sir Asinugo is a London-based journalist, author of “The Presidential Years: From Dr. Jonathan to Gen. Buhari” and Publisher of Imo State Business Link Magazine (Website: imostateblm.com)