Leah Sharibu held captive over 1,500 days in Nigeria, but family advocates haven't lost hope

A soldier walks through a burnt building at the headquarters of Michika local government in Michika town, after the Nigerian military recaptured it from Boko Haram, in Adamawa state May 10, 2015. | REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

For more than 1,500 days, Nigerian Christian teenager Leah Sharibu has been held captive by the Boko Haram terrorist group as Christians continue to be the target of attacks in the West African nation. 

Gloria Puldu-Samdi, who was with Sharibu’s family in early May, told The Christian Post in a recent phone interview that despite little tangible hope, they're continuing the search for their daughter, who turned 19 on May 14, marking her fifth birthday in captivity. 

Late March marked 1,500 days that Shariby has been in captivity. According to reports, it's unlikely that she would be able to escape because she's ordered to stay near Boko Haram commanders. Because of this, it's been claimed that even a military rescue mission would fail.

Abducted at age 15, along with around 110 other girls from a school in Dapchi in February 2018, Sharibu is now believed to have given birth to two children fathered by Boko Haram militants.

Puldu-Samdi, who leads the LEAH Foundation in honor of the Nigerian teenager whose example of courageous faith has inspired many worldwide, continues to advocate for her release. It has been widely reported that Sharibu has refused to deny Jesus Christ and refused to embrace Islam. That is reportedly why she remains in captivity.

“The purpose of creating it is so that we can advocate for her, and for other women and girls who are persecuted for their faith and denied education, who have to pay a great price because of who they have chosen to be or who God has made them as women,” Puldu-Samdi said. “It’s painful to see my people denied education, to see my people denied the right to have religious freedom, to see my communities destroyed.”

Puldu-Samdi has many sisters, and her father, who is both Christian and educated, saw the value of girls receiving an education. For her, Sharibu is emblematic of every woman and girl who has been persecuted. Her ordeal and bravery in refusing to renounce Christ in the face of her terrorist captors is recounted in a book Puldu-Samdi co-authored with Peter Fretheim, titled Leah Hero For Jesus: The Real-Life Story of Leah Sharibu

“Her parents continue to call for prayer … that the Lord would keep her faith, her faith that is in her heart, that His presence will be with her," Puldu-Samdi said. "That even if she is forced to wear all the [hijab andabaya] things to show that they have forced her to change, that her heart would be hidden and that her heart would be strong and remain firmly, that she will always have the presence of the Lord. And pray for the release of this young child, that she would be able to get her freedom and that her parents would be strengthened.”

Nigeria is increasingly imperiled politically, and attacks on Christian communities by terrorist groups and radical Fulani herders continue to escalate year after year, Puldu-Samdi added. She lamented the lack of attention the rise in violence is receiving worldwide.

“On a daily basis, it is saddening,” Puldu-Samdi said of the situation in Nigeria. 

“And I’m saddened by what is happening in the situation in Ukraine and other places, but we can see and hear the support that Ukraine is getting. But why is the Nigerian Church being destroyed and the governments of the world are not holding the Nigerian government accountable? Why is every international body, the United Nations silent about what is happening in Nigeria? Why have they not investigated?”

Under the Trump administration in 2020, Nigeria was placed on the U.S. State Department’s countries of particular concern list. The CPC designation is placed on countries that allow severe violations of religious freedom under the International Religious Freedom Act.

The Biden administration lifted the CDC designation from Nigeria in 2021, drawing criticism from Christian human rights advocates and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Puldu-Samdi has been advocating for Nigeria be placed back on the CPC list, particularly as the persecution of Christians intensifies. 

She highlighted reports about Christian student Deborah Samuel who was brutally murdered by stoning and beating with sticks in the northern Sokoto state of Nigeria. Her Muslim classmates had accused her of blaspheming the Islamic prophet Muhammed. While video footage of the gruesome murder circulated online in mid-May as though it had just happened, a Reuters fact check has since claimed that the footage is from August 2021.

Events like these are increasingly common in the villages in the region and are escalating, Puldu-Samdi added, lamenting how the world has largely ignored the plight of Christians in Nigeria.

As Nigeria prepares for a presidential election in 2023, Puldu-Samdi said she and others fear the country might implode. And some believe, according to national intelligence reports, that war in the nation is imminent.

Open Doors USA, a watchdog organization that monitors persecution in over 60 countries, ranks Nigeria as the seventh worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution. Open Doors reports that Christians in northern Nigeria live under the threat of radical Islamic groups like Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province, Fulani militants and other criminals who kidnap and murder Christians were "few consequences." 

Christians in some northern states live under Shariah law and are treated as "second-class citizens," Open Doors reports in a fact sheet.  

Originally posted on The Christian Post.