Reports have been circulating for a couple of weeks now that 16-year-old Leah Sharibu, a Nigerian Christian schoolgirl kidnapped in February 2018 by Islamist militants, had been killed in captivity.

However, the Christian persecution watchdog Open Doors USA is urging caution until facts can be confirmed.

Sharibu and her classmates were kidnapped on February 19, 2019. Sharibu was the only Christian in the group, and while the others were released, the teenage girl remained in captivity for refusing to renounce her Christian faith.

On July 25, 2019, a video was released which claimed to show kidnap aid worker with Action Against Hunger, Grace Taku, pleading for her life.

Taku was kidnapped on July 18, 2019, by suspected Boko Haram militants, with five male workers. At the end, she references Leah and the kidnapped Christian aid worker and mother Alice Ngaddah:

“I am begging on behalf of all of us,” Taku says in a transcript of the video circulating online. “I don’t want such 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.”

'Cautious concern'

Open Doors says their field team in Nigeria, which has walked closely with the Sharibus since Leah’s abduction, is cautioning against buying into this rumour.

“We, along with other observers, find the claim highly incredulous,” an Open Doors spokesperson says. “Grace is clearly traumatized and under immense pressure as she tries to relay a lot of information.” Other related facts are also being called into question.

Open Doors says that the Nigerian government has been in negotiations for Sharibu's release, and made another statement after the video service. While they did not confirm or deny the claim about Sharibu's death, they did reference two captives.

"The presidency has been given assurances that contact is being made and the captors are being talked to,” a government spokesperson says. “Besides these aid workers, there are some others about whom this engagement is about—Leah Sharibu, a religious leader and all the others.

“These discussions have been ongoing even before this time and what this latest incident has done is to bring urgency to the efforts that the secret service is making. [The] government is making contacts, in the hope that the captors will see reason to not visit hardship or even harm on these innocent individuals.”

'A call for immediate and decisive action'

Open Doors USA has called for worldwide prayer "In response to this disturbing report and the questions surrounding it." The organization is also "urging Nigeria’s government to immediately launch an investigation to confirm this report."

Open Doors CEO David Curry says that if the report proves true, Leah’s death illustrates that Nigerian President Buhari and his government have “abandoned international standards of human rights by failing to provide even the most rudimentary protections to religious minorities, and to make honest efforts to hold violators to justice."

Curry points out that despite years of promises from Nigeria’s government, Boko Haram and Fulani militants continue to kill and massacre Christians without resistance.

“Let us all take this story as reason to double down on our efforts to intervene and decisively move to protect Leah and others like her who have fallen into the clutches of Boko Haram,” Curry says.

How to pray

Open Doors says that Christians around the world can pray specifically for the following points:

  • Pray with Leah’s parents—Rebecca and Natha—and the rest of her family. And remember Alice’s husband and children. Pray these families would sense God’s presence and peace in transcendent ways we can’t imagine.
  • Pray the Nigerian government will take immediate action to launch an effort to investigate this report and, if true, to take deliberate action to bring the perpetrators to justice.
  • Pray that if the report proves to be untrue that God will protect Leah. This report will undoubtedly bring more attention to her story and may, in fact, put her at further risk.
  • Pray the Nigerian government takes prompt and decisive action to protect religious minorities and to make honest efforts to hold violators to justice.