Nigerians demand release of Dapchi student who refused to renounce Christian faith

LAGOS, Nigeria — While Catholic and Muslim leaders welcomed the release of 104 schoolgirls captured by Boko Haram, they urged the government to work for the release of the remaining girl, a Christian who reportedly refused to denounce her faith.

Students of the Government Girls Science and Technical College listen during a visit from Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in Dapchi, Yobe State. Boko Haram kidnapped 110 female students in February; five were killed, 104 were released March 21, but one Christian girls remains in custody, allegedly for refusing to put on a hijab or convert to Islam. (CNS photo | Ola Lanre, Reuters)

The schoolgirls, kidnapped Feb. 19, were released March 21. Five of them were killed during captivity.

But a March 22 statement from Muslim Rights Concern, a nongovernmental organization, quoted one of the freed girls as saying that the lone remaining captive, Leah Sharibu, was not released because she is a Christian and she refused to put on hijab or convert.

“We reiterate for the umpteenth time that Boko Haram’s doctrine is heretical, and its methods stand in contradistinction to those of pristine Islam,” Muslim Rights Concern said of the extremist group. “Once again, we reject Boko Haram as an Islamic group. We urge the leadership and members of the group to re-examine its ideological base.”

Bishop Emmanuel Badejo of Oyo praised the government for ensuring the release of 104 of the girls from a science and technical school in Dapchi, but said the litmus test would he the release of Sharibu. He described the death of five of the girls in captivity as evoking “more than a touch of lament and sadness.”

Bishop Badejo said Christians were rightly outraged by this blatant encroachment of Sharibu’s rights.

“They will also be proud of the faith of this mere Christian girl who has thus dared Boko Haram terrorists, who are feared by even the entire Nigerian government and people,” Bishop Badejo said.

He challenged Nigerians to rise up, pray and take all necessary action for Sharibu’s release. He also appealed to the international community to pressure the Nigerian government for her release.

In 2014, Boko Haram insurgents abducted 276 female students from Government Secondary School in Chibok, and took them to Sambisa Forest. Fifty-seven girls managed to escape months later, while others are still with their kidnappers.