Boko Haram, the terrorist group that has torn up communities all over northern Nigeria, not to mention Cameroon, Niger and Chad, has been making more headlines recently.
This coming week includes the Oct. 15 deadline they have given for the Nigerian government to meet certain demands before they execute Leah Sharibu, a 15-year-old girl who was one of dozens of female students captured in February by Boko Haram. All the girls were released except her, mainly because she refused to give up her Christian beliefs as a condition for her release. She’s since become an international cause celebré, the subject of a book and potential Christian martyr.
At the same time, BBC has released a gorgeously produced piece on what life is like for the girls who are forced to become suicide bombers after being captured by Boko Haram. What we learn from the narrative is that poorly educated girls are imprisoned for months while being inundated with teachings from the Quran, then talked into getting a fast track to heaven by becoming a martyr to the cause.
I’ll begin first with the BBC piece, then cut back to Leah’s case. The former is headlined: “Made up to be beautiful: Sent out to die.”
Falmata is getting a full beauty treatment – a thick paste of henna, with its delicate pointed swirls, adorning her feet.
While it dries, a woman is batting with her hair. Comb in hard, she is stretching and straightening Falmata’s tight curls.
“We were allowed to choose any style for the hair and the henna,” remembers Falmata … (who) knows she’s going to look beautiful. But there’s a deadly consequence.
Once she’s made up, a suicide bomb will be attached to her waist.
So, these girls are being brainwashed into thinking they’re “marrying” martyrdom. She was told that if she killed non-believers, she’d go straight to paradise.
Although the article doesn’t say it, it’s clear the captured girls are fellow Muslims who are being talked into doing this. She is only 13 when this happens to her. She decides to abandon the suicide belt and wanders off into town, only to have the bad luck to run into another Boko Haram group and get re-kidnapped.
Do read the rest of this piece to learn what happens to Falmata and the depressing statistics on female suicide bombers, most of the village girls who are kidnapped and forced into carrying out these missions.
Back to Leah’s story: Here’s a clip from a Nigerian newspaper with statements from both Muslim and Christian leaders urging Boko Haram to free the girl as well as two nurse/midwives with the International Committee of the Red Cross and UNICEF. A third woman, midwife Saifura Hussaini Ahmed Khorsa, was executed by the group a month ago as a warning to the Nigerian government, says a Christian Post piece.
Christian Solidarity International gives more details on this.
There are several articles on this, mostly from overseas publications although there is this Christian Post piece on how the president of Nigeria has finally gotten active on this case, calling Leah’s mother on Oc. 3 and sending a delegation to her home to assure her that he is doing what he can.
As I read all this, it strikes me how ineffectual the Nigerian government has been in all this madness. If they’ve been remiss –- until last week– at contacting Leah’s mother -– one wonders how hard they’ve been trying to free Leah herself. She was kidnapped on Feb. 15.
When there’s little-to-no press coverage on overseas news, my next move is to check with advocacy and aid groups, who often have better sources on the ground than any western media would. World Watch Monitor had this piece on the Leah situation, noting how unusual it is for Boko Haram to kill Muslim women, which is why the death of the midwife signals a new tactic.
What is so depressing about all this is that Boko Haram has gotten away with mass kidnappings for years, starting in 2014 when they kidnapped 276 girls from a school in northern Nigeria. Known as the “Chibok girls,” 112 of them have yet to be released. I’m sure you all remember #BringBackOurGirls and the involvement of Michelle Obama.
This BBC piece mentions how the Nigerian government muffed several opportunities at getting the remaining girls freed. And this BBC story says that although Leah and the Chibok girls have gotten all the publicity, there have been thousands of kidnappings and killings all over northeastern Nigeria by Boko Haram that are never publicized.
I hope and pray that Leah Sharibu makes it out of whatever Boko Haram hideout she is ensconced in. But I’m not holding my breath for any real help from the government.
Other than occasional CNN stories, I’m not seeing much from American media on this. BBC has the largest trove of stories about Boko Haram, as it’s invested a lot of money and people into covering that part of the world. And it shows.