By BosNewsLife Africa Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
ABUJA, NIGERIA (BosNewsLife)-- A Christian school girl in Nigeria spent Easter as a hostage of Islamist militants after she refused to convert to Islam, while extremists killed more than a dozen people during the holiday, BosNewsLife learned Monday, April 2.
Leah Sharibu was among 111 schoolgirls who were kidnapped February 19 from the Government Girls’ Science Technical College in the northeastern town of Dapchi by fighters of the Boko Haram group.
Nearly all were released March 21 after five of the girls reportedly died due to ailments linked to the attack, officials and rights activists said.
"One girl, Leah Sharibu, remains in captivity for one simple reason: she refuses to convert to Islam," confirmed Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC), a Christian advocacy closely following the case.
"All of those released were Muslim, and the attackers announced that Leah would also be released if she complied with their demand to repeat the Shahada, an Islamic confession of faith," the group said, citing local sources and reports.
"As a Christian, she refused, despite the cost. Leah's parents, Nathan and Rebecca, continue to be concerned. Yet, as Nathan said, "I am sad, but I am also overjoyed because my daughter did not denounce Christ."
VOMC urged its supporters to pray that the 15-year-old Leah "will be safely released as well" and that "she stands firm in her commitment to Christ amid mounting pressure." It was important, the group said, to "ask the Lord to also minister to Leah's parents as they await her deliverance."
Her kidnapping is the latest in a series of attacks involving Boko Haram as it seeks to overthrow Nigeria's central government
and create an Islamic state.
She remained in captivity while elsewhere in the region more than a dozen were reportedly killed Sunday, April 1, after getting caught in a clash between suspected Boko Haram militants and soldiers in northern Nigeria.
Eighteen militants launched an attack using suicide bombers, mortars and shooters on Sunday, the military said.
They reportedly targeted two villages and a military base near the city of Maiduguri, in Borno State and emergency workers said several villagers died while trying to escape.
Boko Haram, which means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language, is waging a violent campaign in northeastern Nigeria to impose Shariah (Islamic) law there and is against western education, especially for girls.
The Nigerian government has denied that it paid a ransom or made a prisoner swap in exchange for the Dapchi girls’ freedom.
Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari, who met the released girls last week, promised his government would beef up security around vulnerable schools. Buhari said his officials negotiated with Boko Haram to try to protect the abducted students.
The Dapchi students were set free following “painstaking, backchannel dialogue with their abductors,” added the Director-General of State Services, Lawal Daura.
President Buhari vowed to work for the release of the missing schoolgirl and others abducted by extremists. “The security services have since been directed to put in place further measures around all schools vulnerable to attacks to ensure the safety of our pupils, students and teachers and school workers,” he told media.
“I have tasked all the security agencies to work to ensure that we do not witness any recurrence of these incidents.”
The abductions in Dapchi have evoked painful memories of the tragedy in Chibok, where 276 girls faced kidnapping from their boarding school. Nearly four years later, about 100 of them have never returned home. Many had been forced to marry their captors and had children fathered by them, several sources say.
Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands of people over nearly a decade. The group has also killed some 20,000 people and displaced more than two million since it began a campaign of violence to create an Islamic state in the north of the country in 2009.
Nigeria's government confirmed last month it was in talks with Boko Haram militants.