The Islamic State-aligned Boko Haram on Wednesday released over 100 schoolgirls kidnapped from their boarding school in Nigeria last month. However, a Christian girl in the group was reportedly not released because she refused to renounce her faith in Christ.
Reports indicate that most of the 110 schoolgirls kidnapped on Feb. 19 from the Government Girls Science and Technical Secondary School in the Dapchi town were released and allowed to return to their families on Wednesday after an agreement was reached with the Nigerian government.
While at least 101 schoolgirls and one boy were released by the terrorist group, released girls have reported that at least five of their classmates died before they were released.
While many of the families rejoiced in the return of their daughters, one Christian family is still left worrying about the fate of their beloved 15-year-old daughter.
“Boko Haram insurgents decided not to release my daughter because she refused to denounce Christ,” Nata Sharibu told reporters. “I am happy for that, even though as a father I wish she had returned home as the rest. But God is in control.”
One of the school girls also told the Nigerian news outlet The Punch that one of their classmates had not been released because she refused to convert to Islam.
“One girl, Leah, is still with them because she is a Christian,” student Khadija Grema told the news outlet.
According to the persecution watchdog group International Christian Concern, the Christian girl’s name is Leah Sheribu. The organization reports that her father spoke about the situation in an interview with Nigerian radio station RayPower 100.5.
“They gave her the option of converting in order to be released, but she said she will never become a Muslim,” Nata Sharibu was quoted as saying.
Although he is upset that his daughter has not been freed, he is proud that she has refused to renounce her faith.
“It is truly joyous that these girls were able to rejoin their families. However, we wish to see Leah returned as well,” ICC Regional Manager Nathan Johnson said in a statement. “This cowardly act has shown that the terrorist organization truly despises Christians and their faith. We call on the Nigerian government to act swiftly to secure the release of Leah and the remaining missing girls from Chibok.”
Ishaq Akintola, director of the group Muslim Rights Concern, condemned the terror group’s holding of the Christian girl as “un-Islamic.”
“Leah Sheribu must be set free because the basis for holding her after setting her schoolmates free is faulty and unIslamic,” Akintoloa said, according to the Nigerian news outlet The Cable. “We charge [the government] to go back to the negotiation table in order to secure the release of the only Christian girl among the Dapchi girls who is being held back by the insurgents.”
On Thursday, a spokesman said that Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is committed to securing the release of Sharibu.
Garba Shehu, senior special assistant to the president on Media and Publicity, confirmed that Sharibu was held back because of her refusal to convert, according to The Punch.
“President Buhari is fully conscious of his duty under the constitution to protect all Nigerians, irrespective of faith, ethnic background or geopolitical location and will not shirk in this responsibility,” Shehu said in a statement. “The President is equally mindful of the fact that true followers of Islam all over the world respect the injunction that there is no compulsion in religion.”
The release of the Dapchi schoolgirls comes nearly four years after Boko Haram abducted 276 schoolgirls from a school in the town of Chibok.
Although the group has released some of those girls, more than 100 Chibok girls still remain missing. According to ICC, the vast majority of the Chibok girls were Christians.
Even for the Chibok girls who were released, some have returned home with “Boko” babies and have faced social stigma in their own communities even though they were kidnapped and raped by one of the world’s worst terror groups.
Nigeria ranks as the 14th worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2018 World Watch List.