Lord David Alton of Liverpool has urged the UK to encourage the Nigerian Government to prioritise the release of all captives held by extremists.
His call came as he marked the 18th birthday of Leah Sharibu, the sole Christian among 110 schoolgirls abducted by the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) faction of Boko Haram from their school in Dapchi, Yobe State, on 19th February 2018.
While Leah’s surviving classmates returned a month later following government negotiations, she was denied her freedom for refusing to convert as a precondition for her release.
Lord Alton noted how the terror group has declared Leah a “slave for life” due to her refusal to convert.
Paying tribute to Leah’s “strong faith”, he said it “should serve as an inspiration to us all”.
However, he also stressed that “this is also about a fundamental human right”.
“During every single day of her captivity, Leah’s right to believe has been denied and the authorities have done precious little to proclaim this fundamental right,” he said.
Calling to mind the many other people held captive by terrorist factions, Lord Alton said they have not been forgotten and millions will continue to be vocal on their behalf.
He urged the UK to use its position as one of Nigeria’s major overseas aid and development funders to “encourage the Nigerian Government to prioritise the release of all who are held captive by extremists and to address every source of insecurity in a comprehensive and unbiased manner with perpetrators being held to account and being brought to justice”.
“We must use our aid programmes, our trading opportunities, our friendships and the wonderful Nigerian diaspora in the United Kingdom to achieve all those targets,” he said.
Lord Alton also urged the UK to ensure that humanitarian assistance for the displaced not only reaches intended recipients in the north east but is also extended to communities displaced in religion-related violence in central Nigeria and elsewhere.
Picture: Leah Sharibu.