In continuation of online media houses’ obtaining News from social media and spicing up stories with sensational headlines, Lagos Based Daily Independent reported that Leah Sharibu, one of the kidnapped Dapchi girls who is yet to gain her freedom, is feared dead. A claim coming from a tweet which clearly said she was actually alive.
The screaming headline “Boko Haram: Leah Sharibu feared dead” came from a tweet by an aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Reno Omokri, who was actually thanking God that Leah was alive after he had heard in the past that some journalist feared for her life.
Omokri wrote “Everyday, I pray that Leah Sharibu is kept alive, especially as a journalist with links to Boko Haram told me he feared she might be dead. Today I thank God, whose I am and who I serve, that a proof of life audio has been released by Boko Haram. God be praised!
The story, written by Sodiq Oyeleke, ignored the fact that Omokri was referring to a proof of life audio wherein Leah spoke appealing to Nigerians and the Government to help her while also calling for assistance for her family. Media reports of her plea also featured a photo of Leah Sharibu, alive. Her father was to later confirm the audio as the voice of his daughter, while the Presidency informed the world that the Department of State Security is analysing the audio.
Ade Ogidan’s Daily Independent, which claims it will be independent but not neutral, declares itself the most widely read Newspaper across political and business class and it has in its advisory Board Prof. Anthony Kila, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, Prince Felix Oba Okojie, Henry Boyo, Musa-Lawal Ozigi, and Jonathan Ishaku.
Since a faction of Boko Haram raided Government Girls Science and Technical College in Dapchi, Yobe, on February 19, 2018, abducting 113 school girls and the release of 107 of the victims on March 12, there has been one conspiracy theory after another. Initially, opposition figures criticized the government over the lack of security that led to the abduction. But after most of the girls were released, the criticism largely switched to allegation that the girls were never abducted. Yet when the News broke that Khadija Grema, one of the released girls, told reporters that Leah was held back by the group because she is a Christian, the disbelieve as to if the girls were actually kidnapped was replaced with solidarity from political opposition and a large part of the Christian community. The Muslim community was also vocal in criticizing the group as Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) wrote a strong-worded Press Release encouraging the government to do all in its power to see to Leah’s release.
After this came attempt to pitch one community against another.
This began from the wordings of the campaign by some Christian leaders, and in other instances how these words were reported.
Considering just the examples of recent times, in April, Most Reverend Paulinus Ezeokafor, the Catholic Bishop of Awka, appears to refer to the release of the other girls and not Leah as discrimination against Christians “If they can release her colleagues, why didn’t they release Leah? Nigeria is meant for us all. We should always remember that our country is a secular state where Christianity, Islam and other religious beliefs hold sway; therefore, none should be given preferential treatment.”. He did not make clear if his suggestion for fair treatment of all was addressed to Boko Haram which does not believe Nigeria should be a secular state.
In June, Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA)’s new President Rev. Stephen Baba, linked Leah’s case to the “prosecution of Christians” and asked that she be given a Noble Peace Prize like her young Muslim counterpart Malala Yousfzai, who was shot in the head and survived.
The media was on hand to benefit from the sensation of this story. Sahara Reporters, for example, reported with a screaming headline that President Buhari “ignored” Leah Sharibu in his Democracy Day speech, at a time fake news was being circulated that the government is not interested in getting Leah out because the President is a Muslim, even though before this, the Federal Government had repeatedly spoken and updated Nigerians on the fate of Miss Sharibu and negotiations just for her has been going on even as the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed urged Nigerians not to forget her. Also speaking in Washington and London, President Buhari had by himself stated that negotiations are on to release Leah Sharibu,
“We are managing the matter quietly. Making noise would not help. We are collecting as much intelligence as possible, working with the Red Cross and other international organisations. There are too many fraudulent people around, who claim they can do this and that. We won’t deal with them. That was how we got the Dapchi girls back, and the Chibok girls.” he said.
The government went as far as releasing a statement on her and playing into the hands of those who made the issue about renouncing her faith, as it says,
“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. To this effect, no one or group can impose its religion on another. His heart goes out to the isolated parents who must watch others rejoice while their own daughter is still away. The lone Dapchi girl, Leah, will not be abandoned. President Buhari assures the Sharibu family that he will continue to do all he can to ensure that they also have cause to rejoice with their daughter soon.”
Yet media reports constantly present headlines which suggest Leah Sharibu was kidnapped by the government or nothing is being done or said for or about her release. Instances of this are seen when Christian bodies call for her release.
When the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria encouraged the Federal Government to use all in its power to secure the release of Leah Sharibu, The Sun Newspaper did a story with the headline “Release Leah Sharibu Now -PFN urges FG”
When the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) also called for efforts to help release her and blamed media houses for leaving the struggle for CAN, the Punch reported this as “Leah Sharibu must not die: CAN warn FG”
Some commentators hold that the Federal Government’s negotiations with Boko Haram for the release of Leah Sharibu may become even more difficult as the issue has been made into a story of the Christians versus the Muslim President.