Proof of life is evidence that a person, most times a victim of kidnap, is still alive. The victim family, friends, or negotiators usually demand this evidence before they pay the ransom. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that after payment, the victim is guaranteed to be released or not killed.
It is in this context the Leah Sharibu’s audio recently released by Boko Haram should be looked at. Somebody or a group of people must have demanded a proof of life. What happens next is what this whole piece is about.
In February this year, Leah Sharibu along with 115 students of the Government Girls Secondary School Dapchi were kidnapped by a faction of the Boko Haram terrorists.
The following month, all the girls were released except Leah Sharibu. Five girls had died in the interim.
The alleged reason for the non-release of Leah was her Christian faith and her refusal to convert to Islam while in the captivity of the terrorists.
For a time, Leah Sharibu became a national heroine especially to Christians in Nigeria. She rightly became a role model for all young Christians and the quintessence of what real faith is all about.
Sadly though, the media frenzy around Leah died down after a few weeks. Most Nigerians had all but forgotten about her. No thanks to silly political issues spurred by selfishness dominating the news cycle.
With the proof of life audio, Leah Sharibu is back on the front pages again. This has re-opened old wounds for some people while some have gone down that the familiar path of trying to pin a Moslem APC vs PDP label on it.
The important thing at the moment, political and religious sentiments aside, is that the poor girl is still alive. And that must be a relief for her suffering parents.
Beyond that, there is the issue of why this proof of life had to be released. What are the motives behind the audio and the picture of Leah wearing a hijab like Moslem girls do?
It is not beyond the realm of possibility that negotiations had long been going on for the release of the girl. And it is likely these negotiations have reached an advanced stage.
Terrorists are only known to comply with a demand for evidence that a hostage is alive and well when they are ready and willing to do a deal.
Going from that, it is safe to say that Leah Sharibu would soon become a free person if the agreed ransom is paid.
On the other hand, it could be the terrorists are short of cash, or tired of holding her hostage. In either case, they could have released the audio and the photo without any prompting from anybody.
In this scenario, it is their own way of saying they need cash, and lots of it too.
There is no way you’d listen to that audio without thinking it was a form of manipulation to get somebody to pay up. In this case, that person is President Buhari.
The President is really in a rough spot as far as this is concerned.
It wasn’t long ago that the Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, needlessly joined issues with the media over whether the government paid money for the release of the girls in March.
By insisting the government didn’t pay, when we all know money exchanged hands, it would make the negotiations more difficult as the government would want to make sure only a small group of people are in the know about what is going on.
This is to forestall somebody inadvertently letting it known that so and so amount was handed over to the terrorist to get buy Leah’s freedom.
This makes sense since the chances of a leak are reduced to a minimum if just a few people are involved.
On the other hand, Buhari cannot afford not to pay whatever the terrorist are demanding if he wants to stick to the policy of non-payment of ransom to kidnappers.
He would definitely look bad in the situation. Already, from the audio, some media outlets are spinning this to look like Buhari is the one standing between Leah and freedom.
From this point, it is just a short hop to insinuating that Buhari doesn’t want her released because she is not a Christian.
This might sound far-fetched and stupid, but in the era of fake news, even supposedly educated and intelligent people subscribe to that view and parrot it very loudly for all to hear.
Like somebody once said, one of the mistakes we constantly make is underestimating the stupidity of human beings. This stupidity is usually in full display when issues like this come up.
Is there a limit to how much the government can pay to get Leah released? That is not important at the moment.
The government should take all the blame for allowing the kidnapping to happen in the first place. Whatever amount Boko Haram is demanding, the government should see it as the price to pay for its incompetence.