PAGE 26— SUNDAY VANGUARD, APRIL 8, 2018 DAPCHI GIRL: AGONY OF A FATHER Nobody has told me anything about Leah's whereabouts •Leah By Sam Eyoboka CITIZEN Nathaniel Sharibu hails from Hong Local Government Area of Adamawa State. He is a member of Evangelical Church Winning All, ECWA on posting to Yobe State. After serving his intial time in Dapchi, headquarters of Bursari Local Government Area of Yobe, the father of three was further posted to Taraba State. Not wanting to obstruct his children's academic calendar, the Police officer decided to relocate to Taraba alone leaving his family behind in Dapchi. Once in a while he visits Dapchi to fellowship with his family before returning to Taraba, his place of primary assignment until Monday, February 19, when Boko Haram insurgents invaded Government Science and Technical College, Dapchi abducting over 110 schoolgirls including his 15-year old daughter, Leah Sharibu. Speaking to our reporter on telephone, Mr. Sharibu who's been receiving phone calls from across the globe, has only one wish: To behold his highly esteemed curtain raising daughter, 15-year Leah join the rest of the family to mark this year’s Easter at the ECWA in Dapchi where prayers are daily being offered for her safe return. Citizen Nath, a Police Officer serving the nation in neighboring Taraba State, has since March 21, 2018 when Boko Haram insurgents reunited 104 schoolgirls except Leah, who was said to have refused to renounce her Christian faith; has understandably been downcast though hopeful as prayers are being offered across the globe for the safe return of the heroine of faith. He told our reporter that he had nothing to tell any more because “Till now I have not heard anything and no •Mr. Sharibu authority has told me anything about the whereabouts of Leah. "Loved ones were calling to congratulate me that my daughter is on her way home. But uptil now I have not seen anything yet,” adding “it’s very sad; if we are going to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ without Leah.” Fighting tears, he narrated how the rest of the family has been coping without Leah. According to him, Leah who hopes to be a medical doctor in future has remained the lone captive of the Islamic insurgents who have unsuccessfully insisted that she renounce her Christian faith and convert to Islam. The father of three said his "wife fainted and was rushed to a hospital when Leah's 104 school mates were returned to Dapchi after one month in captivity." While thanking all those praying fervently across the globe for his daughter’s safe rescue, he appealed to the Federal Government and the abductors who are still holding back their daughter, to please let go Leah to rejoin the family ahead of the Easter I am begging because this thing is no longer a Sharibu’s problem, it’s no longer a Yobe State CAN problem, it’s no longer just a Nigerian problem; the international community is looking at what we make out of this celebration. “I really have nothing much to say now except that Leah is not yet back to join the rest of the family. The trauma within the Family can only be imagined, especially as her school mates have been released to rejoin their families," he appealed. The Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), has hailed the courage, doggedness and faith of Leah Sharibu, who was abducted along other 109 other schoolgirls by Boko Haram insurgents in Dapchi, but still remains in captivity because of her inability to recite the Quran. Public Relations Officer of ECWA, Rev. Romanus Ebebwokodi, in a recent statement, said: “We, in ECWA, are thankful that the Federal Government negotiated the release of all the abductees, includ-ing Leah. We are so happy that 104 of the girls, plus two other victims, have been releas-ed as at Wednesday, March 21, and are in safe hands. “However, we are very surprised and sad that the Boko Haram abductors have refused to release Leah Sharibu, simply because she is a Christian and would not give up her Christian faith for her release. Leah is a member of ECWA in Dapchi. We call on the Federal Government and all its agencies to ensure the immediate release of Leah without any conditions. She is a law abiding Nigerian, who is at liberty to practise her Christian profession to the fullest. “We condemn in strong terms, any attempt to forcefully convert anyone from one religion to another. As a church, we continue to pray for her release and those of all abducted Nigerians,” the ECWA statement added. In his own response, Rev. Bright Ogbansiegbe, act-ing Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Yobe State branch said there was so much confusion when word filtered into the commu-nity that the girl has been released and she's on her way, but when he called the girl’s father he said he was yet to see his daughter. “I spoke with the office of the DSS, when I told them that as far as I'm concerned, whatever measure was used for the release of the 104, should be used for the remaining one because keeping her three kilometers away, if anything happens before she gets to her house, it’s going to be a very serious breakdown of law. The Commissioner of Police called us to his office. I spoke with him, maybe he was trying to know our mind as CAN. He said he heard that there were underground plans that Christians want to protest. “But I told him no! We don’t want to protest because our concern in Yobe is not to cause more problem that will spill over to other parts of the country. But then the right thing should be done because the negotiation was done on behalf of all the abducted girls. So why is Leah an exception? "What is the problem with Leah? Because as far as I'm concerned, she's an equal citizen of this country. So she also has the same right the other children have,” Rev. Ogbansiegbe who also doubles as CAN Secret-ary said. According to him, “religion is not compulsory, there's no compulsion in religion. We can choose to be whatever we want to be and besides Niger-ia is a secular state and not a religious state and it should be respected. As I speak to you now, even from the National Youth CAN leader also went to Dapchi and I spoke with him, up till now, the girl has not still be released. She has not gotten to her family. “I can’t tell you how many times the mother of the girl fainted. Let’s forget about what the man says on television, the truth is, in the inside of these people, they are in serious trauma. Secondly, my other part of concern is that the trauma would be less when they were 110, but now that it’s only Leah with that same number of armed men around her, I now look at how deep this trauma is. “I'm still pleading and appealing with the government, I don’t want to know what was the arrangement for their release, what I care about is that we don’t create a serious problem out of this thing. Because if we Christians in Yobe are tolerant, what about those in Jos where there has been this recurrent religious crisis? What about areas like Taraba, Kaduna? I've been very careful. “People call me from left and right. The #BringBackOurGirls forum and so many other platforms call me on this issue. I'm very careful on what I say not to trigger any part of the nation into violence. As a priest, I'm called to preach peace and I will maintain it till when I'm no longer able because there's an extent I can go. But I want to tell you that the family of this girl are in a serious dilemma, in a serious problem, in a serious trauma now. They are not finding it funny at all in all sincerity. “The way politicians are talking about the thing, the IGP said he’s coming, the next thing they said the press misquoted him. I don’t understand. That’s human life. They are playing with this thing but what it will result to is unimaginable. As far as I'm concerned, if anything happens now, it won’t just be a soul. I don’t want to know whatever narrative given to the whole incident, as far as I'm concerned, this lady should be released,” the CAN acting Chairman further stated. Continuing, the cleric said he wondered why the insurgents handed over the 104 girls to the youths in Dapchi and preached for some 20 minutes, shaking hands, snapping photographs as they accompanied the girls out of the vehicles. ”One of them said he was able to converse with the insurgents, and the person was telling him that he thought that the Dapchi girls were Christians and that was why they came, only for them to realize that they are Muslims. Now looking at what this guy said and what is playing out, there is no argument than the fact that this is just an attack on the Church. “As far as I'm concerned, God is trying to expose something in this country. What I'm concerned about is that they should not allow a strand of hair on Leah’s head to break because it will bring a serious breakdown of law and order. If they are bringing her, they should bring her the same way they brought the other girls, not keeping her in a distance and the news will say that she has been released just to cause confusion. “As far as I'm concerned, human lives should be respected. If she had died with the five, it’s a different thing. We can live with that. But since she is alive, I am begging the whole world because this thing is no longer a Sharibu’s problem, it’s no longer a Yobe State CAN problem, it’s no longer just a Nigerian problem; the international community is looking at what we make out of this. So I'm really concerned about the kind of trauma the family of the girl and Leah herself,”the Meth-odist Church minister stated. According to Rev. Ogbansiegbe if the lady still in captivity was a Muslim, “our churches and houses would have been on fire by now. I can say this anywhere. “Everybody in the state is looking at me because the CAN chairman is on transfer. By UN standard, Nigerian Christians are the most persecuted in any part of the world. Go and check statistics,” he challenged anybody who is in doubt.
life SUNDAY VANGUARD, APRIL 8, 2018, PAGE 27 I acted my way out of British prison – Michael Balogun By Jon Kelly H and-a half years for possession of heroin with intent to supply - jail felt like a rite of passage. But he still found the experience deeply traumatic. “That first night, when the door closes behind you and you realise that you’re just in a room, you’re going to be here until you finish your sentence - that’s when reality kicks in.” Prison was “a university for crime”. He was jailed again soon after his release. After he was freed a second time, Balogun decided to try going straight. He applied for a job with a High Street bank and, at his interview, he boasted that he was a great salesman who could sell any product - not mentioning, of course, where he’d acquired his sales experience. Impressed by his confidence, the panel offered him a job. He worked on a cashier’s till selling mortgages and packaged accounts. And, true to his word, he was good at it. “This was before the credit crunch where if you went into a bank, they’d offer you all this stuff,” he says. Thanks to Balogun’s efforts, the branch shot up the company’s sales league table. “I was succeeding. I was making that branch where I was working the number one branch in that area.” His aptitude didn’t go unnoticed and he was offered a promotion at another branch. Then, one day, Michael was taken aside. “They called me in: ‘What were you doing between this time and this time?’ Those were the times I’d been in prison. They’d found out.” Balogun had never admitted to his employers that he’d served time in jail. He was dismissed. His sacking shattered his confidence in his ability to hold down a “straight” job. “I just decided to do what I knew best, which was selling drugs, and crime.” Soon after, he was in a nightclub with a group of friends when he got into an altercation with another group. “Some guy pulled out a gun, and because I had a gun on me it all got a bit hectic and it ended up being a shootout. I ended up trying to shoot someone.” Today, at the age of 34, Balogun says he can’t believe he could do such a thing. “Obviously at the time I knew what I was doing was wrong,” he says. “But I always justified it because I was like, ‘This is the life I’ve lived. This is the background I’ve come from. This is what we do.’ “But looking back now I realise that what I did was stupid and reckless and disgusting. It’s a big regret.” Balogun was caught and sentenced to nine years in prison for his part in the incident. Back inside, at HMP Blantyre House, Kent, Balogun resolved to turn his life around. He decided he wanted to be a chef - “I used to watch Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares religiously every week” - and a friendly prison officer suggested he apply for a training place at The Clink, a charity-run restaurant inside HMP High Down, Surrey (it now operates three more restaurants at prisons around England and Wales). Balogun earned a catering NVQ there, and became eligible for day-release work towards the end of his sentence. He was told a job had been found for him in a place e spent his early life in and out of jail - then Michael Balogun decided he wanted to study to become an actor at one of the world’s most prestigious drama schools. Could this seemingly impossible ambition be the catalyst he needed to turn his life around? As he sat alone in his prison cell, thinking about all the chances he’d messed up, Michael Balogun made a decision: if he couldn’t work out what to do with his life that night, he would hang himself. Balogun closed his eyes and began remembering scenes from his life. The father who abandoned the family. The mother who was sent to prison for dealing drugs. The day he was taken into care and his first forays into street crime. His own jail sentences. The opportunities to go straight he had squandered. And then a thought flashed into his mind. Acting... He could try acting. To anyone who had never met Balogun, it would have seemed a wildly incongruous ambition. But it’s one he eventually realised. Last year he graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), one of the world’s most prestigious drama schools. And when he took his place on stage for the first time at the National Theatre’s new production of Macbeth alongside such celebrated actors as Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff, he marvelled at how far he had come. “I would never have imagined myself here,” he thought to himself. Balogun grew up in Kennington, south London, in an unusual home. “My dad wasn’t around, my mum was going on holiday a lot, travelling a lot, and it was me and my sisters in the house, alone,” he says. There were always people coming in and out. One of his early memories was watching his mother argue with two men. As they left, Balogun saw one of them put a gun in his waistband. The most traumatic period of his childhood began when he was aged about seven or eight, with his mother’s arrest. “No-one can look after a child better than their own mother,” he says. “It was like the end of the world for me.” She was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but somehow the authorities didn’t realise that Michael and his two sisters had been left alone in the house to fend for themselves. The three of them were used to it, he says. His older sister took care of the housework and sorting out the family’s benefits. “We kind of just kept it how it was whenever mum went on holiday.” ________________________________________ One day, a year or two later, Balogun fell ill at school. “I remember the teachers saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to call your mum,’ and I remember being like, ‘Nah, nah, don’t worry, it’s fine.’” Eventually they worked out his mother was in prison. Social services were alerted. Balogun and his sisters were taken into care and then went to live with an aunt. After this, he started to go off the rails. His criminal career began in Sainsbury’s, where he went to steal doughnuts - “I didn’t really have much money and I just needed to eat sometimes,” he says. By the time he started secondary school, he’d fallen in with a crowd of other south London teenagers with difficult backgrounds. “I started off stealing, then I started robbing people on the street - handbags and all that stuff. Mugging people.” From there he progressed to selling cannabis at school, and by the time he was 16 or 17 he was dealing in heroin and crack cocaine on the streets of Kentish Town, north London and Portsmouth. When he received his first prison sentence - threehe’d never heard of before - at Rada, in the drama school’s canteen. Balogun was delighted - this would be a chance to hone his skills and earn some money. Plus, “I thought there’s probably going to be some attractive women floating around, if I’m honest,” he says. “Obviously, having been in prison a few years, you know?” He was nervous when he arrived at Rada, and his time there didn’t go well at first. Balogun was told that his vegetable-chopping was too slow and he was relegated to serving drinks at the bar. “I was a bit moody because I was like, ‘I didn’t come her to work on a bar, I came here to learn to cook,’” he says. “I wanted to be a chef and had all these ideas and ambitions about opening up a restaurant.” Then one day the manager asked if he wanted to watch one of the plays performed by Rada’s students. Balogun, who had never been inside a theatre except on a trip to watch Starlight Express when he was at primary school, jumped at the opportunity. He was ushered into the auditorium. The play was Measure For Measure. “Whenever I thought of Shakespeare, I just thought of, like… these guys running around in old clothes,” he says. But this was a modern-dress staging, set in present-day America. “I was like: ‘Oh, they’re doing New York accents and it’s set in New York and people are acting quite contemporary and normal.’” Another revelation was a production of Mercury Fur, Philip Ridley’s controversial play about a post-apocalyptic London. Balogun was mesmerised. “It’s one of those things where you “I started off stealing, then I started robbing people on the street - handbags and all that stuff. Mugging people.” From there he progressed to selling cannabis at school, and by the time he was 16 or 17 he was dealing in heroin and crack cocaine on the streets of Kentish Town, north London and Portsmouth. watch a play and you forget about life. You are just there and inside this thing, watching everything happen, and it just takes you.” When he went back to prison that night, Balogun raved about what he’d seen. He took his friend and fellow inmate Marvin through the plot, acting out scenes and impersonating the characters. What struck Marvin, however, was the vivid manner in which Balogun had recounted the play. Marvin told him: “I reckon you could be an actor, you know, bruv. Because you’re very dramatic, the way you tell stories. You get into it, you lose yourself.” Balogun wasn’t convinced. Surely being an actor wasn’t for the likes of him? He pushed all this to the back of his mind. And anyway, Balogun was about to squander his chances for redemption again. Taking a mobile phone into prison was strictly forbidden. But, says Balogun, “I was being a bit greedy and I wanted to talk to a couple of friends.” As he returned from Rada one day he tried to sneak a phone into his locker. A prison officer spotted it and, straight away, all his privileges were revoked. No more day release, no more Rada. No more open prison, category-D status - instead, a transfer to closed conditions at HMP Elmley, Kent. “I think there’s something in me, this selfdestruction,” he says. “This has happened to me a lot in my life. Messing things up, constantly.” To cope with the culture shock of returning to a closed prison, Balogun was smoking the synthetic cannabinoid, Spice. “It messes up your head a lot,” he says. “I was having psychotic episodes.” It was at this low ebb that Balogun gave himself a night to decide how to make something of his life, or kill himself. As he closed his eyes and went over memories in his head, he suddenly made the connections between what those around him had been saying. Marvin, his former fellow inmate, wasn’t the first person who had suggested he might have an aptitude for the stage. He’d befriended some of the drama students, some of whom had asked him to practise their lines with them, and one had suggested he was good enough to do it professionally. At school, he recalled, his teachers told him he was a natural performer. Before he’d been exposed as an ex-convict, his superiors at the bank had praised his energy and charisma. It all made sense to him now - acting was his best chance of redemption. “As soon as that thought came in my head, I just felt like something had been lifted off,” he says. “And I knew - instinctively, inside of me - knew that was the right thing to do.” The next day, a psychologist came to see him in his cell about his psychosis. “I’m fine now,” he said to her. He told her about his plans to become an actor - and, by coincidence, it turned out the psychologist was a part-time drama teacher. She began bringing him plays each week to read - Noel Coward, Shakespeare. He didn’t understand King Lear the first time he read it, but he was determined to learn. And as he started to make sense of what he was reading, he felt validated - that he could really do this. And what better place to do it than Rada? He was still in contact with students there, who told him how tough it was to get in. Each year 5,000 would apply and only 28 would be admitted. After his release, his determination to get into Rada hadn’t diminished. But even in the unlikely event that he got in, how could he raise the £28,000 course fees? He’d never heard of student loans. He thought: “I’ll go back to what I know best - which is drugdealing - for a bit, save up some money.” So he was selling drugs again - except this time, alongside his illicit business activities, Balogun was taking Shakespeare classes run by a homeless charity. But once again, the police caught up with him, and he ended up back in prison. It was the final wake-up call he needed that he had to quit crime for good. Six months later, Balogun was released again, and he began applying straight away to drama schools. For his Rada audition, Balogun chose the St Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V. “When he was younger, he was a bit of a rogue. And then he has to become king, so he has to step up to the plate. This is an emotional, rousing speech. I remember reading it and thinking, ‘I can do this one.’” He performed it as though he was talking to his mates in prison. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition. Sometime after the audition, his phone rang. A withheld number. Rada calling to let him know how he’d done. His heart began beating faster. “We’d like to offer you a place on the BA in acting,” a voice down the line told him. He lay on the floor of his mum’s kitchen and cried. This month, as he walked out in front of an audience at National Theatre for the first time, and saw Duff and Kinnear on stage alongside him, Balogun thought about the epiphany in the prison cell that brought him there. “Obviously circumstances do affect you, and events that happen in your life - but there comes a time in life where you need to take responsibility,” he says. “I strongly believe that your imagination is powerful, and that’s where the magic is. If you have an idea, a motivation to do something - just do it, because you’ll be surprised what you can do.” •Source: bbc.com