Toblerone bars used in campaign for release of abducted Nigerian teenager Leah Sharibu
US author and humanitarian Reno Omokri has continued his campaign for the release of abducted Nigerian teenager Leah Sharibu in creating personalised Toblerone chocolate bars carrying her name to raise the profile of her case, reports Neill Barston.
The school pupil was taken along with 109 children attending a government technical college in February 2018, in Dapchi, Yobe State, reportedly by the Boko Haram group, which is later said to have released almost all of them except for Leah, on the grounds she refused to renounce her Christian faith and convert to Islam.
Several other of those taken hostage are also said to be unaccounted for and are believed to have died as a result of their ordeal, according to BBC reports.
Consequently, Californian-based Omokri set up the #FreeLeahSharibu campaign, which has seen him lobby a number of world leaders, including meeting UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (below), as well as penning a book on the kidnapping, with proceeds going to the family of Leah. His travels have been funded entirely from his own resources, and he has also created campaign t-shirts (with funds going directly to Leah’s family) urging the release of the teenager, who is now 16, and thought to still be alive from reports in recent months.
Tweeting about the specially commissioned Toblerone bars, which are manufactured by Mondelēz International in Switzerland, he said: “Please can you retweet this post of the Toblerone bar so that we can let the world know that you stand with Leah, and that she has not been forgotten. Leah we love you and are praying for your release.”
Speaking to Confectionery Production, Omokri confirmed that his initiative was entirely self-funded, and that he remained hopeful that she could still be released, despite it now being over two years since her abduction.
He said: “I have now been to 32 nations, at my own expense, meeting world leaders to appeal to them to pressure the Nigerian government to secure her release. I have not collected a dime from any individual, government or foundation. Leah has now been declared dead twice. Both times, I fasted and prayed, and Boko Haram released a proof of life video or photo. I believe in the power of prayers.”
Adding his concern on the issue, Nigerian traditional ruler Oba Dokun Thompson told Confectionery Production that he was particularly struck by the case, particularly as it centred on Leah reportedly refusing to change her religion in order to gain release.
He said: “When I saw the photo of the Toblerone brand with Leah Sharibu on it, two things came to mind, the first being no other product could carry such message like chocolate would because chocolate had an appeal of love and sweetness to it irrespective of gender, age, religion or faith with a delicate nature and this was such a powerful campaign that captured the very essence of the Leah situation and prayed the message would get to all the necessary places that would secure her release and safe return to her family and normal life, not just for her but everyone in similar situation in Nigeria and around the world.
“The second thought was around the present condition of Leah and the challenges her family may be facing at this present time or may face if in the event she was released this moment and thought if people bought the chocolate in support of the campaign, then Leah and family should benefit from it and hoped the idea behind the campaign was that part of the funds raised from the sales of the ‘Leah Sharibu Branded Toblerone Chocolate’ will be set aside to provide help for her and her family when she is finally released,” added Dokun Thompson, who said that he prayed her release would come sooner rather than later.
Confectionery Production has approached Mondelēz International for comment on the case of Leah Sharibu, but at the time of going to press, we are awaiting a response.