26 April 2014

Nigeria: Fears Over Govt's 'Slowness' in Rescuing Schoolgirls

Photo: Screenshot
Islamists hold girls kidnapped from schools.

The looks on the faces of residents of Chibok, were mostly those of traumatized people. Perfectly understandable, as over 200 school girls were abducted by gunmen from the all-girl secondary school located there almost two weeks ago.

Visible, too, was anger as they gathered in the scorching sun to listen to Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State and Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume, who were there to sympathize with them.

The gathering was emotionally charged, as parents could not hold back their tears and wept uncontrollably. "We've been sleepless since our daughters were taken away," said one Malam Shettima Haruna, whose daughter is still held captive by Boko Haram. "We waited patiently to see what security operatives would do, but we can no longer endure. We summoned courage and visited the Sambisa Forest to rescue our daughters but our efforts did not yield fruit due to the complexity of the forest," he said. He also appealed to government to intensify the search for the schoolgirls.

Another parent, Amos Chiroma, said when they reached the Sambisa forest they had to retreat because of the dangerous uncertainty that lurked within. "As desperate as we are to find our children, we had to withdraw," he told Weekly Trust. "Government is too slow and time is ticking," he said.

Another worrisome factor is how parents, family members and other residents are beginning doubt the Federal Government's commitment towards rescuing the schoolgirls. "Since the beginning of the insurgency in the state about five years ago, the Federal Government has never shown any seriousness in addressing the problem, except for the state of emergency which hasn't yielded results," a school teacher in Maiduguri, Mohammed Bukar, said. "They have not shown any seriousness that will give confidence to distraught parents," he said, also complaining about government's slowness.

This is after an expanded meeting of the National Security Council was convened on Thursday by President Goodluck Jonathan, which resolved to do everything possible to find and rescue the abductees.

Back at the gathering, parents wept, even after the assurances given by the governor that everything possible will be done to rescue their daughters. Weekly Trust attempted to talk to some of the schoolgirls who escaped and found their way home, but their families declined access to them. "They're simply too terrified to even speak now," said Baba Amos, whose sister was also abducted.

Zubairu Moses, whose cousin is among the fortunate escapees, lamented: "We're tired of waiting. If they were daughters of VIPs, something would have been achieved by now." He added that it's surprising that Sambisa Forest, which is not located outside Nigeria, is proving a tough nut to crack for security operatives. "If Nigerian security forces do not have the requisite surveillance facilities to track down the heartless insurgents, the Federal Government should be courageous enough and seek support of Western powers," he added, saying if it were in another clime, the whole country would be restless. Weekly Trust was in Chibok when the governor visited and observed that only four out of all the girls that escaped were around. Families said the schoolgirls are going through severe trauma and are also worried sick about their friends and colleagues.

Dr. Aisha Yussuf Ngude, Zonal Coordinator of WOTCLEF, criticized the Federal Government for its inability to rescue the schoolgirls. "Why are they so slow? Are they saying it isn't possible for the Nigerian Air Force to use jets and comb the entire forest?" she asked. "If nothing's done, we'll accuse them of complicity in the insurgency problem," she added.

Some youth vigilantes are also accusing top military brass of discouraging troops under their command from advancing into the Sambisa Forest. Some of the youths who spoke to Weekly Trust in confidence said something must be wrong somewhere, pointing out that the rescue operation should not have taken this long. "Some of us are really upset with the pussy-footing going on. If we can get a little support, we can confront the insurgents," said a vigilante. There have been serious concerns nationwide about the safety of the girls since they were abducted. Some women in the state, during the week, stated their willingness to go in search of the schoolgirls. Clad in black, they cried, crying to the insurgents to release the children. Professor Hauwa Abdu Biu, who spoke on behalf of the women, said amidst sobs: "We're ready to go into the bush to search for them, if we could get somebody who will lead us. These girls are innocent and no harm should befall them. We're calling on the sect members to please release all those in their custody without harming them and as a matter of urgency, lay down their arms and embrace dialogue. We assure them of our motherly support towards rehabilitation when the need arises."

Barrister Aisha Wakil Gana, who has been in the forefront of calling on the insurgents to lay down their arms and embrace dialogue, appealed for the release of the girls. Observers in the state fear that some of the girls might have been smuggled out of the country through porous borders. So far, not a single girl has been rescued by security operatives. Those who returned escaped on their own, braving the wilderness and elements to return home.

After news of the abductions broke, both the authorities of the school and officials of Borno State have not been consistent with the actual number of schoolgirls taken by Boko Haram. The school's principal, Asabe Kwambura, had early announced that 129 students were abducted but the distraught parents of the girls during the week told the governor that the number of girls abducted is 234. While nothing seems to be done and figures continue to change, the lives and safety of the innocent schoolgirls hang in the balance.

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