3 July 2014

Nigeria: Chibok Girls - Our Hope Is Waning - Parents

Maiduguri, Abuja and Kaduna — It is 80 days today since the abduction of over 276 schoolgirls from a secondary school in Chibok, Borno State, but parents as well as residents now seem reclined to the belief that they have been finally abandoned.

About 57 of the girls have since slipped away from their captors since they were seized on April 14 and re-united with their parents.

But distressed parents who spoke to Daily Trust yesterday said they have lost hope in the authorities to rescue the remaining 219 girls still being held by the Boko Haram group.

"I strongly believe that the Federal Government is yet to come to terms with the fact that our daughters have been abducted," says Mr. James Yama, the father of one of the girls.

Mr. Yama, who lives in Mbalala, a few kilometers to Chibok, said his daughter, Jinkai, 19, was a rising star in the family before her abduction.

"We have been counting days in agony and it seems the count will not end. It is very sad that some people in Abuja are living happily with their children, oblivious of the pain we are going through here," he said.

"As far as we are concerned, not an inch of progress has been achieved since the day our daughters were taken away...we haven't seen anything tangible because no girl has been rescued, those who reunited with their families fled on their own. Personally, the abduction of my daughter and the events that followed demoralised my family. We no longer sleep in our houses; we no longer go to farms. My wife is now battling with blood pressure and we have to take her to hospital every week for medical attention. Even the clamour in the media has faded and we are left on our own. These days, you hardly hear anything 'Chibok' which signifies that our predicament has been overtaken by events," James lamented.

Habu Balla, another resident of Mbalala, urged the federal authorities to eschew sentiment and help them.

"There are Muslims and Christians in Chibok and all the affected villages and therefore, the challenges confronting us should be seen beyond religious, tribal or ethnic lines. We are now living in fear in Mbalala because there is no security presence and as you are aware, most of the villages around have been attacked and destroyed by insurgents," he said.

A few days after the abduction, Chibok and by extension Borno State attracted the attention of the media with dozens of foreign and local journalists making frantic efforts to have first hand information.

But recent findings show that visitors no longer patronize Chibok, with residents saying the "prominence" given it by the media only succeeded in aggravating their plight.

Shettima Haruna, a resident whose daughter, Margaret Shettima, 18, is among those abducted, says he is a sad man.

"It is like there is deception in the so-called rescue effort because no girl has been brought back, we feel something is significantly wrong somewhere," he said. Haruna said he has no reason to blame anyone that says there is no rescue effort.

"We haven't seen anything on ground since the 14th of April to suggest that efforts are being made unless if they are using miracle. We haven't seen any white man coming to Chibok or heading to Sambisa and the worst part is that we are kept in the dark, nobody is saying anything or updating us on events.

"On our side, we are optimistic that our daughters are in Sambisa Forest but it seems no one is willing to penetrate the place to rescue our daughters," Haruna said.

A vigilante member, Markus John, said if something urgent is not done, the girls will never return.

"As vigilantes, we have our limitations because we have to obey instructions from the powers otherwise we would have gone to Sambisa long ago. We are ever willing to go with security forces if they would give us cover," he said.

The United States, France and United Kingdom are among countries that offered to help Nigeria rescue the girls. However, not much has been heard of the collaboration even as there are conflicting reports on the actual condition of the girls in the hands of their captives.

Some reports suggest that many of them have been married off and many others were ferried across Chad and Cameroon. Some are said to be pregnant in the bushes, some bitten by snakes and others afflicted by other ailments.

Findings by Daily Trust revealed that the condition of parents of the girls is equally pathetic.

One of them, Mr. Mutai Hona, whose two daughters are among those abducted, died shortly after he watched the video released by Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau.

Some women were said to have gone mad in Chibok while hundreds of others are in distress, constantly going to hospital to seek medical attention for yet to be diagnosed ailments.

"We would be pleased if the federal government would agree to a prisoner exchange deal as suggested by the leader of the Boko Haram," Laraba Bako, a mother, said.

The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, weeks ago in Abuja said the military knows the whereabouts of the girls.

"The good news for the parents is that we now know where they are, but we cannot tell you, we cannot come and tell you the secret. Just leave us alone, we are working to get the girls back. I can tell you our military can do it, but where they are held, can we go with force? Nobody should say the Nigerian military does not know what it is doing. We can't kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back. So we are working, the president has empowered us to do the work," Badeh, who was addressing protesters, said.

But a day after, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that they were not aware of the development.

"We don't have independent information from the United States to support that statement. We, as a matter of policy and for the girls' safety and wellbeing, will not discuss publicly this sort of information regardless," she said.

Laraba, a mother, said: "Our prayer is that we should be informed about the position of our daughters and government should do everything possible to bring them back. History will not forgive those in power if they fail to do so because we took our girls to public schools because we believe government will take care of them. Most importantly, serious rescue operation within a country should not take this long. The size of Sambisa is being exaggerated and if Nigerian troops cannot penetrate it, then we should pity ourselves whenever we face external aggression".

On its part, the Borno State government set aside N100 million for the rehabilitation of the girls and support for their parents. Similarly, a team of experts from the interfaith mediation centre, Family Health International (FHI) 360 and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has begun a counseling programme for the 57 school girls who escaped.

The governor said in September, all the rescued girls would be enrolled in schools in other parts of the country so that they can repeat their final examinations. As the days pass by, there is apprehension in Chibok and neighbouring villages on whether the girls will ever be found.

However, the coordinator of the national briefing centre, Mr. Mike omeri, yesterday in Abuja said the arrest of the Boko Haram informant and a commandant is one giant stride the troops have achieved in the last few days in the rescue operation of the abducted Chibok girls.

"One of the Boko Haram informants and commandant has been apprehended and the men of the security forces are inching towards rescuing the girls alive and in safe condition," omeri said.

On Monday the defence headquarters said it has smashed a major terrorist intelligence network and arrested a key suspect involved in the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls.

When contacted, the President of Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria, Shehu Sani said that government from its response seems indecisive on the steps to take to free the abducted girls.

According to him, govern-ment has two ways to free the girls including the use of force or swapping the girls for the insurgents in detention. "Swapping is a difficult choice for government because if it agrees to swapping, it will seem to be weak and surrendering to terror and it refuses to swap, it will be blamed for whatever happens thereafter; so government is indecisive," he said.

He however stressed the need for urgency noting that time is running out and the girls may be brainwashed by the insurgents as they continue to languish in their hands.

Commenting on the effort of the Civil Rights Congress in ensuring the release of the girls, he said "We are in favour of swapping the girls with the insurgents in detention and we are also available for any peaceful resolution to the crisis," he added.

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