Leadership (Abuja)

23 July 2014

Nigeria: 100 Days of Chibok Girls in Captivity

Photo: Screenshot/Premium Times
Missing Nigerian Girls

Sounds of gunshots broke the silence of the night, forcing the students out of their beds. Shaking like one possessed by demons, Patience Bulus, one of the students in the hostel, jumped out of her bed, scampering from one part of the room to the other. This is just as her colleagues, other female students in the hostel also in panic state, scrambled to the entrance of the hostel. And just then, armed gunmen dressed in military camouflage broke into the hostel, ordering them out of the hostel.

"We are here to assist and protect you," one of the gunmen told the now frightened female students. "If you do as we instruct you, no harm shall come to you; but if you disobey us, surely, you will die," one of the gunmen, speaking with a baritone voice told the girls.

Patience, 18, and the other students were herded out of the hostel by the gunmen and made to sit under a big tree in the school compound. They then went round the school, setting fire on the hostel, classrooms and other buildings.

This is not a scene from a movie, but a true story of how over 300 female students were kidnapped at gunpoint in Chibok by Boko Haram insurgents in the night of 14th April, 2014.

It is 100 days today since the kidnap of these students of the Government Girls' Secondary School, Chibok in Borno State, North-eastern part of the country, yet, they've not been rescued, and this is despite the public outcry that greeted the incident within and outside the country.

The girls were final year students brought together from the various secondary schools in and around towns and villages close to Chibok town, to write their WAEC examinations in the school. Since the kidnap of these girls, dozens of them have escaped from Sambisa Forest where they are being held captive, but more than 200 of them still remain in captivity. Their continuous detention by Boko Haram insurgents has continued to be a thing of concern not only to the Nigerian public, but also to the international community.

Patience, one of the girls who escaped from the Boko Haram gunmen on the night of their kidnap, told LEADERSHIP in an exclusive interview that: "It was on Monday, 14th April, 2014, when Boko Haram gunmen came into our school at about 11:30pm. They wore military camouflage and we thought they were soldiers who had come to assist us but we later realised that they were Boko Haram gunmen.

"They ordered us to move out of our dormitories and to the school administration block where they ordered us to sit on the ground, after which they began shooting and burning down school buildings.

Having set fire on the school buildings, they moved us to a big locust bean tree and forced us to enter some trucks they brought with them. Some of the trucks had food items that were taken by the Boko Haram men from the school's food store. So, they asked us all to either enter the trucks or get killed. We were all scared and had to enter the vehicles.

"When all of us were inside the vehicles, the trucks drove through bush roads and paths that lead to the Sambisa Forest for about 30 minutes, and then some of them broke down along the way. At that point, the gunmen brought out the girls in the vehicles that broke down and forced them into the others even when they could not contain us. Initially, they had nine vehicles, but three had faults. So, after forcing the girls in the three vehicles to join us, the three vehicles with faults were burnt by them," said Patience, a student in Senior Secondary 3A of the Government Girls' Secondary School, Chibok.

Musa Bulus, 33, brother of Patience, told LEADERSHIP that it was heart-warming that his sister was able to escape from her captors and praised God for this. But he said their joy is not complete knowing that there are many other innocent girls out there in the Forest suffering and who need to be rescued immediately. He also expressed displeasure with the way the kidnap of these girls has been handled by the government of Borno State.

"There has never been any assistance given to my sister. When this incident happened, the principal of the school called us and told us that she wanted to ask my sister questions. So, I took my sister to the school and when we got there, the principal interviewed her, after which she was asked to go back home.

Prior to the principal's interview, Musa said their district head had interviewed his sister about what transpired on the night of their kidnap. "Before the principal interviewed her, I took her to our district head who also interviewed her. Now, after these two interviews with my sister, nobody has visited our family. Shortly after this, I was called to take my sister to the school to enable her fill a form and a few days later, we were asked to take her and her friend to Chibok in preparation for their trip to Maiduguri as the state government wanted to meet with all the girls who escaped from Boko Haram after their abduction."

"There in Chibok, they had a list of just 11 girls who they said escaped from Boko Haram. My sister's name, Patience Bulus, was third on the list. And as the officials who came from Maiduguri were calling the names, my sister came out and suddenly, one of the officials said he had to phone them in Maiduguri first to be sure that my sister would be among those going. After making the phone call, the man said he was instructed to delete my sister's name from the list, and that he did.

"I protested against this and asked why my sister would not be taken to Maiduguri when she was the first to report to the school authorities after her escape from Boko Haram. But I was told that since this was the first batch of escapees being taken to Maiduguri, my sister would be included in the second batch. So, only seven girls were moved to Maiduguri as the first batch. Now, this happened just three days after the kidnap of the girls.

"Prior to this, a day after the kidnap of the girls, an official of the Borno State Ministry of Education came to the school in Chibok and was surprised that in spite of the attack on the town and the kidnap of the girls, there were still no security men in the school. And because of lack of security, the education official just met the principal and her vice, and then he entered his vehicle and drove off," Musa said.

Ali Maiyanga, 50, from Askira Uba, a town 30 kilometres from Chibok, had two of his daughters among the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Chibok. The girls were among those brought from other towns and villages to write their exams at the GSS, Chibok.

Maiyanga said, "Two of my daughters, Maryam, 17, and Halima, 16, are among the girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram insurgents. Both girls are still being held captive there in Sambisa Forest.

"On the day of the incident, that is Monday, 14th April, I was in my house throughout the evening, watching movies up to about 11:30pm. Some few minutes to midnight, Maryam, my daughter, phoned her mom from the school, telling her that Boko Haram gunmen were attacking the school and they were holed up in the hostel. Maryam's mother was confused and was asking her, 'what are you girls going to do now?' And in the midst of this, the phone went off.

"Soon, one of our neighbours too heard the news about the attack going on in the school and rushed to my house to tell us what was happening. It was difficult for us to do anything at that time of the night. More so, we live in Askira Uba, about 30 kilometres from Chibok. So, in the morning I left for Chibok and went straight to the school. There, I found that the school had been burnt down, and all the students' belongings were destroyed with nothing valuable left.

"The incident left me devastated. I did not know what to do about the situation, so I went back home. For one week after the incident, I kept returning to Chibok, hoping to hear some positive news about our daughters but all was a futile exercise as the officials of the state government kept telling us to return each day we went there. At a point, I got so frustrated that I decided to resign my fate to God."

Lawan Yamta, 54, another parent of one of the kidnapped Chibok girls, on his part, told LEADERSHIP that his daughter was a student of Government Secondary School, Chibok. "My daughter, Maryamu, is a student at the Government Secondary School, Chibok. She is among the girls that were kidnapped by Boko Haram insurgents".

"The news that Boko Haram insurgents would be attacking the school was rife earlier on the day of the incident and no serious effort was made to ensure the safety of these students. The news spread in Chibok at about 4pm, before the actual attack took place at about 11:30pm. The unfortunate thing is that the principal of the school was not in town on that day; only the vice principal was in the school, yet nothing was done to protect the girls or even ask them to leave the school.

"We don't know why they were not asked by the school management to vacate the school. I was told that when some of the students got wind of the impending attack, they were packing their valuables to leave the school, but the vice principal and other teachers forced them to remain in the school," he added.

Yamta believes that the wrong decision made by the school authorities in Chibok is responsible for the girls' present predicament.

"I think it was an issue of wrong judgement by the school authorities in Chibok. They had assumed that when Boko Haram gunmen attacked a school in Mungono, they left the girls in that school but killed the boys. So, the assumption by the teachers in Chibok was that even if Boko Haram gunmen came to the school, the girls would be spared, hence, it was only the girls that were in the school that night. It was a wrong decision that has caused us our girls. While the girls were in the school, the school's main gate was locked and the girls became more of prisoners," Yamta said.

Boko Haram confirms kidnap

Shortly after the disappearance of the girls, the Boko Haram Islamic sect claimed responsibility for the kidnappings. Abubakar Shekau, leader of the sect, in a video circulated to media organisations within and outside Nigeria, threatened to "give their hands in marriage because they are our slaves. We would marry them out at the age of 9. We would marry them out at the age of 12." However, last week, Shekau in a new video message, said that he is prepared to negotiate a prisoner swap for the girls with the Nigerian government.

The reaction of the Nigerian government to the kidnap of these girls at the initial stage was that of denial of such incident. The blame game between the federal government and Borno State government contributed immensely to the prolonged sojourn of the Chibok girls in Sambisa Forest.

In fact, the blame game was the catalyst for the inaction of the Nigerian government in rescuing the girls, and as a result, fears have been expressed that some of the girls might have died or been taken out of the country to other neighbouring countries like Cameroon, Chad and Mali.

Malala's Response

To cap it all, Malala Yousafzai, the teenage campaigner for girls' education in Pakistan, was in the country last week where she met President Goodluck Jonathan on the plight of the Chibok girls. President Jonathan on his part, assured her that the abducted Chibok girls will be freed soon.

Malala Yousafzai, was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012 for campaigning for girls' education. She met parents of the Chibok girls also within the week where she told them that: "I can see those girls as my sisters ... and I'm going to speak up for them until they are released."

Malala assured that she was going to participate actively in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign in order to ensure that the girls are rescued and allowed to continue with their education. "I can feel the circumstances under which you are suffering," Malala said. "It's quite difficult for a parent to know that their daughter is in great danger," she added.

However, while the pressure has been mounted by these organizations and groups, for the release of these Chibok girls, nothing tangible has been achieved in this direction, as the Nigerian government seems helpless in the face of the Boko Haram onslaught and grandstanding. The fight against the Insurgents seems to be an overwhelming task for the Nigerian Armed forces.

But then, going by the prayers of wailing parents of the Chibok girls, the goodwill shown by the international community, and the prayers of other God-fearing Nigerians, there is hope that freedom for the Chibok girls is feasible and may come the way of these girls soon.

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