20 January 2016

Nigeria: The 'Lost' Chibok Girls

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The sad and unfortunate aspect of this Chibok episode is that all the girls may have either been sold out to be used as sex slaves or married off to terrorists. Therefore, it will be a miracle if at all a quarter of them is ever seen again.

Exactly 647 days after they were abducted, the fate of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists remains a mystery. It has also remained a crime too horrifying to comprehend. That hundreds of teenage girls, who were about to finish their secondary education and destined for significant achievements in their lives, were so callously kidnapped in one fell swoop, perhaps, never to be seen again, is one of the greatest psychological trauma a nation can pass through.

In the last 647 days, the whole world has been gripped with horror and anxiety over the safe return of the schoolgirls believed to be more than 200. Day after day, hope of their return is raised only to be dashed by the next minute. Towards the last desperate days of the Goodluck Jonathan-led administration, some crooks, possibly with the collaboration of other unscrupulous government officials, pulled fast strings on the government by claiming to be capable of brokering freedom for the unfortunate girls. It later turned out to be a scam and the government was swindled of millions of tax payers' money.

When the current president, Muhammadu Buhari, was sworn in on May 29, 2015, he promised that he would fight for the release of the school girls. Although he was quick to add that his government had no credible intelligence regarding the whereabouts of the girls, nevertheless, he assured the nation that his administration would do everything possible to ensure that the girls were rescued. Eight months down the line, no significant progress seems to have been recorded on the rescue of the girls. Now that the second anniversary of their abduction is around the corner, the Bring BackOurGirls campaigners have increased the tempo of demand for the rescue of the girls. The girls, all students of Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, were abducted from their school compound by the Boko Haram terrorists on April 14, 2014.

Feelers from Chibok indicate that the military unit posted on guard duty around the scene of the crime that night was hurriedly requested to vacate the area some hours before the abductors arrived to carry out their nefarious activities. The soldiers said this much when they were rounded up by the military authorities after the crime had been committed.

Last week, the campaigners, alongside some parents of the girls, braved all odds to meet with the president. The president had earlier met with leaders of the BBOG campaigners and some of the parents on July 8, 2015, barely two months after he took office. Therefore, the president's meeting with the parents and the campaigners last week at the Presidential Villa was the second time in six months. Apart from meeting with the two parties, Buhari also ordered fresh investigation into the missing girls' case. The investigation will seek to, among other things, unravel the remote and immediate circumstances leading to the kidnap of the girls, as well as the other events, actions and inactions that followed the incident.

The president's latest pronouncement may have raised a spectre of renewed hope about finding the girls, particularly now that the Boko Haram terrorists seem to have been badly decimated and decapitated. For sure, launching a new investigation into the abduction saga is a welcome development, though many people may regard it as merely drawing the hands of the clock backward. Suffice to say that up till this moment, there is no comprehensive report on the events that took place on that fateful night of April 14, 2014 when the girls were abducted en masse while writing exams.

Feelers from Chibok indicate that the military unit posted on guard duty around the scene of the crime that night was hurriedly requested to vacate the area some hours before the abductors arrived to carry out their nefarious activities. The soldiers said this much when they were rounded up by the military authorities after the crime had been committed. But rather than conducting a thorough investigation into the matter, the military authorities merely listened to cock and bull stories as told by the superior officers on ground at the time and just railroaded the soldiers into detention with no access to the outside world. The officer who issued the relocation order was dismissed and tried before he was convicted for one year in prison. By now, he must have finished serving his sentence. In fact, the soldiers too were said to have initially been slated for court martial but the decision was later dropped.

Mention must also be made of the presence of some male students who were said to be writing exams side by side the girls on the night of the abduction. It is curious that since that event, nobody has been able to establish the nexus between those 'mysterious' boys and the Chibok girls.

Now that a fresh investigation is to be conducted, the soldiers, who are still in detention, may provide a good lead that could help in unraveling the truth about the Chibok abduction. But then, those helpless soldiers have no reason to be thrown in the dungeon since all these years for an offence they may not have committed other than obeying orders from a superior officer who has been duly sanctioned. The truth is that some unscrupulous army officers may have been complicit in the whole saga. Also, some residents of Chibok who were around during the night of the abduction and after may have more to disclose than had actually been revealed. Mention must also be made of the presence of some male students who were said to be writing exams side by side the girls on the night of the abduction. It is curious that since that event, nobody has been able to establish the nexus between those 'mysterious' boys and the Chibok girls.

Similarly, the report of the Brigadier-General Ibrahim Sabo-led investigative panel set up by former President Jonathan to look into the abduction, after several months of official lethargy and inactivity on the plight of the girls and their parents by his government, has never been made public. This is the time to open the veil of secrecy in which it has so far been shrouded. Perhaps, this is the time for anybody who has information about the missing girls to come forward and speak out. We have certainly passed the level of covering up the truth about the events of April 14, 2014. It could be the Chibok girls today, but nobody knows whose turn it will be tomorrow.

However, what appears confusing is all the talk about liberating the whole of the North-East from the clutches of Boko Haram. It might just be mere propaganda by the government. This is because in many areas in the affected places, people are yet to go back to their homes. A case in point is that of Mafa, which is just 35 kilometres from Maiduguri and some other adjoining villages like Gamboru Ngala and others which have remained deserted till date.

... the Chibok girls may have been dispersed across the West African sub-region to such areas as Chad, Niger, Burkina-Faso, Mali, Central African Republic and even to far away Sudan, Libya and all that. Remember that most of the leaders of the Boko Haram terrorists were possibly trained in both Sudan and Libya.

From the little I have been able to piece together, the Chibok girls may have been dispersed across the West African sub-region to such areas as Chad, Niger, Burkina-Faso, Mali, Central African Republic and even to far away Sudan, Libya and all that. Remember that most of the leaders of the Boko Haram terrorists were possibly trained in both Sudan and Libya. That is the more reason why our intelligence officers should extend their dragnet to countries outside the shores of Nigeria.

But do we really have capable intelligence officers to do the job? Certainly, no! This is because the Defence Intelligence Agency, DIA, whose responsibility it is to provide accurate intelligence for the country is in comatose. Up till now, the agency is still in the dark about the fate of two of its operatives who got missing in action in Baga more than a year ago. The place is a gold mine for most of the uniform officers posted there. That is why things have deteriorated so badly in the DIA.

The sad and unfortunate aspect of this Chibok episode is that all the girls may have either been sold out to be used as sex slaves or married off to terrorists. Therefore, it will be a miracle if at all a quarter of them is ever seen again. In that case, they may be lost forever. That is the bitter truth!

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