From Timothy Olanrewaju, Maiduguri
Seven years have gone but the echoes, pains and grief of the April 14, 2014, mass abduction of schoolgirls by Boko Haram terrorists from Government Girls’ Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, remain.
Docas Yakubu, who was 16, the youngest of the 276 kidnapped girls, is now 21, according to Daily Sun’s checks. Others that were between 17 and 20 are now about 27, an indication the yesterday’s teenagers have become women.
Dealing with the numbers
Dealing with the exact number of abducted students was a herculean task weeks after the incident. There were several claims by the authorities and the girls’ parents. A total of 276 was eventually agreed to be the exact number of girls abducted by Boko Haram from the school. Fifty-seven escaped days after.
In October 2016, 21 of the girls were freed while another was rescued in the following month. One was freed in January 2017 and 82 in May of the same year. It is believed that 119 are still in captivity.
As the hawk hovers over bush fires, so does the reality of the abduction swoop the nation on April 14 every year or anytime such incidents occur in the country. It was a sad event that underscored threat to education of the girl-child in northern Nigeria, director-general, Borno State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Hajiya Ya Bawa Kolo, said.
How they fared
Sources with deeper knowledge of the abduction, the first mass kidnap of teenage students from a school in Nigeria, maintain that most of the schoolgirls have become mothers in Boko Haram camps.
“They’ve been married to Boko Haram commanders, some, since 2016, others since 2017 and they’ve given birth to children; some one, some two. This is the reality,” one of the sources said, not willing to give further details. The claim was corroborated by multiple local security sources.
The casualties are many
The casualties of the April 14, 2014, abduction are not only the missing girls but also the parents who have borne the brunt of missing children, delayed hope, anxiety and psychological trauma of regularly looking at their daughters’ photographs in family albums or clothes left at home before the sad event.
“It’s traumatising,” said Mr. Yakubu Nkeki, chairman of the forum of parents of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls.
Director of media and communications for Chibok community, Dr. Allen Manasseh, commenting further on the issue, stated that lack of regular updates by the Federal Government on the rescue efforts has worsened the health of the parents
“At the last count, over 20 parents have died,” he told Daily Sun in an interview. Manasseh’s aunt was the first to pass away two days after the abduction when she was told her two daughters were whisked away by Boko Haram to Sambisa bush, the insurgents’ operational base. Some of the patents have been battling with trauma stress, among other mental health challenges, Manasseh said.
The Federal Government and Borno State government said they have not relented in efforts to free the students from Boko Haram bondage. Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, at a press conference last week in Abuja, the nation’s capital, marking the April 14 abduction, ueged parents to keep their hopes alive. Borno State govenor, Babagana Zulum, in a press statement, said the President often expressed his determination to secure their freedom but Chibok community insisted government’s words were not matched with action.
“Government should be able to get the parents of these girls and give them updates on what they have been doing and what the situation is. Government has never called us for an update about the rescue efforts either in Abuja, Maiduguri or Chibok. They only wait till when some of the girls are rescued or freed, or during the commemoration,” Manasseh, the community spokesman, said.
Chibok: Sad attraction, less attention
Chibok, a community of about 66,105 people and 1,350 kilometres per square landmass, according to the 2006 National Census, got global attraction for the tragic reason of the 2014 abduction but, sadly, with less attention. The community said the only road, 37 kilometres long, which linked the town to other communities in Borno, was poor, somewhat abandoned.
“The truth is that Chibok has been a neglected community both by the federal and Borno State government. The 37 kilometres road that links Chibok with Damboa Local Government Area has not been constructed for many years. With all the appropriations year in, year out, nothing has changed. The contract has been awarded by Borno State government three times to three different contractors but nothing has been done. I think it is the current government who now said the road must continue,” Manasseh said.
Daily Sun learnt the school where abduction took place has become a shadow of itself after former minister of finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, laid the foundation to kick-start the rebuilding process by the Federal Government through the Safe Schools project initiated by the international community, through former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. Brown himself was in Chibok with Okonjo-Iweala in August 2014. About 100 per cent mobilisation was reportedly paid to the contractors, including Nigerian Army Engineering, but works have stopped on the project since then, checks show.
The school premise is occupied by reptiles, a few building materials and growing wilderness, community members said. The school is the only public school in the town, a local government headquarters.
Chibok, Kankara, Jangebe nexus
Security experts have said a nexus existed between the 2014 Chibok school abduction and those of Katsina, Zamfara and Niger states. They said the perpetrators of the December 11, 2020, abduction of 300 pupils in Kankara, Katsina State, 279 female students of Jangede, Zamfara State, on February 26, 2021, as well as the Niger State abduction could be offshoots of Boko Haram/ISWAP hibernating in the bushes of North-West states.
“There is a strong link between what happened at Chibok and chains of school abductions we witness now. Chibok seemed to have emboldened the terrorists that they could launch attacks on schools and abduct large numbers of students for international attention because we failed to stop the first incident or at best rescue the Chibok girls in time. Rather, we politicised the matter till it slipped from our hands,” one of the experts said on condition of anonymity. He predicted the nation might contend with such abductions for a long time, except security forces collaborate and “respond proactively.”
Fear over girl-child education Some child rights campaigners have identified the fear of enrolment of girls in schools in the North as one of the fallouts of the Chibok abduction
“The abduction of Chibok girls seven years ago has also taken a toll on girl-child education, particularly in Borno. Many parents are scared of taking their daughters to school and as such enrolment of girl-child has reduced drastically,” said rights activist, Lucy Yonana.
Yonana, executive director of Maiduguri-based Women in the New Nigeria and Youth Empowerment Initiative (WINN), said sensitisation has commenced in the state and other parts of the North to allay fears of parents, especially mothers over the security of their children.
“We are dealing with a very terrible impact of the Chibok school abduction on our children, especially girls in Borno and other affected states,” she said. “We try to encourage parents to allow their daughters finish their senior classes before getting married. We believe they are still minors as junior students in JSS, so we keep encouraging parents through sensitization using religious leaders, traditional leaders and community leaders to plead with parents to support the education of the girl-child.”
She believes more prayers would create divine intervention, which can bring the ladies back.