By Marama Ndahi
Soldiers stood in strategic locations as residents went about their businesses. In a corner of the town, scores of other soldiers surrounded what you would think was a national asset. But you will be mistaken to find that what the soldiers were looking after were mostly rubbles. Welcome to the site which used to be Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok in Chibok Local Government Area of Borno State.
This was the site attacked by fighters of the terror group, Boko Haram, on April 14, 2014 and captured about 219 students – all girls. The girls, in boarding house, were writing their final examination at the time of the attack.
21 of the captives were released in October 2016 after government negotiated with the terror group. Also, on May 17, 2016, one of the girls, identified as Amina Ali, with her four months old baby, named Safiya, and purported husband, said to be a member of Boko Haram, were rescued by the military in what was described as “Operation Crackdown’ in Baale village around Sambisa forest. But three years after the midnight attack, about 197 of the girls are still in the custody of Boko Haram, with some of them said to have been married off to the group’s fighters or turned into sex slaves.
When Sunday Vanguard visited Chibok last week ahead of the third anniversary of the Boko Haram attack (next Friday), the sight everywhere was one of uneasy calm.
To the residents, the third anniversary is one of mixed feelings. Yes, some of the kidnapped schoolgirls have either been released or rescued. But most of the girls remain in captivity. And to make matters worse, residents said Chibok communities of Kantikari, Pwarangiliim, Kopchi and Takwilashu still come under Boko Haram attacks.
The parents of some of the 197 schoolgirls still in captivity were still pained that three years on, their children had still not been rescued.
They spoke about their anguish to Sunday Vanguard in unmistakable terms. Mr Amos Mustapha is one of such parents. Mustapha gave the name of his abducted child as Ruth. “The parents of the kidnapped schoolgirls would seem to have been scarred for life. Some of us still have our children in captivity. But even those whose children have been rescued or released by Boko Haram are also scarred because the parents will carry the stigma for the rest of their lives,” he stated.
“My daughter is the type any parent would wish to have. Brilliant, obedient and dutiful. Since the abduction, we have not heard from her. It is now three years since the incident happened. We don’t even know whether she is still alive or dead.
“All we can say as parents is that God should have mercy. As we speak, our communities of Kautikari and Paya Yesu are still unsafe as Boko Haram continues to attack at will.
“And since the 2014 attack, our children have stopped going to school because no school operates here anymore. No hospital either. Even the little foodstuff we managed to produce have been looted.”
Another parent, Mr. Modu Usman, lamented the continued absence of her abducted daughter (name withheld). He said, “Now that Easter is fast approaching, I still reflect on the fact that my daughter will not celebrate the festive period with me as it has been in the last two years.
“My daughter was brilliant and dedicated to God. At a point, she was the choir mistress in our church in Chibok. How I wish I can see even her dead body and bury it, rather than to continue thinking of her condition in the hands of the insurgents on daily basis”.
Usman’s wife also spoke. She said: “It is even better for me to have had a miscarriage when I was pregnant and I was expecting to be delivered of our abducted child than to experience what we are going through. The incident has affected my health. I became hypertensive two days after the abduction; and, since then, my BP has been on the upswing. There is nothing I can say; it has happened. It is bad, but there is nothing we can do as parents”.
Another mother of one of the abducted girls, who gave her name as Habiba Chiroma, said she had never attended any meeting of affected parents with government officials either in Chibok or outside the town, insisting that she would only do so when she was convinced that her only daughter had been rescued.
“Since the abduction of our daughters, we the parents have been invited to Maiduguri or Abuja, but there was never a time my husband and I honoured the invitations. This is because we learnt that some people were using the opportunity to make money. And so we will only go to a meeting with anyone when we are told our daughter has been rescued”, Habiba said.
Although there is no way we the parents can blame the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari for the inability to rescue our missing daughters, because the incident took place when this government was not in place, the fact remains that government is a continuous process, and all what we can tell the President is that we need our daughters back home”.
The District Head of Chibok, Zanna Modu Usman, said that his people, especially the parents of the abducted school girls, will never feel the impact of the military in the fight against insurgency until the girls still held by Boko Haram are rescued and reintegrated into the society.
“It is unfortunate, pityful and disheartening that three years after insurgents stormed Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok and went away with the girls, government and security agencies were yet to live up to expectation”, Usman said, lamenting that no amount of government delegations visit to Chibok or assistance to the community will cushion the trauma of the parents and relatives of the abductees.
The traditional ruler spoke during a function organized by Women Peace and Security Network (WPSN), a non-governmental organization (NGO), in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, in remembrance of the missing girls.
Representing the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar Ibn Garbai Elkanemi, at the event, he said statistics had shown that in less than four weeks of last year 2016, over 11,000 women and children abducted by the sect were rescued by the military. He stressed: “Unless the 219 schoolgirls are released or rescued, the parents of the girls and the people of Chibok will never understand the superiority of the military over the Boko Haram sect as claimed in some quarters”.
Also speaking on the fate of the girls, the Catholic Bishop of Maiduguri Diocese, Most Rev. Oliva Dashe, said security forces should not relent in the operation to rescue the victims.
Meanwhile, the Caretaker Chairman of Chibok Local Government Area, Hon. Yaga Yarakawa, has appealed to the Federal Government and security forces to intensify efforts to rescue the remaining kidnapped girls.
Yarakawa commended President Muhammad Buhari for his commitment towards the fight against insurgency, adding that the negotiation with Boko Haram leaders, which led to the release of 21 of the abducted girls, should be renewed in freed the remaining ones in captivity.
He also commended Governor Kashim Shettima for sponsoring most of the rescued girls, including the 51 others that managed to escape from the terrorists and are now schooling in a schools within and outside the country.