More chilling revelations have emerged to shed some light on the agonising experience of the missing Chibok girls, based on the account of one of the escapees.
Three of the girls have so far escaped from the terrorist group, Boko Haram, who abducted over 200 girls from a government secondary school in Chibok, Borno State on the night of April 14, 2014.
A clergy and expert on counter-terrorism, Oladimeji Thompson, of The Omoluabi Network, who has been working with other groups to assist victims of the abduction overcome their pains, gave a chilling narration based on an account of one of the escapees.
He said, “One of the girls I interviewed was being raped 15 times by 15 men every day.” He said the girl was traumatised and confused.
“It’s obvious this girl needs to be managed. She looked confused. She found it hard to talk to me but after much prodding, she confessed to me that she was raped 15 times by 15 men throughout the time she was with the Islamic insurgents before she could escape from their den.
“A girl who has been raped by 15 men every day, you say you negotiate and gave her back and release a terrorist who will go out and kill more. What negotiators do is to say that they must not tell their stories, they blanket all the information. In a situation like this, it is the Boko Haram that wins more.”
Asked if the girl was not pregnant after her ordeal in the hands of the insurgents, the pastor, probably in an attempt to protect the schoolgirl, declined further comments asking our correspondent to move to other issues.
Many of the mothers confirmed to our correspondent that against all trumped up figures in the media, only three girls have since managed to escape from Boko Haram’s den.
The Omoluabi Network is working with other groups such as the Unlikely Heroes, a United States based trauma management specialists and the Gabasawa Women Initiative, a coalition of women across Northern Nigeria led by Kucheli Balami, to provide psychological and emotional support for the escaped girls and their grieving parents.
He called on government not to negotiate with the terrorist group but explore every other option in rescuing the missing girls.
“The people who are talking about dialogue in the first place don’t understand that this thing is a merciless, unrelenting, non-negotiating monster. Those who have studied it globally and locally know that anybody who says negotiate is likely a mole that really belongs to the Boko Haram, pretending not to be part of them.
“If you look at the United States today, the reason it is a prosperous nation is because it refused to negotiate with the colonial powers that threatened it. Nigeria negotiated, look at where we are today. America stood by principle, look at where it is today. So, we are at a crossroads right now. If you claim to negotiate and make Boko Haram stronger, you have betrayed all the blood of thousands who have been slaughtered by these terrorists. If you negotiate, you are only prolonging the evil day, helping people who will eventually reach your own children.
Meanwhile, one of the grieving mothers, Esther Yakubu, has been in real pains since her daughter, Dorcas, was forcefully taken away together with over 200 others by the insurgents. Since then, Yakubu’s world has not remained the same. Life, she says, has lost its meaning.
As she settled into the chair in the tiny room, adjusting herself slowly before managing to look into your eyes, you could tell the severity of her pains. Heartbroken, weak and hardly able to speak, Yakubu is in real pains. Since “My daughter had never spent a day without me except when she was in school,” she told our correspondent in Lagos in a rare encounter in the course of the week.
“Anytime I remember her and what she could be passing through, I really can’t express how I feel. She is not an ordinary child; I carried her in my womb for 10 months before giving birth to her. I took good care of her because her father is an orphan. I assist him in taking care of our children because we believe they have bright futures.
“My daughter says she wants to be a teacher, her little sibling says she wants to be a doctor. But now, I don’t know what will happen to all that dream. Before she left home for school, she said to me, “mama, I am going to school, I will be writing my final paper, please pray for me to be successful and become something in life. That was the last conversation we had.”
Tomorrow, June 8, Dorcas would have been 16. There were plans to make it a memorable one especially as it would have been her first birthday after secondary school life. But sadly, the latest development means there would be no celebration in the home of the Yakubus – at least for now. Apart from taking away their first and most promising child, the terrorists also took the family’s peace and joy along.
“It’s been a miserable period for the family. Her younger siblings always ask me where their sister is. The small one who is four years old says to the other that the soldiers took Dorcas away, that they took her to Maiduguri. The elder one would say no, that it is Boko Haram that took her away and not the soldiers.
“For the first two weeks, the little ones were not even eating. If we prayed and wanted to eat, I just burst into tears and so the others would start crying too. That’s how we would all abandon the food.
“Since this thing happened, my husband has never stayed in the house for even 30 minutes during the day time because if he sees me crying, he will also break down in tears. So, most times, he comes in to take his bath and goes out again. He has been thinking every day,” she said.
Recalling events leading to her daughter’s unexpected disappearance on that fateful day, the visibly troubled Yakubu told Saturday PUNCH that the girls were tricked by the insurgents and that there was a strange mood in Chibok shortly before the incident.
“We were confused at first because the girls used to shout whenever there was danger. But on that day, there was total silence. We never knew those people had arrested them, telling them they came to take them to a safe place because Chibok was not good for them. The girls never knew they were Boko Haram. There was no shouting; there was no noise, so we all thought it was a joke.
“By the time I got to the school, I only saw one girl in the hostel. There was nobody else. I thought children are spared during attacks, but at Chibok, they packed both elderly and little girls away.
“On the day that thing happened, there was nobody to help. The soldiers tried, but they were not many. There were only 15 of them guarding Chibok before that incident happened. We are too many for 15 soldiers to protect,” the mother of five said.
Though, the number of security personnel keeping watch over Chibok has since increased following Boko Haram’s latest onslaught on the community, for many of its residents, fear is still the order of the day. It will take a long time before the town dusts off the shock.
“Life has been miserable in Chibok since that period because we have been living in fear. Anytime children are playing and they hit drum or some other objects that produces a loud sound, we all run in different directions. We would be afraid, thinking they had come back again.
“I am afraid for the safety of my other children still in Chibok with their father but we have no choice. Where will we go to? My husband is not working for now, so we can’t talk about going to another place or state to start a new life. We have no choice at this time,” Yakubu lamented.
Yana Galang, 48, is another grieving mother. Her daughter, Rufkatu, the fifth of eight children, is among the around 200 girls still in Boko Haram’s captivity. She was 17 yesterday June 6 – one of several Chibok girls who have either marked or would be celebrating their birthdays in captivity. The situation continues to keep the family in distress.
“I am really worried about her wellbeing because she was not feeling well,” Galang said.
“Six months ago, she had a surgery to remove appendix and so had been on drugs. She was still on drugs when they were kidnapped.
“She was a very supportive child. She wanted to go to the university to become great in life. These were the things she always talked about. I am really worried because I don’t know what might happen to her in that forest.”
Like many Chibok households inflicted with the same wound, it has not been easy for the Galangs moving on with life without their precious daughter. For them, the entire episode is a big nightmare they are hoping to wake up from.
“I still find it hard to believe that my daughter is missing. I have not been able to sleep or eat well because it is very terrible for somebody who is as sick as she is to be taken away like that.
“She came home to visit her father who had come all the way from Maiduguri after three months. Her father has another wife in Maiduguri so he comes to visit and spend time with us in Chibok once in a while. That was the last time I saw her. It was immediately she got back to the school that this incident happened.
“We are believing God to bring all the girls back alive. She was a very gentle girl. She has a young sister named Esther who has not stopped crying since she was taken away. I keep assuring her that one day by God’s grace, Rufkatu would come back alive,” she said.
A handful of other mothers who interacted with our correspondent during the chance meeting in Lagos during the week, also expressed concern over the safety and health conditions of their daughters. Many of them are worried that if rescue efforts drag on, the girls could be afflicted with all manner of sicknesses or even lose their lives in the process.
In the wake of the girls’ abduction, there has been blame trading by the Borno State government and the West African Examination Council over whose laxity led to the sad development. While WAEC had claimed it warned the state government against staging the exam in the town, the administration had strongly debunked that allegation. But some of the aggrieved women revealed they were forced into allowing their daughters live in the hostel during the examination.
“We preferred our daughters going to school, write their papers and come back home but the people in charge refused, claiming the girls would be roaming about, that some of them don’t have anywhere to stay in Chibok so they should all stay in school,” one of the women who identified herself as Beatrice, told Saturday PUNCH. Two of her daughters were among those taken away by the extremists.
“We pleaded that the ones from the community should come home but unfortunately, nobody listened. The day the arts students concluded their papers, there were five days interval in between and so we asked for the girls to return home during that period but they refused.
“Some of the students disobeyed and went through the fence and that was their saving grace. That was how some of them escaped the kidnapping. It was those who obeyed the instruction of the school that are now the victims of this abduction.
“Nobody sought our opinion before deciding that the girls stayed in the hostel. Most schools in Borno have been closed because of Boko Haram, how silly would we be to allow our children into such danger? We were never aware of that arrangement.”
Indeed, the last seven weeks have brought plenty of sleepless nights and agony for mothers, fathers, siblings and relatives of the missing girls. The incident has sparked a global outrage with millions around the world demanding for their immediate release. The Nigerian government and military overwhelmed by the enormity of the operation, had sought help from its African neighbours and the West in wrestling the girls away from the grip of the insurgents. That move hasn’t brought the expected results as many of the girls, apart from those reported to have escaped at different times, remain in their captors’ den – away from the glare of the world.
Mary Paul Lalai, one of the mothers of the abducted girls, died on hearing the news of her daughter’s kidnap. Aimu Fonan, a member representing Chibok constituency in the Borno State House of Assembly, broke the news to journalists few days after the sad event. According to analysts, many mothers like Yakubu and Galang risk similar fate if urgent measures are not taken to ease their pain.
Erica Greve is the founder and leader of Unlikely Heroes. She told Saturday PUNCH how they hope to help the Chibok mothers and girls overcome the trauma caused by the incident. She is worried about the girls still in captivity.
“It is very important for us to keep in mind that the longer these girls are in captivity, the more trauma they are experiencing. That every second, every moment, everyday matters to these girls and they want to be rescued as soon as possible. We all need to remember that the longer they stay in captivity, the more support services and care they will need after they have been released.
“The abduction of these girls is not only affecting them, their mothers and families, it is affecting their communities and the nation as a whole. I just spoke with a mother here in Lagos and she told me that her daughter is afraid of going to school because she fears she could be kidnapped as well.
“Once the girls in captivity return, the reality is that our work has only just begun. These girls are going to need trauma therapy, immediate medical care and all the things they will need to properly stabilise and overcome this trauma. It is mostly likely that when they get out they will need up to 10 to 16 weeks to be able to recover from the shock.
“It is also important that they are placed in a very safe environment. The safer the environment that they are placed in, the quicker they will be able to heal. The more specialised care that they are given immediately upon return, the easier it will be for them to recover and be re-integrated into their normal communities and everyday life,” she said.
Thompson agrees with Greve. He concedes that the real job has only just begun.
“It is not good for the girls to come back and find out that their mothers are dead. Care for the girls starts with care for their mothers. That’s why the women are here, doctors are here with them and they are being taken good care of. We have also invited Unlikely Heroes who are global experts in trauma and child psychology and they have been talking to the mothers and some of the girls who managed to escape.
“They have a proposal for the Omoluabi Network and there is a likelihood we are going to build a trauma centre in Osun State if all plans fall in place. They have advised that nobody should try and re-integrate the girls back directly into Chibok when they are released. We need to quarantine them, we need to bring them into a setting where they will be debriefed and processed properly.”
US Congressman, Louie Gohmert, told Saturday PUNCH during the meeting that the girl’s abduction now came tops in major delibrations within the country’s political circle in recent weeks. Gohmert who played a major role in ensuring the US government designated Boko Haram a Foreign Terrorist Organisation, howeever chided the White for not using its intelligence and technology to crush the sect and rescue the girls from captivity.
“We must all rally behind the families of these missing girls. The international community must step up efforts to free the girls. If the US does not use its power to stop Boko Haram, God will use someone else to do it. We will not relent on our calls until these girls are safely released to their families,” he said.
Last week, the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, told newsmen that they had located the whereabouts of the young girls but that they were taking all necessary precaution in freeing them from captivity. Earlier this week, the Australian government, through its Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, offered to allow its special forces partake in the search for the girls. The Nigerian government, according to Thompson, is yet to accede to that request. Mothers and family members of the abducted young women would be hoping for a quick resolution to the problem even as they look forward to wrapping their daughters in their arms sometime as soon as possible. But for now, they are living with the pains and wounds brought by the sad incident.[Punch]