From TIMOTHY OLANREWAJU, Maiduguri
Unlike in the past, Madam Martha, one of the parents of the abducted Chibok girls wasn’t in the mood to exchange pleasantries with Sunday Sun reporter who called her on phone mid week. “Will you people allow me mourn my tragic fate?” she screamed from the other end before she hung up the line.
This encounter underscores the angst of many of the parents of the Chibok schoolgirls especially as this weekend marks exactly 1000 days after Boko Haram abducted their daughters.
Chibok, a lively community in the southern part of Borno was relatively unknown until April 14, 2014, when Boko Haram struck at the Girls Secondary School, a boarding school in the community in the night and kidnapped about 270 girls from their dormitory. About 56 of the girls were able to escape from the abductors days after the incident occurred, but others were whisked away through the thick vegetation of southern Borno to the insurgents’ camp in the dreaded Sambisa forest. The abduction attracted international outrage, leading to the formation of #BringBackOurGirls campaign to press on the federal government to intensify efforts at rescuing the girls.
Since then, Chibok and its people have been in mourning and anxiety while few of the parents died in the process.
The rescue of Amina Nkeki, one of the abductees by the military in collaboration with Civilian JTF on May 20, 2016 and release of 21 others in October, 2016, rekindled hope that many of the girls may still return home someday, especially with revelations from those recently freed that many of the girls were in the vast Sambisa bush, Boko Haram’s major operational base before it fell recently. “It was like a mid day joy,” Maina Chibok, uncle to one of the kidnapped girls, told Sunday Sun.
He said many of the parents and relations had hoped the rescue effort would continue in same manner particularly when they learnt that the military was conducting a crackdown on the insurgents’ camp mid December.
But with the military announcement that it had captured camp zero, the supposed heartland of Boko Haram’s camp in the forest, without discovering the remaining Chibok girls, many of the parents and relations are now worried and troubled.
“The revelation that the military captured Sambisa without our daughters being found only dashed our hope,” said Lucky Maina, a cousin to one of the abducted girls. “We go to bed each day in pain,” he added, noting that “each day was a long lonely day,” for them.
Stick and Carrot approach needed
Some parents are unsure their daughters are still alive, said Dr Manasseh Allen, leader of a Chibok youth group that first started campaigns for the rescue of the girls. “Nobody can feel the pains and anguish of our family members whose daughters have not been found. It is something that one can’t imagine,” he said, urging President Muhammadu Buhari to keep his promise.
“President Buhari promised during his inaugural ceremony on May 29, 2015, that he would rescue all the abducted Chibok girls. It is now 1000 days and almost two years in office, the president should keep his promise,” he stated.
He said the community would not keep quiet until the girls are rescued alive. “We had always thought and believed the girls were in Sambisa forest but now that the military said they couldn’t find the girls there, having captured the place, how then did the remaining 196 girls escape from Sambisa forest?” he asked rhetorically.
He also recalled a statement credited to the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who said last year that the move to secure the release of another batch of the girls after the first 21 girls, was in process. “The Minister of Information said about 82 or so of the girls would be released but we haven’t heard anything since then.”
He urged the government to intensify its carrot and stick approach to secure the release of the remaining girls and bring succour to the parents. He accused some political leaders in Chibok of using the travail of the abducted girls and their parents for political gains.
“It is sad and regrettable that the same people who are accusing people of politicizing the Chibok girls issue are themselves guilty of same accusation,” he said.
Hope not lost
Prof Auwa Biu who heads the Borno State Outreach of the BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights, the group leading campaigns for rescue of Chibok girls since 2015 said all hope is not lost.
“We still have confidence that the rest of the schoolgirls will be found. They must have escaped somewhere, we are still hoping and we will continue to pray for the remaining ones,” she said.
She noted that the video shown by the military during the Operation Lafiya Dole’s recent media briefing indicated that “the troops were careful in bombing targets at Sambisa, where we had assumed the girls were kept. So, we believe they are still alive somewhere.