World descends on Boko Haram

2014-05-11 15:00

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Delegations from the US and the UK were in high-level talks with Nigerian security forces in Abuja yesterday to discuss a possible mission to rescue nearly 300 schoolgirls abducted by the militant Islamic group, Boko Haram.

The US and the UK have sent delegations to assist the Nigerian government in its search-and-rescue operation for the girls.

Sources say the foreign delegations are using special “eavesdropping equipment” to track the girls’ location in the Sambisa forest.

The US team includes a hostage negotiator, a kidnap expert and sexual abuse counsellors.

It’s been nearly a month since nearly 300 girls and young women were abducted in the dead of night from a school in Chibok in the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno.

The girls had spent the day studying, having gathered at the school especially to write their final exams. Many of Borno’s schools had already been closed because of the fears of abduction.

Nobody is sure where the girls are now. They were taken into the dense forest in trucks and many believe they are somewhere in the areas bordering neighbouring Chad and Cameroon.

A Nigerian activist who has twice mediated between that country’s government and Boko Haram says the militants “don’t reason like human beings”.

“Anyone who abducts children doesn’t behave like a normal human being,” Shehu Sani told City Press during an interview

Sani says the terror group is Nigeria’s own Taliban. They want to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria and are against all secular institutions, including schools.

Sani thinks the girls are still being held in one group and could be used as a prisoner swap by Boko Haram for its many militants who are still being held in Nigerian jails.

However, US intelligence sources differ.

They think the girls have been broken up into smaller groups and have already been moved across the border.

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau posted a chilling, hour-long video rant on the internet, threatening to sell off the girls into forced marriages.

The Nigerian government has been criticised for being slow and inept. This has sparked rare anti-government protests across the country from the southern delta regions to the northern Boko Haram strongholds.

The girls’ relatives are among the protesters in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State.

One mother, who declined to be named, told City Press: “It’s like nobody even cares. In fact, even right from the day they were abducted, nobody was sent.”

A report from Amnesty International this week is likely to fuel more outrage.

The organisation’s contacts on the ground say the Nigerian military was warned of an impending raid by Boko Haram four hours before the abductions took place, but did nothing.

This adds to the growing feeling that the government has given up on the north and virtually handed it over to Boko Haram.

But what President Goodluck Jonathan did not count on was that this incident?–?unlike many other previous abductions?–?made the world sit up and take notice. It sparked a viral Twitter campaign under the hashtag, #bringbackourgirls.

Yesterday, US first lady Michelle Obama said in what she called her “Mother’s Day statement” that the abduction was an “unconscionable act” committed by “a terrorist group determined to keep these girls from getting an education?– grown men attempting to snuff out the aspirations of young girls”.

Jonathan’s critics say that he is only taking the Chibok abductions seriously because the eyes of the world are upon him.

‘They said if I became a Muslim, they’d stop beating me’

Hannah wakes up screaming almost every night. The nightmares are constant and relentless.

Last year, she went to visit her grandmother in the north of Nigeria, but was snatched en route by Boko Haram militants.

Hannah, who is now aged 19, was taken to a hideout in the dense Sambisa forest and kept in a simple hut in a makeshift settlement area for three months. “I was tied up and beaten,” she says, speaking through a translator in her native Hausa.

How often were you beaten, I ask. “Every single day.” Her voice becomes agitated. She says she still bears the scars of those beatings on her body.

“They told me if I became a Muslim they would stop beating me and treat me better. But I refused.”

Hannah lived in constant fear of being sold off into a forced marriage with a Boko Haram militant. “They kept saying: ‘You are going to be sold, you are going to be sold.’

“I knew then I had to escape, or my life would be over forever. I could not be sold like a slave.”

Her chance came when the militants took her to one of their doctors in a nearby village for a checkup to guarantee that she was “pure” and had no sexually transmitted diseases before the marriage was formalised.

It was then that she broke free and ran for her life.

Hannah is afraid that the militants will come back for her. She has now moved to another province where she lives in hiding. She would only speak to me over the phone.

When I ask her what she thinks is happening to the more than 200 schoolgirls abducted nearly four weeks ago, there is an abrupt pause over the crackling phone line.

Then there’s the sound of wrenching sobs. Hannah cannot continue to talk.?–?Debora Patta

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