Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1297, (26 May - 1 June 2016)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1297, (26 May - 1 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Victory for Buhari, hope for families

The return of two girls abducted by Boko Haram — one confirmed as among the Chibok schoolgirls — has given Nigerians hope that the terrorist group might be waning, writes Haitham Nuri

Al-Ahram Weekly

The freeing of two of the Nigerian Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram more than two years ago sparked an unexpected series of questions.

While many agree that the two girls’ rescue was a victory for President Muhammadu Buhari’s fight against Boko Haram and for the Bring Back Our Girls campaign, and a clear sign of the impending end of the war on terrorism, contradictory stories about the official narrative came to the fore.

Initially, the Nigerian army on 17 May announced that the Popular Rural Guard, supported by military forces, had freed a girl in the Sambisa Forest, located in the northeast near the Cameroon border.

The girl, Amina Ali Nkeki, was one of 219 students at the Chibok Secondary School who were abducted by Boko Haram while sitting for an exam in April 2014. Nkeki is the first of the Chibok schoolgirls to be rescued. She was found with her four-month-old son and a man she says is her husband, although Nigerian security forces suspect he may be a fighter with the terrorist group. According to the BBC, Nkeki said that the man was captured by Boko Haram and forced to fight for it. He became her husband before they managed to escape together.

Nkeki returned to her village and met her mother before a military plane took her to the capital Abuja to meet President Buhari, who held her son in his arms.

An activist with Bring Back Our Girls commented that the president offered a fine example for the acceptance of the abducted girls and their children.

According to testimonies from many girls who have escaped from Boko Haram, or been rescued in Nigerian army military operations — thus far numbering 92 women, girls, and children, although none before Nkeki were among the Chibok schoolgirls — rape is widespread in captivity, which explains why many of them were pregnant or had infants. Called “Boko wives”, the girls have been the subject of social scorn and stigmatisation.

According to local reports, many Boko Haram captives are rejected by their communities after rescue. They are often thought to be “brainwashed” sleeper cells for the terrorist group, or their loyalties are questioned.

Doris Yarrow, an activist who has helped to free several abducted girls from Boko Haram, told Time: “They are traumatised. Psychologically and culturally there is a stigma that makes it even harder for them to reintegrate into the community. It’s not going to be easy.”

Nevertheless, Yarrow thinks that it will be better for the Chibok schoolgirls than other rescued women because their tragedy is well known.

Not a day later, the BBC, citing an anonymous source, reported that Nkeki was not freed in a military operation. The Popular Rural Guard allegedly ran across her accidentally while she was walking, carrying her child, with the man she claims is her husband.

Two days after Nkeki was found, the army on 19 May announced that it had rescued another girl, Serah Luka, in a military operation.

While some wondered whether Luka was “rescued” by the military or found by accident, questions this time also came from the spokesman for the Chibok community in Abuja.

Dauda Iliya said: “Serah was not on the original list of Chibok girls, drawn up based on the students registered to take the final year exam at school.” Iliya added that Serah was a student at the school, but she was not there the day of the kidnapping and was abducted at a later date.

“This is undeniably good news,” Iliya continued. “This young lady has come with a lot of information for the government to follow. This brings us closer to finding the rest of the girls.”

A father of two missing girls from Chibok said that the return of Nkeki and Luka gives him hope of hearing good news about his own girls. Talking with Bring Back Our Girls, he said: “They may have been raped, but it’s not a problem. My only wish is for their safe return.”

But not all the Chibok schoolgirls are safe. Six of them have died, according to the BBC, citing the Chibok parents’ group in Abuja: “Amina said that all the Chibok schoolgirls are still in the Sambisa Forest, except for six who have died.”

Hope was not limited to the families of the abducted Chibok girls or the thousands of others taken captive by Boko Harm. It seems to have taken hold among the majority of Nigerians.

Boko Haram has kidnapped more than 2,000 children since 2014, using them in the sex trade or as suicide bombers or fighters in its terrorist operations.

According to Khidr Abd Al-Baqi, a professor of media at Kano University in the northern part of the country, the development is evidence of President Buhari’s seriousness and the strict measures he has taken against corruption that spread throughout the army in the previous era.

This is consistent with a statement made by President Buhari last week when he met with the sheikh of Al-Azhari. Buhari said that corruption in the military was responsible for the country’s previous inability to take on Boko Haram.

Activists and parents of the Chibok schoolgirls established the Bring Back Our Girls campaign on 23 April 2014 as an expression of their lack of trust in the government of then Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan.

At the time, Defense Minister Alex Badeh announced that they had learned the location of the abducted girls and would soon bring them back.

Boko Haram abducted 276 girls from the Chibok Secondary School. Dozens of them later managed to escape by jumping off the trucks carrying them to the Sambisa Forest, leaving 219 in captivity.

A few days later, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau announced the girls would convert to Islam and become wives for members of his group.

The next month, Boko Haram aired a video of the girls, most of whom are Christians, wearing the hijab and reciting the Quran.

They made no further appearance until April, when CNN broadcast a video of 15 of the girls wearing black veils. The girls said they were being treated well, but wanted to return to their families. Many parents identified their daughters in the video, which was filmed on Christmas Day 2015.

The Chibok girls have not been the only tragedy to come out of Nigeria’s battle against Boko Haram. Some 2.2 million people have fled their homes while another 450,000 have fled to the neighbouring countries of Chad, Niger and Cameroon, in fear of the crimes of the terrorist group.

The UN announced that nine million people in the Lake Chad Basin are facing food shortages and need urgent food assistance.

According to UN estimates, about one million children from these areas have been denied education, which is consistent with the principles of the terrorist group, whose name means, “Western education is forbidden.”

Founded in 2002 and having begun operations in 2010, Boko Haram has now killed more than 20,000 people.

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