While three of the parents of the 2017 released girls whispered to this reporter that the girls were kept in “our lawmaker’s house”, two others audaciously named a senator representing one of the Senatorial districts in Borno State as the one Nigerians must hold responsible for being the mastermind of the girls’ abduction in April 2014.
According to these fathers who were among the parents who visited Abuja on the invitation of the Nigerian government after batch of 82 girls were released in May last year, despite the tight security under which they met their daughters, some of the girls were still smart enough to hint their parents that they were first kept in the Senator’s Ndume’s house in Gwoza Local Government for six months before they were moved to Sambisa forest.
This accusation was again echoed by a senior teacher of the Government Girls Secondary School where I taught JSS3 and SSS1 pupils English Language for four days. The school is now a mixed institution of boys and girls and is currently undergoing reconstruction. He said the parents were shocked beyond words when they learnt that their daughters were kept in a house belonging to a federal lawmaker whose primary mandate is to protect the interest of his constituents.
In November 2012, Ali Ndume, a Nigerian Senator representing Borno South Senatorial district comprising Damboa, Gwoza and Chibok Local Governments, was charged and arraigned for alleged links to the Boko Haram sect following the State Security Service (SSS) interrogation of Mallam Ali Konduga, a spokesperson for the group at the time, who alleged that Ndume paid him to send threat text messages to political opponents.
But Ndume had denied the allegation, saying that since he was mandated by the former President Goodluck Jonathan led government to reach out to members of the sect, contact with its spokesperson was a step toward executing that mandate.
Later in December of the same year, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja admitted three DVDs, which contained records of communication between Ndume, and members of the sect, as secondary evidence.
Ndume’s legal team then raised objection to the admissibility of the evidence and Justice Gabriel Kolawole, who presided over the case, held that the court did not find any substantial issues of merit in the objection raised against DVDs’ admission.
A member of the Civilian Joint Taskforce (JTF) who currently resides in Chibok but grew up in Damboa, a neighbouring community, disclosed to me, not knowing he was being recorded that Ndume is not only culpable in the abduction of the Chibok school girls but also deeply involved in the coordination of Boko Haram activities.
“Ali Ndume cannot go to his house in Gwoza because his people have vowed to kill him any time he sets his feet there. He has caused them serious pain and destruction. You know Gwoza is the place most affected by the activities of Boko Haram. Ali Ndume is part of those sponsoring Boko Haram. The people of Gwoza are seriously looking for ways to retaliate against him for bringing deaths and destruction to them. Some of his family members have run to Adamawa State and others to Taraba State because of Ndume’s action. Go to Gwoza and hear what his people are saying about him”, he said.
I decided to visit Gwoza to find out more on the allegation against Ali Ndume, who recently returned to the Senate after serving his suspension for pitching his tent with the executive arm of government against the legislature over the issues of Bukola Saraki’s alleged bullet proof jeep tussle with the Nigerian Customs Service, the refusal of the Senate to confirm Ibrahim Magu as substantive chairperson of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) and Dino Melaye’s certificate controversy, respectively.
Melaye, had while responding in plenary to the call by Ndume that both he and the Senate President be investigated over the allegations, called the Borno Senator “Boko Haram suspect”, a slur many expected Ndume to take legal action against the Kogi senator but which up till now has not happened.
On the road to Gwoza
Depending on the speed of the vehicle, journey from Chibok to Gwoza takes roughly a little over three hours. Unless one is entering from Yola, the Adamawa State capital, journeying to Gwoza from Chibok, Askira, Uba, Michika, and then, Mandagali, are the major transits before reaching the town.
Although, reconstruction work was on-going in Gwoza at the time of this report, the damage done to it by the insurgents is still hugely evident. Like Chibok, the heavy presence of soldiers in the area is enough warning to an undercover journalist, and anyone for that matter, that the tense atmosphere occasioned by heavy security presence would not be conducive to “suspicious” behaviour like taking photographs of the environment with a smartphone.
At most checkpoints, passengers are asked to step out of vehicles and walk under the harsh glare of fiery eyed soldiers. Expectedly, Gwoza being a community still under the terror of war, like Chibok and Damboa, it is very easy to identify a stranger particularly those unable to communicate in the language of the locals. At a kiosk where I stopped by to purchase airtime for my phone, I struggled to get my message across to the recharge cards seller who could not speak English. Two soldiers who were there for the same purpose seized the opportunity for quick interrogation.
“Who are you and what are you doing in Gwoza?” asked one of them. “I work for an NGO with special interest in orphans. I brought some relief materials from Lagos to Chibok. The organisation I work for will send representatives here next month but I won’t be among them. I was asked to just see Gwoza and bring words of encouragement to those coming, that people are still here and our soldiers are doing their best to protect the people.
“That is good of your organisation. Can I see your identity card? “Yes sir. Here is it”. “Oh! Akhigbe! You are even from Edo State”. “Are you related to Admiral Mike Akhigbe?” asked the second soldier. “No sir. But we are from the same place. “Oga, this man na your brother”, the soldier announced, and the “Oga” asked me to come over.
After exchanging pleasantries in Edo language, the soldier, whose name would be withheld here to prevent him from getting into trouble with army authorities, took me to a place not too far from where we met for a drink.
Over drinks, several issues ranging from the level of success in the fight against Boko Haram terrorist group, the unreported activities of the sect, the plight of the soldiers, the slow rebuilding process and other issues, were discussed. The topic took an interesting dimension when a soldier who was introduced as one of the 14 soldiers who engaged Boko Haram members in a gun battle in Chibok the day the school girls were abducted came in.
After I was introduced to him and the subsequent salutation, he said, “I am tired of this place Oga”, even as he sat down for own his beer. “I have been in this place for four years. The time has come for the army authority to transfer some of us out of this place. A soldier is not supposed to overstay in one place like we are doing here. I was among the soldiers that secured this place and Chibok. It’s like this people (army authority) wants us to die here”, he lamented, as he repositioned his AK47 riffle.
Narrating his experience as one of the 14 soldiers in Chibok the night Abubakar Shekau’s men abducted the school girls, he disclosed that the feeling they had that fateful night was that the army authority wanted them to die in battle because they were only 14 in number and had few ammunition, against the insurgents who were over one hundred in number and with more than adequate ammunition.
“This rifle is my wife. As you see it, the cartilage has just 30 rounds and we were given only two cartilages each. The way the Boko Haram boys were shooting you just knew they had superior weapons and those with AK47 had no less than five cartilages each. How do you handle such enemies with greater numbers and superior arms and ammunitions? We did our best but it was not enough to stop them. We called for backup but it never came. Out of 14 of us it was only one of us they could kill that day”, he said.
Detailing how events unfolded that fateful night, he explained that the primary destination the insurgents were instructed to abduct school girls was in Biu Local Government Area, but that Umar Zanna, who was the deputy governor of Borno State at the time and who was from Biu, alerted the targeted schools to evacuate all students.
“It was Zanna that save Biu that night from this horror Chibok girls are going through now. Biu school girls were the primary target. But when the insurgents got there and found the schools empty they had to look for close alternative. That was how they came to Chibok. Highly placed government officials were involved in the planning and execution of the abduction of the Chibok school girls”, he said.
He alleged that when the fleeing 13 soldiers after one of them was killed realised it was still possible to chase the insurgents and recover the girls, they called for reinforcement but surprisingly, the relevant authorities refused to respond to their request.
When asked what he thought about Ndume’s alleged involvement in Chibok girls’ abduction especially as narated by some parents of the girls, he said it is not a mere allegation, disclosing that when the Boko Haram fighters succeeded in moving the girls out of Chibok, they were first taken to Maiduguri, from where they were moved to Ndume’s house in Gwoza.
“Ndume is a devil. The Chibok school girls were kept in his house here in Gwoza for quite a number of months. It was when the army started bombing major hideouts of the insurgents including properties belonging to Ndume that the girls were moved to Sambisa forest. This is not news to many of us soldiers who have been here since the girls were abducted. Ndume is part of those creating this problem for the military and for Nigeria”, he said. The Sambisa forest borders Damboa, Konduga, Bama and Gwoza.
Ali Ndume could not be immediately reached for comment, as his mobile phone (08109480000) indicated that it was switched off when calls were put through to it. He had also yet to reply text message on the allegations sent to him.
But Yinka Odumakin, Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, a pan Yoruba social political group, says Nigerians should now seek to get to the bottom of the abduction of the 276 Chibok girls in their dormitory in 2014 and unmask the financial backers of the Boko Haram terrorist group.
“It is now evident that the Chibok girls’ abduction was stage managed to blackmail Goodluck Jonathan and make him look irresponsible before the whole world in order to remove him from office. They are now trying to manage the issue and let it die naturally. The government through Lai Mohammed has told Nigerians too much lies about the Chibok girls. They must now come clean to salvage Buhari’s integrity, which is the only thing the government has”, he said.
Abdulkadir Abdulsalami, national chairman of the Labour Party (LP), had also in May last year expressed similar view that Nigerians need to be told the truth about what happened to the Chibok girls and warned the APC led federal government to expect the wrath of God for deceiving Nigerians and manipulating the parents of the Chibok girls.
Only in July this year, the Nigeria Police Force paraded 22 Boko Haram suspects who it said masterminded the 2014 abduction of schoolgirls from Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State.
According to Damian Chukwu, the Borno State Commissioner of Police, the suspects were arrested in different locations across Borno and Yobe states respectively, adding that all the suspects confessed to participating in the Chibok abduction and in many bomb attacks on civilians, security agents and religious places of worship in the northeast.
On 14 April 2014, Boko Haram terrorist gang attacked a government secondary boarding school in Chibok, Borno State, where girls from surrounding communities had gone to take exams to be conducted by the West Africa Examition Council (WAEC). While some of the girls were lucky to escape shortly after they were seized, about 100 freed in exchange for Boko Haram militants, in negotiations brokered by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and yet, over 100 are still missing.
To be continued…
An on the spot investigation by NATHANIEL AKHIGBE