Just as the Oby Ezekwesili led Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) advocacy group has been mounting public pressure on the Nigerian Government to do something drastic to secure the release of all the abducted 276 Chibok Government Secondary School girls, parents of the girls rescued so far are in the same vein howling, albeit secretly, for the Nigerian Government to return the daughters to them.
In my night visits to four parents of the released girls being undercover in Chibok for seven nights and six days, the parents who had no idea about my true identity lamented that what the FG was doing to their rescued daughters is ‘tactical kidnap’, under the guise of taking care of them. They said the motive behind the so-called ‘education’ of the girls is to prevent them from disclosing damning information about their captivity to their parents or curious journalists.
“They (FG) are hiding something. The parents of all the girls released so far are not enjoying their children; because you don’t enjoy the person you don’t see. Our girls have been moved from Boko Haram captivity to government captivity. The Nigerian government has continued to treat us as animals since our girls were released. Even when we go to Abuja to see our girls we are heavily guarded. We hardly have parent-daughter conversations”, said one of the parents, whose identity has been withheld for fear of victimization.
At another location in Chibok, a parent of one of the released 82 girls, who repeatedly questioned my presence and purpose in Chibok in general, and in his house in particular at such odd hour, for fear of revealing “classified information” to unintended person, said the parents whose children are still being held by Boko Haram leaders have been told by officials of the Nigerian government to hold those whose children have been rescued responsible should the process of getting the rest be compromised through ‘careless talk’.
“The government is playing a dangerous political game with the lives of our children. All of us parents, both the ones whose children have been released and those whose children are still being held, have one thing in common – our children are still living apart from us. What makes our pain lesser is that while we already know the fate our children because we have gone to Abuja to identify them, these other parents are yet to know the fate of their children.
“But we all Chibok parents are going through the same emotional torture. We can’t understand why our children have left Boko Haram captivity but the government is hiding under the guise of taking care of them to deny us the enjoyment of their presence. How many of the officials will allow this kind of thing happen to their own children? They are holding our children against our will and that of the girls. The only explanation for this is because they have something to hide from the whole world. But they can’t hide the truth forever. The truth will come out one day”, he said, in Chibok dialect.
One parents whose daughter was among the first 21 released in October 2016, wondered why activists and human rights groups like the BBOB who have been at the forefront in pressurizing the Nigerian government to rescue the Chibok girls are yet to apply similar strength and pressure on the government to let the rescued girls reunite with their respective parents.
“The purpose of the BBOG, if I understand them, is to get our girls released and brought back to the parents. It is one yea (at the time of this report) since government started rescuing them and yet, none of the rescued girl is reunited with the parents. Until the girls are brought back to the parents the efforts of the groups like BBOG will not be a complete because the parents are still suffering.
“Now, the government is claiming to be teaching our children but how do you teach children who are demoralized? Yes, there are exceptional ones who are interested in learning under the government watch but they also know that the government is playing a game with them. They know where they have been kept and you can’t keep their mouths shut forever. The parents of some of the girls died as a result of their captivity. God is already judging the leaders of this government because of what they did to our children”, he said in broken English as tears trickled down his cheeks.
All the parents flayed the FG for what they called ‘deception at its peak’ by telling the whole world each time a batch of the girls are rescued that the girls would be reunited and at a time claimed the girls celebrated Christian festival with the parents but only to treat the parents like suspects in a matter concerning their own children, a pill, the parents say was too bitter for them to swallow. The parents also faulted government’s denial that some of the sect’s leaders held by the authority were not exchanged for the Chibok girls. One of the fathers quoted the daughter as saying that in addition to the exchange, the Nigerian government also paid a huge amount of money to the terrorist group.
In a lawmaker’s house
My independent investigation outside the parents’ confession, revealed that while Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, told Nigerians and the whole world that the 21 girls released in October 2016 were taken to Chibok where they celebrated Christmas of that year with their parents, the girls wept uncontrollably and refused to eat because they were not allowed to see their parents.
While the Nigerian government gave the impression that the girls went home, ate and dinned with their parents, authoritatively, I confirmed that on the contrary, the girls were kept in a house belonging to Aimu Foni, a serving member of Borno State House of Assembly, representing Chibok, where the girls cried their hearts before their parents were brought in a desperate measure to calm them.
At the girls’ demanded, when the parents were brought to the compound, which was heavily secured by stern looking armed soldiers, they were thoroughly searched like relatives preparing to visit hardened criminals in a maximum prison facility, all in a bid to ensure that they had no hidden recording device. Their phones taken from them and their parents were only allowed to spend five minutes with the girls under supervision of security agents who monitored their conversations. Civilians were not allowed to come near the area as well until the girls were evacuated back to Abuja.
Just as the girls had their way in demanding to see the parents in Chibok, a younger sister to one of the 21 girls rescued in October 2016, who is currently in SS1 in the same school, where I took a four-day voluntary humanitarian teaching job to maintain my cover, said the sister told her family members when she was freed that they (the abducted girls) received good care from “Abubakar Shekau” and that they were never manhandled while in captivity.
According to her, Shekau repeatedly warned hot-headed members of the group who wanted to have forced sexual intercourse with the girls, to steer clear of the girls sounding it loud and clear to them that the girls are job given to him by persons in government, while buttressing the fact that the girls are his bargaining chips, which must be protected at all cost.
“From what my sister told us they were not beaten by Boko Haram boys. Shekau never allowed the girls to be mistreated. He even killed some members of the group who wanted to have their way against his warnings. He told his boys that nothing must happen to the girls because his being able to get money depended on the existence of the girls until the time given to him.
“What my sister said Shekau normally does is that he will ask the girls, who among them is interested in getting married? Once any of them indicated interest, he would them act as father of the bride and the girl would be given in marriage to a sect member she likes. Once any of the sect members is given a wife by Shekau, he is no longer allowed to solicit for sex from any of the other girls. He must now take his wife far into Sambisa and settle down. That was how many of them got pregnant and had babies. You remember that some of them who were rescued cried that they wanted to return to their Boko Haram husbands”, she said.
This claim also tallies with an SSS November 2011 disclosure that it had discovered links between Boko Haram and regional politicians after the arrest and questioning of the group’s alleged spokesman, Ali Sanda Umar Konduga, who indicted Senator Ali Ndume, representing Borno South Senatorial district.
Shortly after the last 82 girls were released last year, the media arm of Boko Haram released a video on YouTube where three masked girls spoke in Chibok dialect and said that they refused to return because they were well taken care of and were on the right path with the terror group, while naming those who decided to return “apostates” and “cowards”.
I can also report authoritatively that all the girls so far rescued have no personal mobile phones, through which they can reach their parents or family members. They can only reach their parents through “Matrons” put in charge of the girls by the FG. It is these female government employees who coordinate the telephone conversation between the girls and their parents, an arrangement both the parents and girls are bitter about.
Efforts to have government’s response on the subject were not reciprocated. Multiple calls put through to Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Information and Culture Minister, initially failed to go through. A text message later sent without response from the minister. Later when the call went through, there was no response from the minister. At the time of publishing this report, the minister had yet to reply to the text message sent to his phone(0803 430 1111).
A parent’s plight
Reverend Enoch Mark was the pastor in-charge of Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (Chibok Chapter) when I visited Chibok in 2014 when the girls were abducted. But this time around, he is nowhere near Chibok. He has been replaced by a new pastor. He was so devastated at the time that he lost interest in his pastoral calling, since there was no roof over his head and that of his family members.
When the girls were abducted, two of his daughters were among them. But not as lucky as the parents whose children have been rescued, Mark is yet to know the fate of his daughters. To make thing worse for him, he keeps hearing reports that one of them died during one of the many military bombardments in Sambisa forest or that both of them are alive.
“I have two daughters in Boko Haram’s Sambisa forest-one is biological and the other adopted. Four years after, the government is still struggling to rescue all the girls. At a time during the administration of Jonathan, a Chief of Defense Staff announced that he knew where our girls are. But today, my girls are still not found by the new government. I am even ashamed to call myself a Nigerian”, he told me on the telephone.
To be continued…
An on the spot investigation by NATHANIEL AKHIGBE