They are just like young women the world over. Their only crime is that they have parents who hope for a better future for them. In the dark of night on April 14, these ambitious girls, who had gathered at their boarding school to take their final exams, were woken by gunfire.
When militants stormed the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School, in a remote area of Nigeria’s poverty-stricken northeast, the girls thought they were soldiers, there to protect them.
The girls were initially relieved. What happened next has struck terror into the hearts of people around the world. The gunmen, wearing military uniform, started setting fire to the school buildings, shooting their guns into the air and chanting “Allahu Akbar” — God is great. The girls realised something was terribly wrong.
The girls, 276 of them, were herded into the backs of pick-up trucks and driven into the forest.
Imagine the terror.
Some of them, deciding they would rather die than be taken hostage by the terrorists whose violent presence casts a pall over northern Nigeria, managed to throw themselves from the backs of the trucks and make their way to safety. The rest — about 223 girls — have not been so lucky.
Their mothers in Chibok did not hear them scream.
Outrage over the lack of action by the Nigerian Government and military to find the girls and bring their abductors to justice has grown to a roar. Their families are hoping for a miracle.
“My grief is deep,” Yakubu Maina, father of one of the missing girls, told the LA Times.
“I’d rather my daughter was dead than face this horror.”
Another eight girls, aged 12 to 15, were abducted from Warabe earlier this month, also in the country’s northeast.
In a video message, a seemingly deranged and grinning Abubaker Shekau taunted: “I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah.” Shekau leads the extremist Islamic militant group Boko Haram — a man with a $7 million bounty on his head.
But UNICEF’s Laurent Duvillier says soldiers are not what frightens Shekau and his group.
“What frightens them is a girl with a book,” Mr Duvillier says.
Boko Haram is translated into “Western education is forbidden”.
Mr Duvillier says an educated girl will be empowered, will start thinking, will probably have a better say in the decision-making process — will probably tell their children that don’t agree with Boko Haram.
“They know a girl with a book is probably the biggest threat to them,” he says.
Dozens of students and teachers have already been murdered in Nigeria.
AMNESTY International reports that in seven months in 2013, more than 50 schools were attacked and partially destroyed or burned down. About 30 teachers were shot dead, many during class, between January and September last year, the human rights group says.
“It (Chibok) is not the first attack on education. It’s the latest incident in a long line of attacks on education,” Mr Duvillier says.
Boko Haram, an al-Qaeda affiliate, started up in 2002 but there has been an escalation of violence in recent years.
Since 2012, teachers and students have been increasingly targeted by the militants.
As Shekau pronounced in a recent ranting video: “We are against Western education and I say stop Western education.”
According to Amnesty International’s Michael Hayworth, about 2000 people have died by insurgents this year, including 300 shot dead in a marketplace on May 5.
A state of emergency has been in place in three troubled Nigerian states for a year. And education — the very thing human rights groups say is instrumental in freeing families from poverty — is suffering in a country which already has frighteningly high numbers of children out of school.
Mr Duvillier, who is based in Senegal, says the parents of the Chibok schoolgirls are living a worsening nightmare.
As the clock ticks, the risk rises of these girls being sold into marriage or child labour or becoming victims of sexual exploitation and violence.
IF that did happen, any eventual return home could be fraught with danger.
“They might have their own families, their own relatives not willing to talk to them anymore.”
Police say 53 girls managed to escape.
“My mind was busy, thinking of a way to escape,” a 16-year-old girl told the LA Times.
“I and two other girls were close together, speaking softly, and we came up with a plan.”
The girls told the gunmen they needed to go to the toilet.
“As soon as we were out of sight of the gunmen, we fled and we ran,” she said.
One of the terrified girls who managed to escape Boko Haram, an aspiring doctor, has already told of not wanting to return to school in Chibok.
“The only thing I’m going to say to them is to please leave those girls alone. May God get into their souls to leave those girls alone,” one mother said.
In a video released by Boko Haram last week, Shekau claimed that the prisoners had been forced to convert to Islam.
It showed the morose faces of girls in a bush camp as they recited from the Koran. They were wearing full hijab.
Authorities say families have now identified 77 of the girls in the video as those abducted at Chibok.
A father of one of the missing girls told of spotting his own daughter in the video.
“When I saw it, I felt as if I was not in my own body, not in this world,” he said. In the video, Shekau calls for the release of his militant brothers.
“It is now four years or five years that you arrested our brethren and they are still in your prison. You are doing many things to them and now you are talking about these girls? We will never release them until after you release our brethren,” Shekau says.
Amnesty International says it has information from credible sources that Nigerian security forces knew of the impending attack four hours before up to 200 gunmen arrived in Chibok, but failed to send in reinforcements.
The small contingent of security forces based in the town, according to Amnesty, were overpowered and forced to retreat. The desperate people of Chibok reportedly took matters into their own hands after waiting three futile days for military help.
They pooled money to buy petrol and took motorbikes into the Sambisa forest armed with sticks, knives and hunting guns.
People in Baale, a village 100km from Chibok, told them the heavily armed men were camped nearby with the girls.
But the villagers warned them they would be killed and put the lives of their daughters in danger if they tried to ambush the terrorists.
They were forced to abandon their search.
Parents later claimed the military did nothing when given details of the girls’ location.
Two days after the mass abduction, a senior Defence Minister spokesman said that almost all the girls had been rescued — a statement later retracted. The lack of response from the Nigerian Government and military has prompted protests in Nigeria and around the world.
The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls has been retweeted 3.3 million times, according to analytical tool Topsy, in what has become a massive social media campaign.
A series of celebrities, including America’s First Lady Michelle Obama, have tweeted photographs of themselves holding signs carrying the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag. While it has raised ire in some quarters, Ms Obama’s photo has been retweeted 58,000 times.
In Los Angeles, actor Anne Hathaway has taken to the streets with a megaphone for the cause and Angelina Jolie has added her voice to calls for a release of the girls.
Ms Obama also used her husband’s presidential address last weekend to call for the release of the schoolgirls.
“This unconscionable act was 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,” Ms Obama said.
SHE said she and President Barack Obama saw their own daughters in those girls.
“We see their hopes, their dreams — and we can only imagine the anguish their parents are feeling right now,” Ms Obama said.
“Many of them (parents) may have been hesitant to send their daughters off to school, fearing that harm might come their way. But they took that risk because they believed in their daughters’ promise and wanted to give them every opportunity to succeed.”
It is a risk welfare and human rights groups fear many parents will now not be willing to take.
The secondary school had been closed as a result of the terror attacks in the north, but the girls wanted to return to do their exams. Many other schools were also closed.
Mr Duvillier says that in an attack on another school last September, 50 students were killed by gunmen in their dormitory. As a result, 1000 students left the Chibok school.
The Ministry of Education in Borno, where Chibok is located, has estimated that 15,000 children in the northern state stopped attending classes between February and May as a result of attacks.
In Nigeria, a country of 168.8 million people, 10.5 million children are not in school, with 60 per cent of those in the north. It is the highest number in the world.
Only 54.8 per cent of primary-school aged children are enrolled in primary school, according to UNICEF figures.
“We don’t need more children out of school in Nigeria,” Mr Duvillier says.
He says education has been proven to be key to lifting families out of poverty.
When schoolchildren are targeted, lives are shattered and the future of the nation is stolen, Mr Duvillier says.
“If this happens today in Nigeria it could happen tomorrow in another neighbouring country,” he says.
“We cannot let north-eastern parts of Nigeria be a no-go area for teachers and schools.”
Mr Duvillier says the terror attacks have nothing to do with religion.
In his essay, Poverty is No Excuse for Terrorism, Nigerian-raised academic Josh Arinze says the goal of Boko Haram is to use violence to compel the transformation of Nigeria into an Islamic state.
Mr Hayworth, Amnesty’s crisis response campaign co-ordinator, says after watching the videorecorded messages, Boko Haram’s motivation seems ideological.
“It very much seemed about preventing Western education, preventing girls from going to school,” Mr Hayworth says.
He says that Boko Haram has been waging a campaign of terror against north Nigerian civilians for several years, abducting women and girls from schools and marketplaces and using them as hostages or raping them.
“This group has been allowed to continue to act with impunity and it’s really the civilians in northern Nigeria that are suffering. This is certainly the most brazen abduction that Boko Haram has undertaken,” he says.
“It’s anybody’s pick as to why they have abducted these particular girls.”
UNICEF’s Tim O’Connor says there are reports of Boko Haram militants abducting children or offering their parents incentives to allow them to be involved in the group so they can be child soldiers, porters and transporters.
Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop will today announce the appointment of Miles Armitage as Australia’s next Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism.
One of Mr Armitage’s first priorities will be working with the Nigerian Government and partner countries on the schoolgirl kidnapping.
heraldsun.com.au 17 May 2014
From the headline of this story, the words 'Nigerian terrorist kidnappers' should also be replaced with the word 'governments'.
Governments spend an incredible amount of resources to keep the general population 'dumbed down', via distractions like sport, sex, 'reality shows', etc via tools at their disposal like the 'mass media', in order to keep the herd submissive.
The model employed by the United States is the most effective, with their little 'brother' Australia at an equal first place.
The New World Order at its finest.