Last week, in Chibok, Borno State, some 230 schoolgirls were abducted by unknown gunmen in their school premises, leaving their parents restless as they have resolved to go into the forest in search of their children. Kareem Haruna writes on their plight and efforts to see their children again
Musa Muta is in his early 40s. He has a daughter called Martha, his first child. His dream for Martha is to either become a senior nurse or a doctor. That was why he paid special attention to her education and upbringing to be a humble and decent little girl.
Martha is now 17 years old. She is supposed to finish writing her final year secondary school exams this month. She is a student of the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok. She is among the 230 schoolgirls that are still unaccounted for after their abduction on Monday, April 14, 2014 by the Boko Haram terrorists.
Muta said the future he dreamt for his little girl had almost matured, but as her days in captivity lengthen, so is his fear that may be he might not be able to savour the fruition of that beautiful future for his daughter. Every minute that counts with the absence of Martha has been a nightmare for himself and her mother.
“We don’t know what is happening to Martha and other girls out there. We fear for them, because those who took them away are not good people; they have no value for life. If we know this is the price we were to get for putting her in school, maybe we would not have sent her to school. But we did, because we didn’t want her life to be like that of ours; barely educated and restricted to village life,” he said in broken voice, as tears flowed down his already crimsoned eyes that seemed not to have tasted sleep for a very long time.
Martha’s father was not the only one in grief. Over 200 men who gathered within the burnt premises of the government girls secondary school were all crying and weeping like babies, when the state governor, Kashim Shettima, went on a sympathy visit there.
It was an emotionally drenched encounter at the school. No one, including Governor Shettima and Senator Ali Ndume, who visited the village last week, could stand the pitiable sights of men crying like “babies”. These are men who had perhaps exhibited that masculine chauvinism in the past – men who would scold their sons (maybe) of behaving like girls when they cry over an issue. But with the disappearance of their daughters, these fathers could not hide the weakness that encase their love for their daughters. They did not only let the tears glide freely down their tortured face, they sobbed and wept as well.
The emotional Governor Shettima could not immediately bring himself to address them, as his voice was submerged in broken emotion. He allowed Senator Ndume to lead the talking. But even the fire-brand Ndume could only end his speech with thick tears dripping across his face and soaking his clothes. He too cried like a baby.
“We are all touched by the incident concerning the abduction of our daughters,” said Senator Ndume. “I am a father too. I have 10 children, and everyday I put my children in the position of these girls currently in captivity and I weep for them; I weep for the poor parents. My heart goes to you all. So is our governor here. But you should know our limitations here in the state concerning the security deployment. It is very obvious that neither the governor nor I has control over our security. We can only plea with the federal government to assist us. But be assured that we are doing our best to see that these girls are freed in one piece. We have to all turn to God at times like this and ask for His mercies. He should look into the heavy hearts of our parents here and let His powers touch the heart of those keeping our daughters, so that they would not only release our girls, but also make sure no one there harm them.”
The parents, all in tears, told the governor that even they, as fathers, did not just crowd themselves and sat in the village waiting for their daughters to resurface. They actually did what every father would do in situations like this. They had offered the sacrifice of their lives in the search and rescue of their little girls.
The men said while the time the military and the school management continued to feed the world with stories and fictitious figures that their daughters had been rescued, when in actual fact they were not in anyway near home, “We all resolved and told each other the home truth, that it is better we stand up and go into the bushes in search of our daughters before some harm come to them”.
Barring all the dangers that surely await them should they venture to trail the girls up to the den of the Boko Haram in the heart of Sambisa, the fathers mobilised themselves and marched into the bushes, armed with knives, cutlasses, bows and arrows, and hunting guns. Most of them rode on motorcycles and carried extra fuel.
About 150 motorcycles were mobilised, each carrying two passengers, they embarked on what could best be described as a suicide mission. According to them, their search took them into places they had never been and they saw the vast forest lands that had never been cultivated for a very long time.
“We trailed the abductors of our daughters by following the prints made by their vehicles, far into very dangerous places inside the forest, but we couldn’t go far because we were warned against going further since we had no sophisticated weapons that could match that of those holding our daughters,” one of the abducted schoolgirls’ fathers said.
“Our journey took us far into the brinks of Sambisa forest, a distance of over 50km from Chibok. We rode under some very thick and dark forest without seeing the sunlight through the leaves for over 25 kilometres.
“We had walked into the forest for over 50 kilometres until we got to a place where we saw two houses and plenty women, about a dozen of them. They could not help us, but showed us the path to follow. So, we continued until we came to another hamlet where we were told by the residents there that if we took a footpath ahead of us, it would lead us to where the abductors took our daughters. We thanked them and proceeded through the path and continued to walk under low but thick trees. We walked for about 25 kilometres without seeing the sky or the sun, even though it was day. The whole forest was dark, because the low and thick branches of trees shielded the sunlight from penetrating. One will never believe it that such forest is inside Nigeria and in the northern region.
“After some hours of walk, we came to a stream with a locally-made bridge. We walked over the bridge, everywhere was quite, but we continued moving and searching until we met a Fulani herdsman, who urged us to move ahead of the route we were following, that surely we would see where our daughters were, because he too saw them being taken away by the Boko Haram gunmen. Many of our young men got lost in the forest, because it was too thick and very large.
“We continued to move on until we arrived a junction where the foot path that leads to Konduga and the other to Damboa intercepts. There, we asked an old man who was surprised to see us riding on motorcycles. We told him our mission and he confirmed to us that of course he saw our daughters with the abductors. He said the girls were brought down from the truck at that junction and were made to trek into the forest ahead. He pointed to us the direction they took them, but warned us that if we ventured to proceed into that part of the forest without any security personnel following us, we would all be killed together with our daughters. He advised us that we should try and go back to Damboa and get more security agents to help, lest we would be embarking on the most dangerous mission,” he narrated.
The old man told them that the core of Sambisa was just ahead and if they could tarry in the area till night, which was even very dangerous for them. They could hear the sounds of their activities, and sometimes shooting of guns as though they were doing some shooting training.
The search party from Chibok were left confused at that junction of decision. For sure, their daughters were down there in the forest, not very far from them. But the old farmer had warned them that he had never seen anyone, other than the Boko Haram that went into that part of the forest and made it back alive.
“The old farmer told us that they simply disappear in there and you will never see them again; even of the many soldiers that went in there, only few of them often find themselves running back injured or without their vehicles. He said many of them seldom return back,” he said.
In tears, the search team debated the idea of going in, but was later made to succumb to the defeat of their courage by the fact that two things might likely happen to them in there.
“We feared that our children should not be caught in crossfire, or both of us be killed if we ventured to go there, which would still add up to the misery of our wives and other children back at home. We had to reluctantly give up our search and possible rescue of our daughters as we heed to the admonition of the old farmer and decided to return to Damboa to see if the soldiers could help,” he added.
As they turned their backs on Sambisa and began to drag their foot towards home, one of the parents said, “I felt I have failed my daughter by not being able to go in there as her father and pull her out of that captivity.” They all cried on their way back.
Musa Muta, who was also part of the search team, said he was struck by more fear given what he saw on their way into the Sambisa forest; and doubts if the whole insurgency was anyway near its end.
“We do not want to talk about what our eyes saw on the way into Sambisa, because it would even escalate the grief of our wives and other people back at home,” said Muta.
A younger member of the search team who narrated how he got lost in the forest for two days before he finally made his way back to Chibok on Sunday said they saw several human corpses that had longed decomposed, some looked like those of soldiers and many others could not be identified.
“We lost count of them on the way, because they were very many. We saw burnt vehicles too. The place is so vast, yet one old man told us that we were not even half an inch near the core of Sambisa,” said a young man who would not say his name because they all agreed not to disclose the horrible sights they saw to the people at home.
Governor Shettima had pleaded for calm as he promised not to rest on his oars until these 230 schoolgirls were rescued and reunited with their families.
“The abduction of innocent girls is also a trial from God, and we will overcome it soon. Our hearts go to the parents of the abducted girls, because it is a tragedy that has befallen all of us,” the governor said.
“We have tolerated the burning of homes, churches, mosques, businesses and killing of innocent souls, but taking away our daughters is the worst act of indiscretion and wickedness. That is why we will not allow the security operatives to rest until they help us fish out our girls… And I can assure you, efforts are being made towards that.
“They can burn our physical infrastructure, but they cannot destroy our souls. We are going to survive and rebuild our lives, because truth will always triumph over falsehood,” the governor assured.
The words of the governor might have momentarily assuaged the grief-stricken parents, but it did not dry the tears of the women in Borno State capital, who had to grant a press conference challenging the federal government to wake up and show leadership.
The women, all dressed in black attires, were led by a group called Baobab for Borno Women’s Human Rights. They condemned the abduction of the girls by the insurgents as well as censured all other violence and killings happening in the state. They called for a better security for students in schools and asked the insurgents to hearken to the call for dialogue.
But the words of Mrs Aishatu Ngulde, who is the northeast co-ordinator of WOTCLEF, rang louder with motherly pains when she disparaged the federal government for not showing enough concern about the missing girls.
“It is very disheartening that despite what is going on here in Borno State concerning our abducted girls, our national leader who is supposed to champion the protection of the entire country, didn’t see it as a duty to do so,” she echoed.
“Since this incident happened, we have not heard our President telling the entire nation that he is deploying our almighty air force with their jets, to come and hover over our terrain in Borno State and find out in which bush these girls are being kept. Is anybody telling me that the bushes in Borno State are so thick that no plane can see through? Our soldiers have been going to other countries and we see and hear how troops were being dropped from the sky into thick forests and attack enemies in the bushes. Why is that not being done in Borno State concerning our children that have been taken? We are grieved because we are all mothers.
“If it were Jonathan’s daughters that have been stolen today, would the country go to sleep? Why should it be all about the governor? He is just an entity, he has no such powers over the military or any security men. We are in a country where everything has to come from the federal government. Let us call a spade, a spade. The federal government should do something now, or we accuse them as accomplices and part of this crime,” Ngulde submitted.
The clock is fast ticking, and the days of the 230 girls in captivity increasing, just as the fears for their safety soar, as well. Who will bail the cat now and go into the Sambisa forest and free these girls? Or is Sambisa forest so dreadfully thick, as Ngulde put it, that no one including our security operatives can go into it and rescue these innocent girls? These are questions our government and the security operatives must answer.
*tears* *sobbing* *praying* *cursing* and *wishing*.
CULLED FROM LEADERSHIP.
AßdøυℓгAshƐƐd H. TAÞhƐƐdA is a MD of TƐ¢hnøtгøni¢ ¢ømÞAnŶ Nig. ℓtd.
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