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Rumors, Government Inaction Surround Nigeria’s Stolen Girls

Rumors, Government Inaction Surround Nigeria’s Stolen Girls

Circumstances around the kidnapping of 234 Nigerian schoolgirls, and the military’s deception have exposed a troubling aspect of Nigeria’s leadership: when it comes to Boko Haram, the government cannot be trusted, Alexis Okeowo writes in an opinion piece in NewYorker.

The latest rumor about the kidnapping is that Boko Haram has taken the girls out of Nigeria into Cameroon and Chad, and forcibly married them.

Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist group, kidnapped Deborah Sanya and at least 200 of her classmates from a girls’ secondary school in Chibok, Northeast Nigeria, more than two weeks ago. Sanya, along with two friends, escaped. So did 40 others. The rest vanished, and their families have not heard from them since.

For a while after the abduction, girls trickled back into town — some rolled off trucks, some snuck away while fetching water, NewYorker reports. That trickle has stopped. “Nobody rescued them,” a government official in Chibok said of the girls who made it back. “I want you to stress this point. Nobody rescued them. They escaped on their accord. This is painful.”

A pastor in Chibok whose daughter is missing told Okeowo, “I just don’t know what the federal government is doing about it. And there is no security here that will defend us. You have to do what you can do to escape for your life.”

The day after the abduction, the Nigerian military claimed it had rescued nearly all of the girls. A day later, the military retracted its claim; it had not actually rescued any of the girls. And the number that the government said was missing, just more than 100, was less than half the number parents and school officials reported — 234 girls taken.


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In the wake of the military’s failure, parents banded together and raised money to send several into the forest to search for the girls, armed with bows and arrows. The group came across villagers who persuaded the parents to turn back. They told the parents they had seen the girls nearby, but the insurgents were too well armed.

Sanya, 18, and was taking her final exams before graduation. Many of the schools in
towns around Chibok, in the state of Borno, had been closed. Boko Haram attacks at other schools — including a recent massacre of 59 schoolboys in neighboring Yobe state — prompted the mass closure. But local officials decided to briefly reopen the Chibok school for exams.

On the night of the abduction, militants showed up at the boarding school dressed in Nigerian military uniforms. They told the girls they would be safe, Sanya told Okeowo. The men took food and supplies from the school and then set the building on fire. They herded the girls into trucks and onto motorcycles. At first, the girls, believed that they were safe. When the men started shooting their guns in the air and shouting “Allahu Akbar,” Sanya said she realized they weren’t who they said they were. She watched several girls jump out of the truck.

She and two friends escaped the terrorists’ camp not far from Chibok. They reached a village late at night, slept at the home of a friendly stranger, and called their families in the morning.

Sanya’s father, Ishaya Sanya — a primary-school teacher — said every home in Chibok has been affected by the kidnappings. The only information that the families have been able to gather about the kidnapped girls is from the girls who escaped.