ABUJA, Nigeria (Morning Star News) – The 18-year-old high school student escaped from Boko Haram with her life, but she’s feeling sharp loss.
One of more than 300 girls kidnapped by the Islamic extremist group on April 15 from Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, in Nigeria’s northeastern state of Borno, Patience (last name withheld for security reasons) indicated she is deeply troubled by the captivity of her best friend and others.
“I have lost all my books, clothing and other valuables,” she said of the Boko Haram raid that began late at night on April 14. “But all these are not important now. I miss all my friends and schoolmates and will like to plead with the gunmen to release them.”
A member of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (EYN), Patience was one of 57 girls who escaped after Boko Haram rebels, who seek to establish a strict version of sharia (Islamic law) throughout Nigeria, herded the girls, most of them Christians, onto trucks at gunpoint.
“They wore military camouflage, and we thought they were soldiers who had come to assist us, but we later realized that they were Boko Haram gunmen,” she told Morning Star News. “Having set fire on the school buildings, they moved us to under a big locust bean tree and forced us to enter some trucks they brought with them. They asked us all to either enter the trucks or we get killed. We were all scared and had to enter the vehicles.”
After about 30 minutes, three of the nine trucks began to break down, she said. They tried to force the girls from the faulty trucks onto the others and set the three broken ones ablaze, but those in the overflow were forced to walk alongside the convoy.
“They [Boko Haram] moved on with us until we got to a village there in the bush, where they stopped,” Patience said. “Our colleagues who were forced to trek had meanwhile covered more than 20 kilometers [12 miles] on foot.”
When the vehicles stopped, Patience decided to make her move.
“I jumped out of the vehicle and hid myself under a thorn bush close by the vehicle tracks,” she said. “When I jumped out of the vehicle, I could no longer move my legs as I was injured. So, I dragged myself on my stomach and hid under a thorn bush.”
Following her lead, her friend Parmata also jumped out of the truck. Because of the noise of the trucks, Patience was able to call out to her unnoticed, and under cover of darkness her friend was able to run and join her under the bush.
“We saw the gunmen pass the thorn bush where we hid ourselves, but they could not see us,” Patience said. “We hid ourselves under the thorn bush until daybreak at about 6 a.m., when my friend decided to move out to find help since I was unable to walk because of my injured legs.”
At length her friend chanced upon a nomadic ethnic Fulani cattleman.
“The Fulani man brought his bicycle and carried me on it, while my friend trekked along until we finally met with some parents from Chibok who had been in search of us,” Patience said. “And one of the parents from Chibok who had a motorbike was asked by others with him to convey me and my friend back to Chibok, while the other parents continued on the trail of the Boko Haram gunmen.”
She named several classmates and friends still captive, adding that most did not appear in a video recently released by Boko Haram.
“I saw only two of these my friends in the video recently made public by Boko Haram,” she said. “But some of the faces I saw in the video clip were not known to me, even though there were others that were our schoolmates that I could recognize.”
The video purports to show the kidnapped girls reciting the Koran, but some parents of the kidnapped students were unable to identify their children in the video, a source told the Baptist Press. Adeniyi Ojutiku, co-founder of Lift Up Now, which addresses needs in his homeland of Nigeria, told the news agency that many of the girls in the video were reciting the Koran in a skillful way that would not be possible for Christians forced to learn the verses.
Chibok community leader Pogu Bitrus has told reporters that 57 girls escaped, leaving an estimated 272 still held.
While members of her church came to her house to pray for her and her family, and the church has assisted with some funds, no other organization has offered assistance, Patience said.
“Not even my local government officials, Borno state government, National Emergency Management Authority or the police have assisted in any way,” she said.
While the students at the school who escaped were soon called to take their final tests – exams being the reason the school was open at the time of the attack, as the government had closed other schools following Boko Haram threats – Patience said she was saddened that her leg injuries kept her from doing so.
“My mother had to foot my medical bills,” she added.
At a hearing in Washington, D.C. of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations on Wednesday (June 11), Emmanuel Ogebe, special counsel for Jubileee Campaign’s Justice for Jos Project, said Nigerian aid to victims and their families was scarce.
“The government of Nigeria needs to establish a Victim Relief Fund similar to the U.S.’s 911 Victims’ Compensation Fund that will provide long and short-term assistance,” Ogebe said.
Although the United States has sent law enforcement help to Nigeria, Ogebe said, the U.S. response has been inadequate.
“Existing U.S. bilateral security and intelligence cooperation assets are overstretched and understaffed,” he told the subcommittee. “At this critical point of investigation, when the girls were still newly missing, resident U.S. assets were reportedly deployed outside Nigeria to other missions instead of prioritizing on this situation.”
U.S. aerial surveillance of northern Nigeria is of suspect efficacy, Ogebe added.
“Boko Haram is light years ahead of this technology,” he said. “The press reported that last year, Boko Haram’s training camps in Mali engaged in drone evasion drills and techniques.”
Refugees fleeing Borno state are receiving little help, he added. The International Rescue Mission estimates that as many as 1,000 refugees a week are crossing into Niger’s Diffa region, and that a total of 100,000 could be taking refuge by the end of the year if violence continues.
Ogebe said the United Nations is behind on humanitarian assistance to victims.
“Rather than prioritizing victim assistance, the United Nations is spending scandalous sums of money ‘documenting human rights abuses,’” he told the subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J). “Atrocities have already been well–documented by human rights groups and the media. What the world needs is a solution, not another document.”
Smith told the hearing that former Assistant Secretary of State Johnny Carson erred in a July 2012 hearing on Nigeria when he said that Boko Haram’s attacks were motivated mostly by animus against the Nigerian government.
“He was wrong in his apportionment of cause and effect,” Smith said. “There is tremendous animus toward the Nigerian government and an effort to embarrass President [Goodluck] Jonathan. However, Boko Haram is determined to convert or kill Christians and Muslims they believe oppose them.”
While Boko Haram (translated as “Western education is a sin”) is the moniker residents of Maiduguri, Borno state gave the insurgents, the group calls itself the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal–Jihad, translated as “The Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad.” In 2013 the U.S. government designated it a Foreign Terrorist Organization, and it has links with Al Shabaab in Somalia and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population of 158.2 million, while Muslims account for 45 percent and live mainly in the north.
A Nigerian military official has said that army leaders know where Boko Haram is keeping the girls, but that an attack would endanger the captives.
Patience, who traveled to Abuja with her brother to meet with Morning Star News and a U.S. delegation, has not received adequate medical care, but she did not appear concerned about herself.
“Please, Boko Haram people, my appeal is that you release my friends and schoolmates and let them return to their parents,” she said.
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