Witness to return of a Chibok girl

May 26, 2016
5 mins read


THE  Maiduguri Government House is often a beehive of activities, especially when the governor is in town. Members of the local political nomenclatural would mix with government employees, security personnel and visitors. So the governor’s office entrance often had people hanging around, hoping to get a word with the governor, whenever he made to enter his office or come out to either visit to projects or return home, late evening or at night. This is a daily routine.

Rescued Chibok girl, Amina Ali

And with the relative return of peace to the city of Maiduguri and Borno, traffic in that direction has really picked up. Flights are regular, with two airlines arriving with often, full flights each day of the week, except Saturday, while those who used to dread road travel, now do so more comfortably, because the roads are much less dangerous now. Last Wednesday, there was bedlam!

The crowd was bigger than hitherto, largely because the UN Under Secretary for Emergency was in town, and came in tow, with a retinue of officials as well as journalists from international media outlets; and in a convoy of four-wheel drive vehicles, as is the wont of international diplomats.

For the first time in over six years, I saw Ofebea Quist-Acton again; she used to be a very popular voice from my reporting days at the BBC. She is now based in Dakar, Senegal, but was on the media train that accompanied the UN chief. They had visited Diffa in Niger Republic earlier that day; they then went into Abuja before the arrival in Maiduguri, the meeting with Governor Kashim Shettima as well as a visit to Konduga. But this was really turning out to be an unusual day in every respect!

Media beehive

By late afternoon, the story had broke that one of the kidnapped Chibok girls had been found alive with a baby as well as the man that was alleged to be her Boko Haram “husband”. We also heard that the girl was likely to arrive in Maiduguri shortly, to be presented to Governor Kashim Shettima, who had returned from accompanying the international diplomats to Konduga.

Ahmed Idris of Aljazeera was in the house, attempting to get the governor to go on live television to speak about the freed Chibok girl. The international news outlets like CNN and Aljazeera were scrolling the story constantly and the first pictures of the young girl had already appeared on SAHARA REPORTERS; Ahmed Idris was going live on air every hour, and there was a media scrum around the entrance to the Governor’s office, at that point where politicians normally hang around.

This was a historic moment that no media oulet was going to miss. The governor was still refusing every entreaty to go on live television and he was not going to even oblige with an interview. After what felt an eternity, a team of soldiers arrived with Miss Amina Ali, who walked with very serious difficulty. She seemed to have sustained an injury to the hip or leg, and was looking very much in distress and carrying a baby. As she entered the Governor’s Office, Aljazeera’s Ahmed Idris and I followed.

The young lady sat on the floor while the governor received the baby. The military gave permission and we started taking pictures. But as I looked at the young girl sitting on the floor, my mind raced through the two years she spent in the bush along with the over 200 other girls; and an expression of what she or they might have gone through was the three month old baby that the governor held. I started crying uncontrollably!

I just could not hold back the emotions much as I tried to be strong. I am a father of young girls who also attend a boarding school, and I saw in that young girl every daughter, in every boarding house all over our country, and in the world! I have reported wars in South Sudan; Darfur; Western Sahara; Cote D’Ivoire and saw post-war situations in other parts of the world, but none has touched me as much as those hours inside the Government House, Maiduguri, last Wednesday, in the presence of that young Amina Ali, one of the Chibok Girls.

We eventually excused the girl and daughter as well as the security team that had accompanied her, which went into a long session of debrief with her. Before that process commenced, the governor had directed that clothes be procured for her as well as the baby and directives were also given to supply high energy/high vitamins food too.

Not long after, Dr. Fatima Akilu and her team joined the team inside the Governor’s office, along with a two-man team of politicians who incidentally came from Chibok and spoke the same language with Amina Ali. They acted as translators for a while and tried to help her feel at ease with Fatima Aliku’s team. They were women and mothers and had a much more intimate attitude with mother and baby, including helping her to find a suitable point to breastfeed her baby. At that point, we excused the all-female team, just as the last of the soldiers also withdrew.

It was impressive to see the very professional manner that the Nigerian soldiers behaved throughout and it was a point that I made to the General who led the team. He agreed that things had changed and that was due to the new leadership in the military as well as the changed political circumstance in the country.

By night-time, Amina Ali was already exhausted and Borno state government doctors joined the ladies to spirit Amina and baby to a safe house, where they were examined and stayed the night, as arrangements had been completed for the trip to Abuja, on Thursday to present them to President Muhammadu Buhari. I was distraught the whole of that evening and it took me a very long time to find sleep as I was constantly haunted by the thought of the girl’s arrival all through the night.

Journey to Abuja

I returned to Abuja last Thursday evening, only to be informed by Governor Kashim Shettima, that another girl from Chibok had also been rescued. On Friday, I sat through the debriefing of the second girl, recorded pictures and also sat through the inconsistencies that marked her answers. Clearly, there was more to the second girl’s story, which did not add up. People felt that she was probably still traumatised by her experience. Kashim Shattima assured that Borno state was going to do everything to aid her rehabilitation, just as was promised Amina Ali, on Wednesday.

As we prepared to board the flight to Abuja last Thursday afternoon, Fatima Akilu reminded me that the story of thousands of other women, girls and children also kidnapped by Boko Haram has not been told. So far, 15, 000 of these have been liberated.

The Chibok Girls’ abduction was the tipping point that shocked the world! To cart away over 200 schoolgirls was certainly dramatic and it was the coup-de-poing for the criminal insurgency.

The world noticed, while the #BRINGBACKOURGIRLS campaign touched the conscience of an uncaring world. But what about the thousands of other women and girls who were not from the Chibok school, but have suffered just as much? Who speaks for them? These are the unsung sex slaves of an insurgency that employed sex-at-gunpoint for forced procreation to perpetuate itself. That forced procreation was central to Boko Haram’s praxis. I will examine that issue next week.

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