For­mer Boko Haram cap­tives look to fu­ture

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

LA­GOS — A typ­i­cal day for Deb­o­rah in­cludes classes on a man­i­cured uni­ver­sity cam­pus and ex­er­cise in the evening — bas­ket­ball, vol­ley­ball or aer­o­bics. On week­ends, she stud­ies, swims or just re­laxes.

But the teenager’s life now is one that was unimag­in­able 12 months ago.

On 14 April last year, she was in a packed dor­mi­tory at the Gov­ern­ment Girls Sec­ondary School in Chi­bok, north­east­ern Nige­ria, seek­ing a night’s sleep be­fore writ­ing end-of­term ex­ams.

Boko Haram fighters stormed the school af­ter sun­down, kid­nap­ping 276 girls.

The mass ab­duc­tion pro­voked global out­rage and brought un­prece­dented at­ten­tion to an in­sur­gency that has dev­as­tated north­ern Nige­ria since 2009.

Deb­o­rah was one of 57 girls who es­caped within hours of the attack. Her life has changed but for the other 219 hostages still be­ing held and for fam­i­lies des­per­ate for news, the night­mare con­tin­ues.

De­spite prom­ises from the gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary that the re­lease or res­cue of the hostages was at hand, there has been no cred­i­ble in­for­ma­tion con­cern­ing their where­abouts in months.

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau vowed to sell the girls as “slaves” and later said they had been “mar­ried off”. Ex­perts say both are pos­si­ble and they are un­likely to still be all to­gether. ‘Bless­ing in dis­guise’ Deb­o­rah and 20 other girls from Chi­bok who es­caped Boko Haram cap­tiv­ity are now study­ing at the Amer­i­can Uni­ver­sity of Nige­ria (AUN) in the north-eastern city of Yola.

The pri­vately-funded AUN does not look like other Nige­rian uni­ver­si­ties and cer­tainly bears lit­tle re­sem­blance to Chi­bok, which even be­fore the Is­lamist up­ris­ing be­gan was a deeply im­pov­er­ished town with poor roads and limited elec­tric­ity sup­ply.

Spread across a vast stretch of land on the out­skirts of Yola, the cam­pus in­cludes an im­mac­u­late ho­tel, with a restau­rant over­look­ing a pool that serves burg­ers and pizza, where fac­ulty, in­clud­ing vis­it­ing West­ern pro­fes­sors, share so­das with their stu­dents.

“It is a beau­ti­ful en­vi­ron­ment,” Deb­o­rah told AFP via uni­ver­sity staff in an email ex­change. The Chi­bok girls at AUN are study­ing a cur­ricu­lum aimed at pre­par­ing them to start a four-year un­der­grad­u­ate pro­gramme next year.

Deb­o­rah said her dream is to work at the United Na­tions “to help my com­mu­nity in Chi­bok, Nige­ria and the world”.

Oth­ers talk of be­com­ing doc­tors or lawyers. All stress the im­por­tance of ed­u­ca­tion. With de­grees from the well-re­garded AUN those dreams may come true.

But among the 21, the prospects feel bit­ter­sweet, as in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion re­turns to the plight of those still be­ing held one year on.

Thoughts of their miss­ing class­mates are never far away and in their prayers daily, they said.

“We feel sad with the ad­van­tages we have now be­cause so many from our home­town do not have th­ese ad­van­tages,” they added.

They also ac­knowl­edged they would al­most cer­tainly not be study­ing at the uni­ver­sity had they not been kid­napped.

Mary put this con­flict in starker terms: “When the in­sur­gency struck, I was dev­as­tated but lit­tle did I know it was go­ing to be a bless­ing in dis­guise.” Hor­ror with a pur­pose The Chi­bok girls at AUN felt united in a com­mon goal to en­sure that some good must

come from last year’s tragedy.

“It has been a hor­ri­ble jour­ney yet we be­lieve that com­ing to AUN is for a pur­pose, which is to be an in­stru­ment of pos­i­tive change in our home­town,” Sarah said.

“We have not been bro­ken by the attack. We see our­selves as the peo­ple who have been cho­sen to make pos­i­tive fu­ture changes not just in Chi­bok, but in our coun­try and the world,” she added.

Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan’s han­dling of the hostage cri­sis was heav­ily crit­i­cised, es­pe­cially over his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s fail­ure to im­me­di­ately recog­nise the sever­ity of the attack and to swiftly launch a ma­jor res­cue ef­fort.

Mr Jonathan’s de­feat in last month’s gen­eral elec­tion to chal­lenger Muham­madu Buhari may have partly been caused by his in­abil­ity to con­tain the Is­lamist vi­o­lence.

Boko Haram, whose name loosely trans­lates from the Hausa lan­guage widely spo­ken in north­ern Nige­ria as “West­ern ed­u­ca­tion is for­bid­den”, had al­ready been sus­pected of com­mit­ting crimes against hu­man­ity be­fore the Chi­bok mass ab­duc­tion fo­cused global out­rage.

But the girls study­ing at AUN sug­gested the Is­lamist foot-sol­diers who car­ried out the kid­nap­pings ul­ti­mately de­serve mercy.

North-eastern Nige­ria pro­vides few op­por­tu­ni­ties and lit­tle hope of em­ploy­ment for young men, mak­ing them vul­ner­a­ble to rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion, they said.

“I for­give Boko Haram for what they have done and I pray God for­gives them too,” Bless­ing said. — AFP

SOME of the Chi­bok school girls who es­caped from the Boko Haram Is­lamists.

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