News Analysis: The race to find 200 abducted girls
Nigerians were still in a daze following the blast at a motor park on Abuja city outskirts that claimed dozens of lives when news filtered in yesterday about yet another outrage committed by suspected Boko Haram insurgents. They raided the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok in Borno State on Monday night and reportedly abducted nearly 200 girls. Borno State Police Commissioner Lawan Tanko confirmed that there was an incident in Chibok but did not give any details, saying these were still being compiled.
However, reporters heard from other security sources and distraught parents that there indeed was a mass abduction, which they said is the first of its kind since the commencement of the Boko Haram insurgency in 2009. The girls, aged between 16 and 18 were reportedly writing their final year senior secondary school examinations when the raid and abduction happened.
Even though this is a very ugly twist to the insurgents’ tactics that is bound to cause consternation and disgust all over this country and abroad, it was not really the first time that Boko Haram insurgents would abduct young women. During previous attacks on schools in Yobe State reports had it that even though the insurgents spared female students when they shot their male counterparts, they however abducted some of them and carted them away in their vehicles. There were no reports of the girls having returned to their families.
Monday night’s incident at Chibok however outclassed all previous abduction incidents on sheer scale. Moving 200 young girls out of the school compound was a big logistical operation that, according to some town residents, entailed several lorry trips lasting many hours. One of the questions being asked was why no security agents came to the aid of the girls while the raid lasted. A second question is what the girls were doing there, since the Borno State Government had earlier closed all schools in the state in order to avert just such incidents. Even though some observers thought closing the schools was too drastic and that it caved in to the insurgents’ anti-Western education agenda, Monday night’s episode shows that it was a necessary measure to take for now.
A top security source was quoted yesterday to have said that the GGSS Chibok school’s authorities directed the girls to go and write their exams “without adequate authorization and clearance from security agencies.” If investigation confirms this, then the persons involved must be made to answer for this major security lapse.
Yet another puzzle is what the insurgents would want with so many young girls and how and where they could possible hide them. Truly, several women that managed to escape or were rescued by soldiers from sacked Boko Haram camps told stories of being held as sex slaves against their will. They said they cooked the insurgents’ food, did other menial duties for them and were also sexually abused in the name of being “married” to the insurgents. Yet, their descriptions suggested the existence of small insurgent camps in the forests or rocky areas where a few women were held captive at a time. A camp that could hold 200 abducted girls must be very large indeed. Many people are wondering if such a camp exists after the acclaimed gains made by soldiers against the insurgents in recent months.
There was a ray of hope yesterday that the girls’ ordeal could be short given that soldiers were already hot on the trail of the abductors. A report said “serious collaboration between various security agencies is yielding results. The truck that was conveying the girls broke down in the bush before it reached its destination. We are now trying to locate where the girls were taken to.” Many of the girls managed to jump out of the trucks while some clung to tree branches as they were being ferried through the bush. They later found their way back home.
It is to be expected that a major security operation is already underway to track the abductors and to free the young girls. Their large number increases the possibility that they would be found because it is not easy to conceal such a large number of people in a rural area or even an urban one. The insurgents are known to cross Nigeria’s borders into neighbouring countries at will. If they do take the abductees across the border, the Chadian and Cameroonian police will be challenged to find them. They might be better able to do so than Nigerian security agents given the relatively authoritarian character of those countries.
All told, Nigerians will be waiting with bated breaths for any stories that the abducted girls have been rescued and safely reunited to their families. That at least would be one happy ending to a tale of grief, sorrow, tears, blood and incredulity that has been the Boko Haram insurgency.
In this undated file photo, women and children are seen after they were removed from a suspected Boko Haram hideout during a military raid at Sabuwar Gandu neighbourhood in Kano.