News Anal­y­sis: The race to find 200 ab­ducted girls

Daily Trust - - NEWS - By Mah­mud Jega

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.

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