Life after Chibok kidnapping

November 25, 2016

When a colleague asked Margee Ensign to help her sister who had been snatched by Boko Haram from her school dormitory in Chibok and escaped, the president of the American University of Nigeria could not refuse.
Ensign decided to offer scholarships to girls who managed to flee the Islamist militant group after it abducted more than 270 of their classmates in April 2014, its most high-profile assault in a seven-year insurgency to create an Islamic caliphate.

Of the 57 girls who escaped after the night-time raid in northeastern Nigeria, 24 accepted the university’s offer.

But not everyone celebrated their return to education in Yola, the capital of a state neighbouring Borno where they were seized.

“People (in Chibok) told us we are stupid for sending our children to school again after what happened,” said the father of one girl who took up a scholarship at the university in a video recording of her first day there.

Scarred by his daughter’s ordeal, he was one of many parents who stayed with their children in the dormitories during the first few weeks.

Boko Haram has abducted hundreds of men, women and children, killed thousands and displaced more than 2 million people during its insurgency.

But it was the kidnapping of the Chibok girls which prompted outrage worldwide and spurred a campaign, #BringBackOurGirls, backed by celebrities and US first lady Michelle Obama.

The Islamist militants released 21 of the girls last month after the Red Cross and the Swiss government brokered a deal with the group, but some 200 remain missing.

Ensign, an American academic who has previously worked as an advisor to the governments of Uganda and Rwanda, said the Chibok girls arrived on campus in August 2014, most of them nervous and doubtful about resuming their education.

“We took them to the market place and they were very frightened,” said Ensign, recalling accompanying the girls on a shopping trip with the school bus.

“They didn’t want to be out (of the bus) on their own… so we took in a few at a time.”

While the girls gradually settled into life at the university – sticking together for comfort and support, and using laptops and phones to stay in touch with their families – starting classes was a challenge for many of the new arrivals.

“When I first came here, I was shocked,” said 18-year-old Glory.

“I said: ‘Is this Nigeria?’ I didn’t think I would make it because of my Chibok background,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by Skype.

The teenager, who along with 56 classmates jumped off a truck used by Boko Haram fighters to spirit them away, is now pursuing her dream of studying medicine.

“I want to be a medical doctor to help my community in Chibok… we don’t have well qualified doctors,” Glory said.

Yet many of the Chibok girls could not read or write fluently when they arrived at the university.

“They had special needs,” Ensign said.

To accommodate their varying academic abilities, the university devised a special programme for the girls – rather than just sending them to its affiliated secondary school – and split them into beginner, intermediate and advanced classes.

Called the New Foundation School, the girls are tested frequently in the hope of getting them ready to move up to the university. But they are also awarded regularly for public speaking, sports and other extracurricular activities.

“We didn’t want to call them Chibok girls anymore,” said Reginald Braggs, assistant dean of student affairs at the university.

The girls have their own dormitory, but have bonded with the rest of the students. – Thompson Reuters Foundation

Parents suffer in silence
Okoro Chinedu

While Nigeria and the rest of the international community are celebrating the release of 21 girls the Boko Haram sect abducted at gunpoint northeast of the West African country in 2014, spare a thought for families whose members have not been rescued.

These parents, despite hope springing from the release of some of the kidnapped girls, are experiencing severe psychological hardship wondering if their children are still alive following reports some of the girls kidnapped in Chibok during a raid at gunpoint two years ago had either been killed by the insurgents, during suicide bomb attacks or raids by the military on Boko Haram lairs.

It is against this backdrop churches in the United Kingdom and Ireland are partnering with anti-persecution charity, Open Doors, to open a trauma care centre for victims of persecution, mostly Christians, in the volatile northern Nigeria.

Eddie Lyle, president of Open Doors UK and Ireland, recently went to Nigeria with David Muir (lecturer at the University of Roehampton), David Shosanya (regional minister of the London Baptist Association), Delroy Powell (UK national leader, New Testament Assembly) and Jimi Adeleye (pastor of the Apostolic Church, Romford).

The team met some of the Chibok parents to deliver messages of support from Christians in the UK and other parts of the world, and spent time praying with them and encouraging them.

“Meeting four of the fathers of the Chibok girls encapsulated for me the agony of this tragic incident,” Lyle said.

Lyle recounted how a husband struggled to contain his wife from screaming at night because of the sense of loss after the abduction of their child.

“She’s missing her daughter and doesn’t know how to live life again,” Lyle said.

Open Doors has been supporting the parents of the Chibok girls with food, medical care and trauma counselling.

The charity plans to extend its work by building a trauma care centre with the support of churches in UK and Ireland.

The centre once complete, likely next year, will be the first of its kind in northern Nigeria, and provide professional help and support to those most affected by persecution.

It will accommodate up to 30 trauma victims at one time. The centre will also have a training annexe to help equip church leaders whose congregations are filled with members who have suffered atrocities perpetrated by the Boko Haram.

A family will typically stay at the trauma centre for six weeks before returning to their homes.

It will cost £660 to care for an individual for that duration at the centre.

Pastor Isaac, who could not disclose his full identity for fear of reprisal, is one of the Nigerian church leaders who could benefit from training at the centre set for Maiduguri, the Nigerian city worst hit by the Boko Haram insurgency. It is the capital of Borno State, where Chibok is also located.

His survival from the atrocities Boko Haram carry out is miraculous.

As the terrorists moved from house to house killing everything in their wake, somehow he and his family were spared.

When his 500-strong church was due to meet again a few days later, his wife, a caretaker and him were the only ones there.

They were spared.

He mourned those killed in the insurgency.

“I’ve seen orphans and widows in the church. Whenever we see them, we feel bad, because we need to take care of them and we have no resources,” said Isaac.

Lyle is hopeful the trauma centre would in addition help victims become self-sufficient.

David Shosanya, regional minister of the London Baptist Association, felt a sense of frustration at the ongoing violations accompanying the Boko Haram terrorism.

“Standing on the piece of land where the trauma centre will be built, recognising that I can turn a dream into a reality, alleviates a lot of that frustration and makes me feel I can make a contribution,” Shosanya said. – CAJ News