By abducting over 200 schoolgirls and threatening to sell them into slavery or marry them off, Boko Haram, the terrorist group based in northeast Nigeria, has unwittingly earned itself so much world outrage that it could lead to its destruction. Our associate editor, Cameron Duodu reports.
It looked like a scene from a surrealistic film made by a director with a demonic possession tendency: the faces of 150 or so girls, aged between 16 and 18, each garbed in a makeshift veil and a long dress, chanting Koranic verses with which they were clearly not familiar, and singing an Islamic song that stuttered stiffly off their lips.
But it was the expression on their faces that told the story of the hell in which fate had placed them: they looked like zombies. Even the one chosen to speak to the camera sneaked a quick, terror-induced look at her minders before continuing with her rehearsed speech.
They were part of a group of 276 (some reports said 300) female students from the Chibok Government Girls’ Secondary School, in Borno State, Nigeria, who were abducted by Boko Haram terrorists on 14 April 2014, and who were being shown in a video by Boko Haram to prove that they were alive and that if the Nigerian government released Boko Haram prisoners that it was holding, the girls would be freed. Some of them at any rate.
However, the Boko Haram harangue in the video sounded like a cruel joke, for in an earlier video, the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, had mockingly told the Nigerian authorities that he was going to “sell” the girls or marry them off – if they converted to Islam.
It was the expression on their faces that told the story of the hell in which fate had placed them: they looked like zombies.
Perhaps the cruellest part of this incredibly cruel saga occurred when the parents of some of the girls were gathered together and told to point out their daughters in the video. One woman shouted, “It looked like [daughter’s name] but the photo went away so quickly that I couldn’t tell whether it was really her or not!” And she began to sob.
A man also pointed to the screen and said, “That is definitely my daughter. But the expression on her face is not something I have ever seen in her before. It makes her look like somebody whose features I know and yet whom I have never seen before. Yes, I am glad to know that she is alive. But that look on her face makes me wish I had never seen her. How can she….? The suffering….” And he broke off, choking. He wiped the tears from his eyes.
Litany of disasters
Chibok! What a name to add to Nigeria’s litany of disasters. The night that Chibok’s name entered world history is not one that any of the abducted girls and their close relatives will ever want to remember. And yet how can they ever forget it?
One of the parents of the abducted girls alleged to ThisDay newspaper of Lagos that the students were locked up that night by their own teachers, who subsequently scampered for safety, leaving them at the mercy of the terrorist attackers. Does that mean that the teachers were in on the conspiracy with Boko Haram? We may never know that.
One thing is certain: strange coincidences happened at the institution on 14 April 2014. For instance, the headmistress was also away from the campus. She later told reporters that she was a diabetic patient and had gone away (as she did periodically) to obtain medical treatment in Maiduguri, the state capital. And, she said, because she was away, her daughter, who is also a student at the school, went to stay at home and did not stay at the school that night, as she usually did.
Very plausible, of course, all that. But give that train of events to a conspiracy theorist and splice it with the strange behaviour of the other teachers, and – he could make many a five out of every two added together in the story.