On Monday of last week, some 234 Nigerian girls were kidnapped from their boarding school in Chibok, in the region of Borno, Nigeria. Whilst this crime has shocked the international community, those in the local region appear numb to their fate, as there was little surprise over the attacks.
The province of Borno lies on the eastern border of Nigeria with Cameroon. Travel to the area is said to be strongly dissuaded and phone services have been cut off. For the last 11 months, the area has been in a state of emergency thanks to the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. The group has bombed churches and mosques alike, assassinated religious leaders, politicians and kidnapped women and children. The group, whose name translates as “western education is a sin,” wishes for greater enforcement of Sharia law across the nation of Nigeria. The regularity of attacks on the community in Borno has left many unsurprised by the taking of the girls.
Kidnapping is one of the features of Boko Haram’s arsenal. In a video released in May 2013, the group’s leader Abubakar Shekau, announced that they would begin kidnapping young women in retaliation to Nigerian military separating group members from their wives and children. The kidnapped women were to be forced into servitude, with many bearing children after repeated rapes.
The Nigerian military have yet to retaliate to the kidnapping, as although the women are taken from their homes, made into slaves and repeatedly raped, they do not lose their lives. However, the scale of this latest lot of girls may just force the hand of the local security agents. Boko Haram are known to often target schools, but still the community has been left numb to the latest round of attacks. This may save the girls as many are asking that the military are more active in saving them from their awful fates.
The headmistress of the school where the Nigerian girls were students has also asked that the government step in and help with the search. She is asking that the ” lives of the innocents” are protected. Gunmen reportedly stormed the school taking supplies and food along with the students. Some were able to escape by leaping off the backs of the lorries while others got away when they were supposed to be cooking or praying. Some 32 girls appear to have escaped unharmed. The headmistress’ plea shows that the region is not totally numbed by the crushing rule of Boko Haram. There are also a number of vigilante groups out looking for the missing teens.
But the Boko Haram fighters are well-armed and are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of civilians in the past year. Hundreds are fleeing the region to escape the crushing rule of the group. As many as 500 people are crossing the border every week. Former resident of Borno, Mourtalla Souleymane crossed the lake into Niger with his family last month. He reportedly recalled that he was getting ready for bed when he heard the first shots. As he and his family fled, he saw soldiers firing on a small girl as she attempted to escape her burning house. He remembers seeing at least 50 dead in the streets, and recalls a group of soldiers who were wounded and had had their arms amputated.
There are around 190 girls who are still living with their kidnappers in Nigeria. Whilst many members of their community are numb in the face of the senseless violence they see every day, many more are wishing to change the fate of the young teenagers.
By Sara Watson