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Pages 38 & 39

Pages 38 & 39 Two years after Chibok schoolgirls’ abduction: Hope rises, fades! By Fidelis Mac- Leva, Hamza Idris Members of the Chibok community residing…

Pages 38 & 39

Two years after Chibok schoolgirls’ abduction: Hope rises, fades!

By Fidelis Mac- Leva, Hamza Idris

Members of the Chibok community residing in Abuja will converge on the popular Unity Fountain this morning by 9am. They would be joined by the #Bring Back Our Girls campaign group and together they would form a procession that would take them to Aso Rock Villa; Nigeria’s seat of power. The procession is part of activities lined up to mark the second year anniversary of the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls at the Government Secondary School Chibok on April 14, 2014.

While at the Villa, the leader of the #BBOG Dr Oby Ezekwesili and the chairman of the Chibok community in Abuja, Mr. Hosea Tsambido Abana would separately read texts of a world press conference to convey their message on this anniversary, Daily trust learnt.

Elsewhere in the sprawling Chibok community, surviving parents of the abducted schoolgirls would be accompanied by other community members to converge on the Government Secondary School, where the unfortunate abduction had taken place. A federal government delegation led by the Minister of Women Affairs; Senator Aisha Alhassan accompanied by the Governor of Borno State, Alhaji Kashim Shettima is expected to visit Chibok town this morning to address the community on this occasion.

As the beleaguered Chibok community and indeed Nigeria marks the second year anniversary of the abduction of the over 200 schoolgirls by the dreaded Boko Haram insurgents, the mood in Chibok is said to be that of despair, anxiety and distress. The two year period has been characterized by a lot of hopes but failed expectations, as the kidnap victims are still held in captivity.

Bitrus Pogu, national chairman of the Kibaku Area Development Association, the umbrella body of the Chibok community recalls how it all started two years ago. “It was on the night of April 13, 2014 when we started hearing that Boko Haram militants were approaching Chibok. Their arrival that night was heralded by deafening gunshots that rattled the community”, Pogu said.

The following morning being April 14, the girls were abducted from the Government Secondary School, Chibok and conveyed in trucks by the militants who headed towards the dreaded Sambisa Forest, Pogu recalled, saying “The military had the capacity but couldn’t stop the abduction.”

While the news of the abduction later went viral and became a matter of national debate it took the over two weeks before the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan could come to terms with the reality of the incident, he said.

Two years after the abduction Pogu, and indeed many Chibok community members, is saddened by the fact that the Chibok community, especially the parents of the abducted schoolgirls, remains distraught even as socioeconomic activities have remained paralyzed.

“We are particularly saddened by the fact that no school activities are taking place in Chibok; even the school that was destroyed has not been rebuilt. We had hoped that these past two years would bring back Chibok to the fore with school and other activities but regrettably no activity is taking place in the whole of Borno State”, he said.

“Even the preliminary work that had commenced on the molding of blocks for rebuilding the school had stopped. All other areas where Boko Haram had taken over have become deserted without activities. There is no support for rebuilding the schools and even assisting the victims of the crisis”, Pogu said.

According Pogu different parents call to ask questions over the fate of their missing girls. “Some of them have even lost their lives due to trauma and blood pressure. Our hope was rekindled when the former British Ambassador said the girls were sighted but that their hands were tight”, he said.

“We were hoping that the current government would come to our aid by rescuing the abducted schoolgirls but we are despaired by comments coming from the government and other prominent Nigerians like former President Olusegun Obasanjo”, he said.

But as Nigeria marks the second anniversary of the Chibok schoolgirl’s abduction, Pogu says all hope is not lost as they believe that President Muhammadu Buhari has the capacity to rescue the girls. “We believe he (Buhari) has the capacity as a retired military leader to bring succor to Chibok and Borno State. We are urging him, therefore, to do whatever he can to restore joy and happiness to the distressed parents”, Pogu said.

For Hosea Tsambido, chairman of the Abuja chapter of Chibok community, it seems the world is getting silent on the Chibok issue. “Only a few people are crying out; government officials give promises that are not backed by action”, Tsambido said.

Although he acknowledges that the military has made progress in recapturing territories that were held by Boko Haram, Tsambido said not much has been done on the Chibok girls. “At least if we even hear that they are sighted in a particular place it will ease our agony”, says Tsambido who believes the girls are still alive.

‘Our future mortgaged by politicians’

For the surviving parents, only time can tell whether the remaining 219 girls will ever return home or not. This is in the midst of conflicting reports that most of them have been married off while some allegedly sold into slavery even as others died as a result of various factors.

For now, locals say the school where the girls were taken away is as quiet as the graveyard and since then, pains, anguish and endless expectation of a new dawn have continued to trail the Chibok and its people.

“We always find it very difficult to heap the bulk of the blame of our misfortunes on the Boko Haram alone,” said Amos Chiroma, the father of one of the abducted girls.

“The Boko Haram destroyed only a fraction of the school where our daughters were taken away, but, sadly, the then federal government pretentiously leveled the remaining structures, on the grounds that the whole school would be rebuilt…Now, here we are, our daughters are gone, and our only school have been destroyed, meaning no future for our remaining children,” he said.

On Thursday, March 5, 2015, the then Minister of Finance, Ngozi-Okonjo Iweala, alighted from a helicopter in Chibok, where she laid foundation for the rebuilding of the school, a development that actually set the pace for the demolition of the remaining buildings.

It was part of the last minute ‘save our soul campaign’ by the Jonathan administration, ahead of the 2015 general elections, when it was evident that the Chibok saga had caused legitimacy crisis for the government.

Before her arrival in Chibok, heavily armed soldiers, supported by armoured tankers, provided cover in Chibok and neighboring communities, in order to pave way for the foundation laying ceremony, which was done at a time when the area was recording endless attacks.

The minister, who made a brief remark, which was later shown on the national television, said the decision was part of the ‘Safe School Initiative’ of the federal government and donor agencies.

“We know the foundation laying was an outright deception,” said Esther Musa, a mother of one of the abducted girls.

“And the deception ended after Jonathan lost the presidential location. We wish they left the school the way it was, after the Boko Haram miscreants left. Our surviving children would’ve returned to school, but they (government) destroyed everything in the name of politics,” she said.

When suspected Boko Haram assailants stormed the school on April 14, 2014, they only burnt some dormitories and offices, and thereafter took away the girls.

However, after weeks of denials, the then federal government admitted that the girls were actually missing. And to greater extent, observers say nothing serious was done to bring them back, despite pressures and condemnation from across the world.

They said the lackadaisical approach to the matters was indeed a serious disservice to the second term ambition of Jonathan, and indeed the then ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

Two years after, the girls are in the wilderness, their parents in distress and the community school in shambles.

In a telephone interview, the secretary of Chibok Local Government Area, Awomi Nkeki, said they have cried and cried in the last two years!

“We’ve exhausted our tears and we’ve taken solace in our Lord, who listens to the voiceless,” he said.

“On Thursday (today), we would pray and console parents, brothers and sisters, to commemorate the disappearance of our daughters. Recently, the Murtala Foundation was here, and we brought together about 217 parents, who were counseled on how to live with the situation they found themselves in,” he said.

Another parent, Amos Chiroma, said he will only repeat what he said one year ago.

“It’s really nostalgic,” he said.

“Will the approach be the same if the girls taken away from us were children of ministers, governors, top military and police officers? Will it be the same if they were children of politicians?

“It is sad that we were forgotten because we are nobody and the disappearance of our daughters did not deny those in Abuja the opportunity to sleep,” he said.

Another parent, James Mbalala, said the “inglorious attraction to Chibok” is gradually waning.

“Shortly after the abduction, Chibok was like a Mecca of sort. People from all walks of life-Journalists, government officials, activists and human right advocated were flooding this place on daily basis, all in an effort to talk to us.

“We’ve spoken and we’re tight, but we would keep talking until our daughters come back,” he said.

Barrister Zannah Mustapha, the founder of Future Prowess Foundation, which caters for orphans and vulnerable children, said he was optimistic the Chibok girls are still alive.

“The girls were taken forcefully and those who abducted them would not reluctantly release them on a platter. The girls remained a highly priced catch to them. They will not mind keeping them till eternity. The only way out is for the government to approach the right people and negotiate their release,” Zannah, who knows a lot about Boko Haram ideology, said.

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