Today marks the 180th day since the abduction of the over 200 girls from Chibok Local Government Area of Borno State. It is this abduction that sparked the #BringBackOurGirls movement to bring attention to the issue of the missing girls and press the government on a rescue operation for their return. TAP talked to Allen, a local farmer in Chibok LGA, about what it has been like living in Chibok since the abduction, how locals regard the #BringBackOurGirls movement that followed, and the local population’s relationship with the military since the abduction.
Thank you agreeing to this interview. Can you tell me your name?
My name is Allen.
And you’re from Chibok LGA.
This is now 180 days after the abduction that was heard around the world and everyone knows about and feels strongly about. What would you say is the major impact the event had on your community?
Losing over 200 girls is like losing your whole generation. The worst of it, we don’t even know their fate. The pain and the trauma this incident has caused, only the families and relations and the few Nigerians that know the value of a Nigeria with empathy and sympathy that understand the intensity of the trauma. It’s better to have a dead child than a lost child. Many of people have lost confidence in this country, and these girls would never have hope in this country again. This country has failed them. They were exposed to inhuman danger and abandoned them for close to 180 days today. It is too long, and if its not too long to Nigeria, I’m sure its too long to have people abandoned. Even if they are kept in Transcorp Hilton by now they’re ot be with their families by now. Even after the country and Defense headquarters have acknowledged their whereabouts, what is causing the delay? We don’t know. Is it a crime to be poor? Is it a crime to go to school? Even if you’re poorly trained in your village school, you still insist that you want your education. Many parents have since died as I’m taslking to you now, due to post trauma. A woman even attempted suicide a few weeks aho. Other parents were even killed by insurgents after their daughters have been abducted. What a tragedy of a people, for no fault of theirs. It is so sad. And our people are losing faith in this nation. I have not seen any sign of commitment in the cause of rescuing these girls. This is where the pain is really taking its toll of our people.
The BBOG campaign, has it had any impact? People all over the world have demanded. Practically in your community what has it meant to you personally? And can you speak of what your community thinks of the worldwide attention? Would it be the same thing if the campaign never happen?
No, it won’t have been the same thing. If not for this advocacy group that continued steadfastly at Unity Fountain (in Abuja), [the abductions] would not have remained on the front burner. The journalists would have forgotten about any issue concerning the Chibok girls. What gives me small faith in this country is that I still see people that are not even from Chibok, not even northerners, some have never traveled to Borno, but have dedicated their lives to calling on the military to live up to its responsibility, calling on the government, and making the world aware that we can’t keep going because over 200 girls are still in captivity. And I think they deserve commendation. Such a show of empathy, I have never seen anywhere. I’m just seeing it for the first time with these (#BringBackOurGirls) people. I receive calls from people in Chibok that I should send my regards to these people.
In Chibok, you can’t watch TV, we don’t have signal. You can’t get even radio to listen to, nothing like FM. You’re in the hinterland, completely abandoned community. You can’t even find a newspaper vendor to even read the news, unless someone is coming from somewhere with a newspaper in his hand. So that’s to tell you the level of poverty these people are suffering. They’re disconnected completely from this country. And here are people talking on their behalf everyday calling on the government to rescue their girls and provide security. I think it’s an unprecedented show of empathy. Even if these girls do not return, we will remain grateful to these people.
Some of the girls managed to escape from Boko Haram, can you talk about what has happened to these girls? How are they mentally? Has there been any counseling, making sure they get back to school? What has government and community’s response to help bring them back to normal life?
Those who were able to escape did so within the first 48 hours. No one else escaped after that time. They were not subjected to as much trauma as those still in captivity. Once their identities were established, the Borno government brought them together. They were counseled in Maiduguri by Inter-Faith Alliance, an organization from Kaduna State. Then another organization came, International Organization for Migration (IOM). They were in Maiduguri and they had a session with these girls. They also called on the parents of the girls who escaped and had counseling with parents in Bauchi. They also went ahead and trained some medical/health workers on basic care for trauma disorders and other psychosocial support. Those who they trained were indigenous people working in Chibok who provide firsthand psychological support for those who may need it. This much I know was donen courtesy of Borno State Government. Also Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Borno State chapter, they had some form of counseling of the girls.
Also recently, the state government, in association with development partners, is working on getting a school for them. I think they have gotten school, and some of them are with the state government as I’m speaking to you. They had been given encouragement to go back to school and write their exams, especially girls who had not been able to do their exams.
Have you been personally affected by the violence? Have you lost anyone?
Very many. I lost so many people. Among these girls that were abducted, I have people about 23 that were directly family members. Some are my nieces, some are my cousins, both on my maternal side and my paternal side. I know lots of them among those who have been abducted.
I’ve also lost my business because I am a farmer. I have a farm in Chibok, I have a shop in Chibok that I supply drugs, vaccines, poultry feed. I lost a very close classmate of mine that used to transport these goods for me from Maiduguri to Chibok. They killed him and took away the goods. I still have an in-law – a brother in-law, a pastor – that was kidnapped two weeks to the wedding of his son and as I am speaking to you today, we have no news about him, we don’t even know whether he’s alive or not. The person that drove my wife to me on the night of my wedding, a close associate of my father, was also assassinated right in his house and I have a lot of family friends and members that were killed. The first woman that died after the abduction is my aunty, my uncle’s wife. She lost her twin girls in this abduction and till date, no news about them! When the abduction took place, she was actually not feeling fine; she was having a BP-related issue, but on hearing the news that two of her daughters were part of those abducted, she died. So these are direct effects, direct happenings to me as a person and I know there are a lot of us that have personal testimonies like this as far as the North-East is concerned.
May they rest in peace.
Do you feel safe living in Chibok? I know you’re currently not in Chibok…
I am not in Chibok. I left Chibok close to three weeks [ago] now. I don’t think anybody will feel safe staying anywhere around that axis. People go out to sleep in the bush because it is easier to sleep in a quiet and bushy area or on top of a hill because these insurgents don’t know the escape routes in the villages so people think it’s safer to leave your house, go and sleep outside, then come back in the morning. Even with that process, so many people were abducted on their way home in the morning, so there is nothing like ‘feeling of safety’.
Recently, to tell you the truth, there is relative peace in Chibok because so many youths volunteered and they were empowered by both the local and state governments to keep vigil over these communities. So on every entry route of most of these communities in Chibok you will find a handful of youths sleeping day and night under trees, you know, keeping vigil over those communities. They may not defend the communities against the upsurge of Boko Haram but they can alert the communities and the few security agents in that community that there are so-and-so [suspicious] people or suspected movements in so-and-so direction, just to keep that alertness. It has been helpful just over these times, with the last attack on some of these communities. But apart from that I don’t think there is a complete feeling of safety in that area; it is not possible.
People are really living in fear. Primary schools house displaced people, so you know people can’t even go to school. Some people lock their houses, they can’t go to where they have been all this while because they have moved from their farming communities back to the local government headquarters to stay with relations, you know, and family, and you know to just move, to just migrate in the rainy season without having a proper place to sleep, without making arrangements for how to feed, all this is really a problem for the people and I don’t think security is really guaranteed now, no.
My final question: what’s the relationship like with the military? Are they offering any help, have they been a presence in Chibok?
Yes, after the abduction there was a little bit of increase in the number of military personnel in Chibok, because if you remember on the night of April 14th only fifteen or sixteen military personnel were in Chibok but after the abduction we requested – we visited a lot of military high commands, we spoke with the state government, we wrote to Mr. President, we wrote to the military structure, and they deployed additional number of military personnel to Chibok. I cannot tell you absolutely what number are in Chibok now because they don’t stay in one place and they move from one place to another.
Our relationship with the security agents has been cordial because as civilians all that is expected of us is to deliver our civic responsibility in providing information for them and then helping them to identify whenever something is going on that is not the right thing. That’s what we have been doing. That was even what made some of our people to stop talking to security agencies when we first informed them of the coming of insurgents before the abduction of these girls because of the lackadaisical attitude and the slow response on the side of the military that led to the abduction of these girls, and because there was not immediate pursuit of those girls, they were scattered and as of now we don’t know how and where they are. But because of those experiences we have a better way of communicating and some of them are really listening and interacting daily; in their patrols they move with our youth volunteers, you know, and the vigilantes and some of the hunters that volunteered to join the patrol team. So they do move around every now and then to patrol the area around Chibok but there is really a very cordial relationship and we commend them in that hinterland, coming from other parts of the country to go and stay in a very hostile environment that they don’t know the ins and outs of; it is not easy, but that is their duty post, and they are really doing good.
Thank you so much. I appreciate your time and I know that this is not easy at all, I’m sure it’s not easy for you.
I appreciate your sharing your story –
Our point of concern actually is this issue of blame game. You know, a war on insurgency is not [an] issue of party, religion or region; it is [an] issue of Nigerians coming together to confront it with all seriousness, with all intensity and with all military might so that we have our peace once and for all. But the issue of some people coming out to blame, bringing in all sorts of conspiracy theories – “oh this one does not like President Goodluck”, “oh this one is because the president is Christian and the people of the north are Muslims”, “they don’t like him, that’s why they are doing this” – to me, it is out of place, completely out of place, and we must address this issue. Especially you guys in the journalism sector, you guys will have to work and make it known that this is [an] issue of war, issue of insurgency, and everybody is being killed. Chibok is Christian-dominated and today we have lost over two hundred girls to these abductions. And we have not seen any action on the side of a Christian president that’s supposed to protect a Christian minority, you know, let me put it that way, that is different from how he has been protecting the Muslim majority in the north, so the issue of religion, of this and that, I think [it is] really uncalled for. We should face this issue of the insurgency with one mind, with one heart, and do it holistically so we can have our peace. That is just my take.
Absolutely. You’re right about that. It’s important to bring that up because people lose sight of that; they just think everybody in the North is a Muslim, and that’s not the case at all.
That is what they think.
That is not true at all. If you go to Bauchi, Taraba, Kaduna, there are plenty of Christians. Gombe has a big Christian community. It’s a big problem actually, with the representation of the North.
And this misconception, my sister, this misconception is not only for the average Nigerian; even for the top government functionaries – I have spoken with ministers, I have spoken with Governors, some of them are even accusing the Bring Back Our Girls group, looking at them as sponsored groups trying to disgrace the government of the day, which is not the truth! In that group, we see people that are political, people that are core PDP, people that are even aspiring to positions in PDP, but they are still bold to know we are calling for good governance. We are calling for fundamental human rights in Nigeria, and we are calling on the number one citizen of Nigeria to take up this responsibility. Let him deal with anybody that is causing commotion, causing catastrophe in the North-East, let them be exposed. Many people were arrested, top commanders of Boko Haram, and the SS, the DSS, the military people have been saying, “yeah, these people have been cooperating.” What have they been saying all this while? By now they must have exposed a lot of things that should be made known to Nigerians, to know that “oh, these are the people behind Boko Haram, these are the aims of Boko Haram and these are the people who are fighting Boko Haram”. By the time things are being exposed, people will know that, okay, this war is all about Nigeria, not about a particular region or religion. But the fact that people are keeping information, people don’t want to say the truth, every conspiracy theory has a fact inside. And this is what we are supposed to work on as Nigerians, stick with one way, and then have it done. We ensure that we get results. We demand for results from this government and we get them, not just keeping quiet and then following whatever is coming from the government as if it was the truth.
Had it been that we were to accept everything coming from the government as the truth, we would have accepted what Gen. Chris Olukolade [the spokesman of the Nigerian Army] said that they have received all the Chibok girls, remaining eight in detention. In a serious country, for that statement alone, he would have relinquished his seat, he would have been asked to vacate the army. We have not just that one; every now and then there is misinformation coming from the defense headquarters and that is the national information center that they set up to brief Nigerians on the happenings, but you go there and you get information different from what is happening on the ground!
On my way to Abuja, when I was coming I passed through Biu. That was the day they intercepted a truck with about forty eight Boko Haram members inside. Two of them, they passed a military checkpoint with N200. I’m sorry to say that; I’m not saying it to discredit the military, but I’m just saying how serious we are, as in our seriousness in this war against insurgents. But the civilian JTF intercepted them, on further check they found that forty eight people were hidden under trucks. When they offloaded them, they asked them, went to the refugee camp, got some people from Damboa to come and identify them and many Boko Haram members were identified among them. The next day I heard that forty eight Boko Haram members had surrendered with their arms in that region. These are the types of information we don’t want to hear, you know? And if they did, where are they? And those that surrendered, what have they said? What information have they provided the Nigerian military with?
By now we are expecting them to recapture Gwoza, Bama. But today it’s over a month since those places have been captured by insurgents. Gwoza is going into its third month as an Islamic caliphate, and we are here, relaxed, you know, we are just talking about 2015. No one is talking about, okay, see, people are on top of this mountain, they don’t have food, some of them are dying because they don’t have hospitals, and these are their fundamental human rights that are supposed to be guaranteed by a country that they call their own, Nigeria. But they are no getting it! These are the things that we have to talk about, and you guys that have voice have to, you know, really make it known to other people, especially some Nigerians that are so complacent, so inept, and are indifferent as far as this war not terror is concerned. Thank you very much.
Thank you so much for speaking with me.