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Nigerians Want Answers After Another Mass Kidnapping

Mar 9, 2018
Originally published on March 9, 2018 8:12 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It has been nearly three weeks since Boko Haram insurgents seized 110 girls from their boarding school in Northeastern Nigeria. This latest kidnapping has echoes of the mass abduction of schoolgirls by the extremist group back in 2014, which then sparked global outrage. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: I'm outside Dapchi Government Girls Science and Technology College. Outside the school walls, there are murals. And one - I'm right in front of it - is of a teacher leading a young girl to school. But what strikes you most is the amount of bullet holes going through the teacher's chest, the girl's chest. It's evidence that the abductors were here, that Boko Haram were there shooting and then abducting 110 schoolgirls on the night of the 19 of February.

The message in the bullet-riddled mural image seems clear - that girls must not go to school because Western education is haram - sinful, a rough translation and the mantra of Boko Haram. Dapchi is a largely Muslim town in Yobe State whose traditional leader is the emir. His son, Gani Ibrahim Kachalla, took us round the girls' boarding school, including the dormitories.

GANI IBRAHIM KACHALLA: These are the dormitories where the girls are abducted now.

QUIST-ARCTON: And now looking on the ground here, we see flip-flops, plastic slippers strewn outside. It looks as if the girls left in haste and in an emergency.

KACHALLA: Yes. The Boko Haram, they started shooting guns, shooting guns, shooting guns.

QUIST-ARCTON: The insurgents apparently wore military uniform and pretended to help the girls escape, and instead, abducted them. Kachalla says the schoolgirls were duped by the gunmen.

KACHALLA: They claimed that they are soldiers. So they want to escape with the girls. They told they are soldiers. They are here to save them. But they are Boko Haram. But in Dapchi here, Boko Haram, they just deceived the schoolgirls.

QUIST-ARCTON: It's hauntingly quiet here at the school now without the chatter of 900 girls. Fifteen-year-old Leah Sharibu was among those abducted.

REBECCA SHARIBU: The following day, we go there. We see some of the girls are coming. So we told them, where are our children, the girls?

QUIST-ARCTON: Leah's mother. Rebecca Sharibu, is among other distraught parents sitting on mats under a shade tree outside the emir's palace a few miles down the road from the girls' school. Sharibu looks desperate, and she can't stop weeping.

REBECCA SHARIBU: Even die, ma'am, I want that.

QUIST-ARCTON: Ma'am, did you say you want to die?

SHARIBU: I want to die.

QUIST-ARCTON: Why?

SHARIBU: Because of my daughter, Leah Sharibu. My message - let them try their best to bring the children for us.

QUIST-ARCTON: Sharibu says the Nigerian authorities have failed schoolchildren throughout the northeast. That's where Boko Haram has waged war for the past nine years. Almost 2 million people have been displaced during the insurgency, which has killed more than 20,000 people. President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration has now increased the military presence in the region, but families say those efforts are simply not enough. Kachalla Bukar is secretary of Dapchi's Abducted Girls' Parents' Association. His 14-year-old daughter Aisha is among those kidnapped. Bukar says President Buhari must take action.

KACHALLA BUKAR: The girls have spent 18 days with those militant Boko Haram in the bush. So we are plead to the government. It's their responsibility for them to go and bring them back. Bring them back to us.

QUIST-ARCTON: Dead or alive say the Dapchi parents. Nigeria claims Boko Haram is technically defeated. However, security experts believe a faction of the terror network is working to professionalize its kidnapping operation. They say this mass abduction of Dapchi schoolgirls, who they believe may have been whisked across the border to Cameroon, might just be a taste of things to come. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Dapchi, Northeast Nigeria. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.