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Sambisa Operations: Harvest Of Rescues Without Chibok Girls

Posted: May 10, 2015 at 1:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Ekene Okoro and  Ifeoma Ononye, Lagos

The continuous wait for positive news on the whereabouts of the over 200 abducted Chibok school girls by Boko Haram insurgents seems to have deflated the recent victories recorded from the renewed onslaught by the Nigeria Military in the dreaded Sambisa forest which has seen the liberation of about 1500 girls, women and children from captivity.

Photo of some of those purportedly rescued in Sambisa Forest. Source-Nigerian Army

Photo of some of those purportedly rescued in Sambisa Forest.
Source-Nigerian Army

When news broke on April 28 that Nigerian troops had rescued 200 girls and 93 women during a successful operation in the Sambisa Forest base of the Boko Haram sect, the world was momentarily  pleased. The first question on the mind of most Nigerians and others was if the over 200 girls abducted from a Government Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State, North-east Nigeria on April 15, 2014 girls were among those rescued.

The people’s hope was particularly raised by the similarities in the initial figures (219 abducted; 293 rescued).

Former Minister of Education, Professor Obiageli Ezekwesili, who had championed the Bring Back Our Girls initiative (BBOG) on hearing of the feat by the military, was also and hopeful.

In the wake of the first rescue feat, Ezekwesili said: “It is a great news at this particular time. We are hopeful that this news will be for real and that the Chibok girls will be among those rescued after they have been profiled, Ezekwesili had said.

But an update from the Nigeria Army spokesman, Usman Sani, that the rescued girls were not the Chibok girls, however, dashed the hopes of not only the former minister but many Nigerians, especially the parents of the girls.

The feeling of one Enoch Mark, whose daughter and niece were among the 219 Chibok school girls’ captures the general mood of Sani’s revelation.

Mark on learning that his daughter and niece were not among the first set rescued said, “It is disheartening for our hopes to be dashed.

“When we heard of the rescue we thought it was our girls. Parents kept contacting one another, hoping to get confirmation that their daughters were the ones rescued. However, it is not surprising to me that our hopes have been dashed. This has happened several times. The government has lied a few times. To us, the government no longer has credibility.”

Like Mark, Pogo Bitrus, who is still hopeful of the safe return of his four nieces said, “We have never lost hope as a people, but the issue is if the military has the capacity now, why didn’t they do it before?

“We are an unfortunate bunch caught up in a political game. It is unfortunate that we find ourselves in this situation. They have played with people’s lives and messed people up.”

Presently most of the women and girls rescued, including infants are currently taking refuge in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Adamawa, under the care of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), while the injured among them were taken to the Federal Medical Centre, Yola for prompt medical attention.

The feat by the military, much as it gives hope of a possible safe return of the Chibok girls, has brought to light the plight of thousands of women, girls and children in the region who were taken captive by die hard terrorists.

In the wake of most attacks by Boko Haram militants in northern villages and towns, women and girls were taken as hostage and forced to harsh living conditions in the den of the sect.

The pictures of malnourished children, girls and infants tell the gory story of their experience more than words can express.


Chibok Girls: The Search Continues

By Ifeoma Ononye, Lagos

Nigeria and the international community are yet to get over the abduction of the Chibok girls. The frantic but fruitless search for their location for over a year has served as a wakeup call on how porous the country’s security situation is.

Major Gen. Chris Olukolade

Major Gen. Chris Olukolade

With over a year since they went missing, there has been no word from the military as to where they might have been kept or what has become of them.

‘The missing Chibok girls’, as they came to be called, drew attention of the world on the heinous acts perpetrated by the terrorist group, Boko Haram that gave rise to the massive social media campaign, #BringBackOurGirls.

The campaign led by some Nigerians attracted global attention, as a few developed nations to join in search of the girls with their best trained agents and deployment of sophisticated equipment. However, the foreign aid fizzled out in no short time, leaving the Nigeria military to carry on with the herculean task.

The recent military rescue operations in Sambisa forest much as it seems to have reinforced the hopes of the return of the Chibok girls, it has also increased the fears nursed by many that not all the girls might be rescued alive.

So far, the military has rescued over 1500, women, girls and children since it began the onslaught in the dreaded forest and the tale, anguish and trauma of the freed captives is worrisome to say the least.

Nigerians were shocked to realise that aside the Chibok girls, thousands of other women and girls were also abducted by the sect.

Amnesty International put the figure of women, children and girls abducted from the North East to 2000 just last year alone.

Pictures of malnourished infants, children, girls and women rescued from the den of the insurgents have left relatives of the Chibok girls painting a gloomy picture of the fate of their loved ones still in captivity.

Perhaps the story of Aisha Abbas, a 45-year-old mother of two, who was rescued, gave a hint on the likely whereabouts of the Chibok girls might have contributed to the uncertainty.

Abbas narrated that some of the girls abducted were married off to Boko Haram militants, while some were sold to slavery, a fate that could have befallen most of the Chibok girls.

The rescue of the girls and the continuous wait for news on the Chibok girls is yet again giving room for suspicion on their disappearance in the first instance.

A concerned citizen, who lives in Lagos, who gave his name as Abiodun told Sunday Independent that the situation calls for serious questioning of the political elites in Northern Nigeria, where the abductions took place.

To Abiodun’s belief, there is a reason the women were not found since one year ago but are suddenly being rescued few weeks before the incumbent administration exits office.

According to him, Nigerians are not asking the right questions.

“This is not the time to pop champagne and celebrate. There is something going on with the Chibok situation and people are not asking the right question. Correct me if I am wrong but I am not fooled. I personally want to know why there was no documentation of theses rescued women like that of Chibok girls.

“The political elites in that part of the country have a lot of questions to answer but unfortunately, no one can ask them where our daughters are and why they are just being found immediately after elections. I smell something fishy”.

On her part, President of the Women Arise for Change Initiative, Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin while commended the Nigeria military said although she was elated that some women, girls and children have been rescued, there was need for the military not to delay information on the identity of those rescued..

According to Okei-Odumakin, the update from the Director of Defence Information, Chris Olukolade that the identities of the freed victims had not been known has left Nigerians guessing.

Okei-Odumakin also expressed apprehension that the Chibok Girls and others may not be among those rescued.

“General Chris Olukolade said it could not be confirmed if any of the rescued girls were among the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by the sect from their school over a year ago. Also from what the military said, there is still anxiety that many more abducted persons by the Boko Haram sect may not be accounted for”.

Her call on the military is to take stock of those rescued so far.

“We need to know those that have been seen so that we know what can be done. We must begin to take stock. This is the time for the people whose loved ones are still missing to say so and provide information to the security agencies. Nigerians must also brace up to assist and be more vigilant. We must stand up for the race against total elimination of insurgency” she said.”

Notwithstanding, she remains optimistic that the Chibok girls would be rescued alive and reunited with their families.


Long Road To Rehabilitation

The revelation by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) that 214 young women and girls of those rescued from Sambisa Forest were pregnant has become so worrisome that it has almost beclouded the news of their rescue. This has also heightened the apprehension among parents of the missing Chibok girls.

Military invade north east

Military invade north east

UNFPA’s Executive Director, Babatunde Osotimehin had revealed that medical tests and screening for various diseases and infections, including HIV/AIDS were conducted on the women and girls leading to the discovery.

“About 214 of those already screened were discovered to be at various stages of pregnancies, some visibly pregnant and some just tested pregnant; but we are supporting all of them with various levels of care to stabilise them”, Osotimehin had said.

The development confirmed the fears of former President, Olusegun Obasanjo who last year had predicted that many of the Chibok girls may never be reunited with their families as some of the girls may have been put in the family way by the sect.

Obasanjo said that only some of the girls who would later get pregnant and find it difficult to cater for the babies while being held captive might be released by the group in future.

“I believe that some of them will never return.  We will still be hearing about them many years from now, some will  give birth to children of the Boko Haram members, but if they cannot take care of them in the forest, they may release them,” Obasanjo had said.

Indeed, this piece of news has left Nigerians devastated on the plight of the women and what they were subjected in those forest were they were held captive.

For some, government must go out of its way to see to the need of these rescued and take charge of the situation stressing that their mental state must be taken into serious consideration before they are reintegrated into the society.

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) is leading the call for those rescued to be adequately catered for both psychologically and physically.

SERAP Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni said the Federal Government must as a matter of urgency, provide adequate health care for children as well as women impregnated by the insurgents.

“Having survived the horrific crime of rape and sexual violence, these children and women should be spared further physical and mental torture by ensuring that they are urgently allowed access to all necessary medical treatment.

“Such medical treatment must be provided on a non-discriminatory basis. Under international law, all victims of conflict, including rape victims, must receive the best care as soon as possible.

“The children and women are therefore entitled as of right to enjoy access to good quality medical care, including sexual and reproductive health.”

SERAP said it was seriously concerned that the pregnant children and women continue to face adverse treatment or lack proper treatment and care.

According to the group, if urgent action is not taken, many of the women and children may spend the rest of their lives with full blown emotional problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Like SERAP, a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology, University of Lagos, Dr. Bamikole Fagbohungbe is also concerned about the rehabilitation process for the rescued persons.

Speaking to Sunday Independent, Fagbohungbe is of the view that what the women and girls need is the intervention of a counselling psychologist to talk them out of the traumatic experience in the hands of the sect.

“It’s something that would be gradual, because they have recorded this traumatic experience not only in their conscious mind, it’s also there in their unconscious mind and the thing is that what is in the unconscious mind has a way of getting to the conscious. So, in all ways, the lasting memory is there and so it takes a gradual sensitization process to get it out. So they need the intervention psychologist who will talk them out of that experience.

“It’s usually very long, but then there is an intervening variable, which is the individual factor in them. The fact that they are not the same, their rate of response, and their desire to live a new life will vary from one person to another. Though you cannot precisely say this is how long it will take all of them.

“It’s what we call individual perceptual threshold and it varies from person to person, but if the process is sustained, not taken as a government programme or activity, they need to start and maintain the tempo and not start and stop abruptly after a week due to resources. What would happen is that a relapse could occur.

Fagbohungbe also expects that the rescued women and girls will be rehabilitated in a conducive environment which according to him will go a long way to help their recovery process.

“Another thing government has to do is to make sure the environment they are kept now will be completely different from what they experienced in Sambisa forest. It might have a way of prodding up stimulus that could remind you of past experience.

“I will support that they should be taken out of the country. That would be fine. The farer they are from the environment where they experienced trauma, the better for them, it will quicken their recovery”.


Lawmakers Make Case For Terror Victims

Like many Nigerians, the House of Representatives is deeply concerned about the plight of the rescued captives.

Olusegun Obasanjo

Olusegun Obasanjo

Aside seeking a deliberate policy backed by law to ensure speedy rehabilitation of victims of insurgency, the House of Representatives is also canvassing a special fund to assist the devastated states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, while mandating its committee on management and disaster to liaise with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to ensure a comprehensive rehabilitation of all victims of insurgency in the North-East zone.

In a motion, Friday Itulah, a lawmaker from Edo state, noted that the recently rescued victims have been abused and traumatized, hence the urgent need to provide special funds to assist them.

The lawmaker observed that though NEMA is trying hard to rehabilitate the victims, it is necessary that the house makes input to ensure their speedy recovery.

Itulah expressed belief that the international community should not be more interested in the issue than Nigerians.

In his contribution, Abdulrahman Terab (Borno) said the timing of the motion was apt, noting that some of the pregnant women would soon start to give birth to children conceived during their sad ordeal.

“What we have now is a time bomb because if care is not taken, this is an insurgence in waiting when these children start to grow without a deliberate plan to monitor their growth.

“We have to adopt a deliberate strategy that will take accurate data of the victims and the children to be born and how to train them,” Terab said.

Contributing, House Minority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila, observed that unless something is done urgently to assist the returnees, “beyond the physical injury that these victims may have suffered, they may not be able to heal emotionally if something is not done”.

Gbajabiamila also called for a special bill to help victims of any form of insurgency.

Deputy leader of the House, Leo Ogor, also pleaded that everything should be done for the proper rehabilitation of the victims, including special monitoring of their well-being.

Rescued As Reservoir Of Terrorists’ Information 

There are already fears that the fate of the victims might be hanging in the balance. Sunday Independent learnt that about 1000 survivors taking refuge at the Yola centre in Adamawa State in urgent need of medical attention are yet to receive any help.

It was gathered that since most of the survivors were rescued by the Nigerian Army and being attended to in camps, aside the initial screening exercise carried out to evaluate their health status by volunteer aid workers supported by the UNFPA, government healthcare providers are yet to begin any other procedure on them.

Sunday Independent, however, reliably learnt that NEMA, which is at the forefront of coordinating activities at the centre, could be overwhelmed by the number of survivors that have been rescued by the Army and are finding it hard coping with their needs.

But others feel that while the rehabilitation process is sorted out, the girls should be interviewed as they could possess vital information that could help the military find the Chibok girls and dislodge the sect from the region once and for all.

An American based Nigerian lawyer, John Obi confirmed that though these rescued women have gone through a lot of emotional stress, they have key information that can help the military to capture the sect.

He explained that no one knows how to catch a thief more than those who have lived with a thief. In his opinion, the women among them who are a little stable should be asked series of questions by intelligence expert on things they have heard and seen while in the camp.

While Nigerians continue to hope and pray for the safe rescue of other captives including the Chibok girls, the ability of the government to manage the situation and rehabilitate those freed by the military is what the world will be waiting to see in the coming months.

The healing process is one that would require all hands to be on deck to ensure they put the trauma behind them and get back to their normal lives.