As Nigerians and the parents of the schoolgirls, who were kidnapped from their school in Chibok, Borno State, two weeks ago pray for their safe return, it has been revealed that the girls have been ferried across the Nigerian border to Cameroun, Chad and Niger and forcibly married by their captors.
Disclosing this yesterday during a solemn session of the Senate, during which senators struggled to hold back their emotions, their colleagues from Borno State narrated how the military failed to respond in a timely manner to information on the whereabouts of the abducted schoolgirls, resulting in their movement across the border and forced marriage to members of Boko Haram.
The narration followed a motion by Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, urging the security agencies to immediately rescue the victims, while calling on the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), other countries as well as United Nations Security Council to assist Nigeria by deploying advanced technologies to rescue the adopted students.
The Senate condemned the abduction, called for prayers for the release of the abducted girls and urged governments at all levels to provide security for schools and public places in their areas.
In the motion by Ndoma-Egba, the Senate noted with grief the inhuman abduction of the 234 girls on March 15 at the time the nation was still mourning the destruction of 75 Nigerians in a bomb blast in Nyanya, an Abuja suburb.
He recalled that the school was closed down for four weeks as a result of security threats, adding that the students were just recalled to write their final examinations on Physics when the Boko Haram insurgents struck and abducted them.
Ndoma-Egba also said the Senate was disappointed that two weeks after the sad incident, the whereabouts of the girls had remained unknown but for the return of some of them who escaped from their captors. He however expressed hope that the offer of assistance by the United States and United Kingdom could provide a positive solution to the problem.
The motion, however, led to fresh revelations from the senators from Borno State who gave extensive insight into how the incident occurred and what transpired thereafter.
While supporting the motion, Senator Ahmad Zanna (Borno Central) wondered why the military had not rescued the girls despite periodically feeding them with information about the movement of the captors with their victims from one location to the other until they eventually took them across the border to Niger, Chad and Cameroun.
Zanna, who revealed that he was informed that the girls had been married by their captors, said the girls had been divided into different groups and dispersed to different places, adding that it would be difficult to rescue 50 of them from one location at once.
Zanna, who said he was privy to information about their movement before they were eventually taken to neighbouring countries, added that he lost hope when security agencies did not act immediately on information that was given to them before the girls were ferried off.
According to him, the new base of the insurgents is Chikungudu, a village in Mate Local Government Area of Borno State, which he said the insurgents had recently captured after being driven away from the Sambisa forest.
He also disclosed that the insurgents could go to wherever they wanted with ease from their new location without being under any threat from the military because the place had become a safe haven for them.
“I have been constantly in touch with the security agencies, telling them the developments, the movement of the girls from one place to the other and then the splitting of the girls and eventually the marriage of these girls by the insurgents.
“What bothered me the most is that whenever I informed the military where these girls were, after two to three days, they were moved from that place to another. Still, I would go back and inform them on new developments.
“However, I lost hope two days ago when I found out that some of them were moved to Chad and Cameroun. Actually, some of them moved through the Mandara Mountain that is in Gwoza and some of them are just a stone throw from their barracks.
“Even now, as I am talking to you, some are in Kolofata, which is in Cameroun, about 15 kilometres or even less from the border, because one of the insurgents called somebody in Bama and said: ‘I just got married and I am now settling in Kolofata’; and then, three or four days ago, some Fulani men reported that they saw some girls being taken by boats into the island on Lake Chad and that some of them happened to be between Mate and Mungonu.
“Maybe, those ones might still be within Nigeria but that is the current and new base of the insurgents. They just took over that place less than a few week ago and that village is called Chikungudua. The place is the constituency of Senator Maina Maji.
“I informed the security agents about the developments. And from that place, they (the insurgents) can just go to either Chad or Cameroun because it is very open; there are no weeds in the lake and so they can go to anywhere. They have snatched all the boats around that area including the one for NNPC and so they are free to go anywhere without being chased by anybody.
“There are about 40 islands there and they have ejected most of the occupants of the islands and occupied the islands. What is most disturbing is that hitherto, Sambisa was their base and it was well known to the military and the Nigerian security services.
“After the abduction of those girls, they started moving out of Sambisa and even before then, I had been discussing with the military and they said they were going to attack that place, about 15 or 20 days ago. I don’t know what delayed them.
“But eventually when they launched the attack, all the insurgents had already gone out of the place,” Zanna said.
He warned that unless the security agencies showed uncommon zeal to rescue the girls, hopes of their return were dimming by the day.
“These are the facts. So unless there is seriousness on the part of our military, we have no hope of getting those girls. Even if we are going to get them, we are going to get them in trickles, maybe getting two, three, four and five.
“They are now scattered, so it is not possible for us to get 50, 60,100 in one particular position. That is the position as at today,” he explained.
Contributing to the motion, Senator Ali Ndume (Borno South), who concurred that the military did not follow the directive given to them after the abduction, disclosed that when the insurgents arrived in the school, the girls had tried to hide but were lured into seven vehicles seemingly provided to rescue them by the insurgents disguised in army uniforms.
He said the girls thought the insurgents were soldiers who had come to evacuate them until they were taken into the forest.
According to him, when the girls were being taken away, the military were told to go west but they chose to face the east, thus making it easier for the captors to escape.
He also said it was sad that 15 days after the abduction, no single victim had been rescued, noting that the 53 girls who returned, escaped by their own efforts and were not rescued.
“We are 109 here. Imagine if one of these girls is your daughter. The school is a public school and as you know, it is poor people who send their children to public schools. So the school is made up of the children of the poor.
“These girls went there not only to get educated but to bring hope to their families. Something needs to be done. If we are serious, 15 days after, with proper equipment, we should have rescued some of these girls. The 53 who came back escaped when their vehicle broke down,” he said.
Ndume also expressed concern that despite the billions of naira that the Senate had approved to fund security, the military still lacked the necessary weaponry to prosecute the war against terror.
He admitted that the security forces had tried their best but were handicapped by lack of modern weaponry, noting that the weapons available for their use were obsolete.
“The commanders had alleged that their allowances were not being paid and that the number of soldiers were inadequate. There is no new equipment; all of them are old. The other time, we went there to search for the girls, one of the armoured tanks that escorted us broke down in the forest and we were afraid. We had to tow it with another vehicle,” he revealed.
In his own submission, Senator Maiji Lawan (Borno North), who observed that humanity was on trial, said Nigeria had to confront the “madness” with everything that is required.
He admitted that the emergency rule had been very helpful, explaining that the presence of the military had driven the insurgents out of the state where they were staying initially to islands and forests.
He also disclosed that innocent people who were living with them in the Sambisa forest had all left, leaving only the insurgents to reside between Sambisa forest, Mandara Mountain and islands in Niger, Cameroun and Chad.
“These are known bases of Boko Haram. Let’s go after them. Let’s take the battle to them. We know their location. This madness must stop,” he said.
In his contribution, Senator Ganiyu Solomon (Lagos West) said it was disheartening that Nigeria had gradually degenerated to this extent, lamenting that terrorism had now become part of national life and continues to defy a solution.
While submitting that the Nyanya blast and abduction of the girls were the most traumatic of the acts of the insurgents, Solomon called for the summoning of the service chiefs so that they could open up on their problems.
He also said there was no need trading blame in this matter, adding that everyone should come together and find a lasting solution to the problem.
But Senator Olubunmi Adetumbi (Ekiti North) said given the wave of insurgency in the North-east, Nigeria’s constitution has been suspended while the nation continues to lose its territories at a time other nations are gaining new territories.
He said it was lamentable that innocent girls were now being forced into marriage and tasked the Senate to rise up against the situation, noting that this period would serve as a defining moment for the Senate.
He said a situation where Nigerians are no longer confident in the willingness of its army to defend its territorial integrity was tragic and suggested that a delegation be sent to President Goodluck Jonathan to have an interface with him on the dire security situation in the country.
In his contribution, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (Abia South) also observed that Nigeria’s brand of terrorism was now worse than that of Afghanistan and Pakistan where it started, pointing out that in those places, children and women are not killed and young girls are not abducted, as is the case in Nigeria.
Also speaking, Senator Ayogu Eze (Enugu North) suggested the need to summon the ambassadors of Cameroun, Niger and Chad to Nigeria to explain why their countries have been indifferent to the war against terror in the country and continue to serve as hosts to these insurgents.