Conflict & Justice

The town where the Nigerian girls were kidnapped is the heartland of Boko Haram

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Credit:

Chika Oduah

What's left of the state boarding school in Chibok, a remote town in northeast Nigeria Borno State. On April 14, Boko Haram militants raided the school on April 14th in search of food. They found the girls and kidnapped them. More than 200 are still missing.

Since April's kidnapping of the Nigerian schools girls by Boko Haram militants, we've heard a lot about the remote northeast state where they were in school.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

Nigerian-American reporter Chika Oduah found out just how remote recently when she spent three days in a car getting to the town of Chibok, where the school was located.

She traveled with several people and a driver. Their car broke down twice. Then they had to hire another car. But, it was the long dirt road at the end of the trip that really made an impression.

"I was expecting maybe spending 10 minutes on the dirt road but it turned out to be an hour stretch so these people are living in severe isolation. And it is really quite amazing to realize this government school was so far out, so remote and far from any big towns."

At one point, Oduah and her fellow passengers encountered a local militia who was fighting against Boko Haram. The men were actually former members .

"They understood that this is no longer about Islam," Oduah says. "They were told that this is an Islamic cause but they decided no, it is not Islamic to kill civilians. That's why they left."

When she arrived in Chibok, Oduah asked for directions to the school where the girls had been kidnapped. "It's very much a carcass. That's the best way to describe. It's just a skeleton."

It was a large state boarding school with many classroom buildings. "You've got rooftops that are blown off. You've got debris everywhere. It's a wasteland and to understand that this place is where girls are building their dreams."

Chika Oduah says boarding schools are very popular in Nigeria and that the school in Chibok was not just a girls' school. "I think that's been misunderstood," she says. "This was actually a co-ed school.  The boys did not sleep there. For them it was just a day school, but the girls slept there."   

On April 14, Boko Haram militants came to the school in Chibok at night looking for food supplies. They burst into the girls' dorms and asked for the food. Then at some point they became hostile and took the girls out and forced them into the trucks. 

"So these girls were allowed to be at the school," says Oduah, "to sleep there with no government authorized security at the school, even though the Boko Haram had attacked Chibok on an earlier occasion."

Oduah says the parents of the missing girls are just trying to hold themselves together. "Many of them are holding onto their faith."

Chibok is a very religious community. It's mostly Christian with a handful of mosques. "For the most, they are just leaning onto their religious faith and onto each other. 

The parents of the missing girls feel helpless. "I spoke to some people in Chibok yesterday and they were still waiting for the government fact-finding committee to come.  They were expecting them last weekend and they didn't come." 

One parent said that the international media has flocked to Chibok but for all the attention, the girls are still not back. 

There is one positive trend she says. Boko Haram recruitment is down. Fewer and fewer Nigerians seem to be buying into their radical ideology.

"They're tired of having to rebuild stores, hospitals and police stations after being attacked by the Boko Haram," says Oduah. "Their perspective is that they have to help build and defend their communities. And they know that they are part of the solution because they know these Boko Haram militants. They can spot them and recognize their faces." 

The Boko Haram militants around Chibok are not outsiders. "The people in Chibok see members of the Boko Haram sometimes when they go out to cut firewood," says Oduah. "They see them and they are terrified. They're their fathers and brothers who've joined. So these are not strangers. They are estranged yes, but they are Nigerian people so they're of the soil."

Oduah made the long trip back to Abuja with no encounters with Boko Haram but just a day after she left Chibok, there was an ambush on the same long dirt road. 

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