By Samuel Malik, Abuja
Human Rights watch, the international non governmental human rights advocacy group, has indicted the Nigerian government, accusing it of lack of seriousness, willpower and sincerity in the fight against insurgents in the north eastern part of the country, particularly with regards to the almost regular abduction of women by the Boko Haram fundamentalist group.
The group’s researcher in Nigeria, Mausi Segun, made this known in an interview with the group’s senior web communications manager, Amy Braunschweigerv, published last week.
In the interview, the researcher tells a depressing story of the experiences of some girls abducted by Boko Haram members who later escaped and alleged that many of the girls who have so escaped never even got debriefed by security agencies or government officials.
She said many of the girls and women kidnapped by the insurgents were forced to convert to Islam, do domestic chores, have sex with Boko Haram men and even take part indirectly in attacks, sometimes helping to carry ammunition.
Segun said kidnappings had been going on for a long time and that the adduction of over 200 school girls in Chibok last April only confirmed what had long been suspected or feared, with government most times denying or downplaying them.
“The attack on the Chibok schoolgirls confirmed what we already suspected – that this issue will only grow bigger, in part because no one tried to stop it. The government’s efforts to protect the local population, including women and girls, from Boko Haram’s attacks have been inadequate,” she said, adding that despite the Chibok incident and its attendant outcry, kidnapping still takes place.
Segun spent months trying to locate some of the girls who escaped the clutches of Boko Haram and were willing to share their experiences, and even though she found some, it was difficult getting them to open up.
“It was nearly impossible to speak with anyone who had been directly affected. There was such a hush around it. People would say it happened, but they’d inevitably say that it didn’t happen to anyone they knew. The shame surrounding the whole experience made it difficult for people to acknowledge.”
She discovered that they live in fears and their families have no protection from likely “revenge attacks” from the sect.
Also, it was revealed that those who were kidnapped before or after the Chibok attack have received no support with whatever treatment they got taken care of by their parents.
“Families have moved away from their villages because of the stigma. The problem is so serious that in the remote parts of Borno State, Nigerian families sometimes send their daughters far away with little means of protecting themselves and little money because their families don’t want them to be Boko Haram’s next victim.”
According to Segun, “Before the kidnapping of the Chibok girls, government officials in northeast Nigeria would often deny that the insurgency and the kidnappings were happening. Sometimes they would admit to women being taken, but nothing more specific. Since Chibok, they admit other kidnappings happen, but still downplay the scale.
“The government’s attitude can be illustrated by the May arrest of two women who led the #BringBackOurGirls protests in Abuja, Nigeria, allegedly at the behest of President Goodluck Jonathan’s wife, Patience. She accused the women of making her husband’s government look bad,” Segun observed in the interview.
Narrating their ordeals, the girls, who were taken before, during and after Chibok, spoke of how they were forced to do chores, have sex with the insurgents and denounce their faith, for those that were Christians.
Although they may have succeeded in escaping, most of them remain mentally and emotionally scarred by the experience. “Several girls showed signs of stress when talking about their experiences. One stopped mid-sentence and stared into space (and) another hit herself repeatedly,” according to Segun.
Instead of gathering relevant intelligence from these girls, Segun said the government “rarely if ever attempted to get the testimony of the girls who escaped. Yet the girls had incredibly important information about Boko Haram – such as how their chain of command operated.”
One of the girls, Hauwa (not real name), particularly has some very useful information, the researcher stated.
Kidnapped at the age of 18 in 2013 and kept for three months, Segun said Hauwa associated directly with the leader of that particular Boko Haram cell.
“She knew many insurgents’ names and identifying features. She went out on raids and helped carry ammunition. She had detailed information about how the camp operated, where it was located in Gwoza, and what its relationship was with the main Boko Haram camp in Sambisa forest. She even had information about how Boko Haram monitored security groups.”
According to Segun, Hauwa is now haunted by her experience, including when she was used as bait to lure five Christian men, whose throats were cut one after the other because they would neither denounce their faith nor join the sect.
“Hauwa was ordered to cut the throat of one of the men, but she wouldn’t, she said. There was so much blood everywhere, and she wouldn’t even take the knife. The cell leader’s wife grabbed the knife and killed him instead.
“She escaped, but her ordeal is far from over. According to other girls who escaped Boko Haram, the insurgents are looking for her. They believe she is pregnant with their leader’s child, and they want the baby, “They want their son,” she was told. She moves from house to house almost every night, hoping the insurgents won’t find her.”
Another young woman, Gloria (also not her real name), she recounted, was 19 when she was abducted with her young baby and five women not long after the Chibok kidnapping.The young girl recounted how she was raped by a member of the sect in the presence of her child and released the next day after pretending to have converted to Islam, having been held for four days.
Though she is now home with her husband, she could not tell him about the rape in order for him not to change his mind about being married to her. ‘I am so angry, I feel cheated. I would like to forget it but I can’t forget it,”’ she told Segun.
Segun revealed that five months after Chibok, another 141 people were kidnapped from Gulak and Damboa. Out of this number, over 100 were said to be women and children.
“Once again, the government denied the kidnapping happened while local contacts confirmed it. But then media reports surfaced later that as many as 40 people claiming they were kidnapped by Boko Haram – possibly from this group – managed to escape and flee to a military base.
“Shortly thereafter, other reports claimed the escapees had been recaptured by Boko Haram. This leads to a number of questions, the biggest one being whether the Nigerian government is really in control of these areas. Or is everyone at the mercy of these insurgents?” she said.
Just like the Amnesty International report released recently which accused Nigerian military forces of human right violations and extra – judicial killing, the Human Rights Watch also revealed that “Nigerian security forces have committed terrible abuses in the fight against Boko Haram.”
“The military has conducted massive arbitrary raids and arrested thousands of people without cause. They’ve tortured people in detention, “disappeared” people, and even killed people. Since mid-2013 morgue records from hospitals in the northeast showed that they had received thousands of corpses from military detention centers. These corpses show signs of torture and starvation. Some of the people appeared to have been executed. Yet the government hasn’t taken any steps to investigate or bring anyone to justice,” it stated.
Advising the government, Segun said in addition to gathering the necessary intelligence from these girls, there is an urgent need for help, especially medical, to be given to them.
“The government really needs to ensure that the girls and women who were abducted and then escaped get the necessary physical and psychological treatment. They’ve endured terrible acts, ones that potentially could ruin the rest of their lives, unless they get the care they need.
“What the government needs to do is to ensure that these victims have the information they need to access mental health and medical care. The government should also take steps to investigate the crimes committed against them and ensure that the perpetrators are prosecuted,” she concluded.