Two years and the third Christmas celebration after the abduction of over 200 senior students of the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Assistant Editor of The Nation Newspaper, Seun Akioye investigates how the community has been able to rise from a shocking abduction that grabbed the attention of the world.
A Wandazam Allen remembers vividly the first time members of the deadly group, Boko Haram, came to Chibok, a predominantly Christian community in the southern part of Borno State. He also remembers the last time the invaders visited the community. “It is a tragedy,” he said several times holding his grey head in his right hand and heaving heavy sighs.
“They abducted those girls. They just took them away. We tried to find them but we could not enter the Sambisa Forest,” the retired teacher lamented. Pa Allen was sitting in his expansive compound in the middle of Chibok town. His house, like most others, was built of clay, with a new brick building about to be completed standing in the centre. As one of the elders of Chibok, the security of the community weighs heavily on his mind. “My friend called me on the phone that he had information that Boko Haram was on its way to Chibok.
Ten minutes after he called, we heard loud sounds of gunfire, then there were bombings and everyone started running everywhere,” he said. Pa Allen has a dramatic way of telling a bitter story, which leaves one with an incredible urge to giggle. But there was no mirth in his voice as he went on to describe the arrival of Boko Haram fighters in the town from the western corridor, the loud sound of bombs which killed a soldier, his own dramatic escape and his brave return the following morning to join in chasing the insurgents.
Chibok town has known a prosperous past as a farming community, the chief crops being maize, guinea corn, groundnut and beans. In the days of its prosperity, it was a shining example for religious tolerance and peaceful co-habitation. Predominantly Christian community, it has lived at most amiable conditions with its Muslim population. Commerce had thrived and its educational standard was better than those of many of its neighbours. The community gained international attention after 276 schoolgirls were abducted from their hostels at the Government Girls Secondary School (GGSS) by Boko Haram fighters on April 14, 2014.
The mode of execution of the plot had left many people insisting that no girl was abducted until the girls were safely inside Sambisa Forest, a fortress of evil only about 40 kilometres from Chibok. Two years and the third Christmas without majority of the abducted girls, how is the community moving ahead and what does Christmas look like in the predominantly Christian community without the girls? A broken community For all its worldwide fame, a first time visitor to Chibok would be shocked at the nonavailability of basic infrastructure. There are two main roads leading into Chibok, namely Maiduguri/ Damboa Road and Mubi/Askira Uba Road. But whichever you take, there is no respite from bad road and the quicksand.
As the wind blows, a hail of red dust welcomes you to Chibok. From Mubi, the good road ends in Danga, and on the northern side, it ends in Damboa. Inside the town itself, there is no single tarred or graded road despite being the local government headquarters for 10 years. Chibok’s problem is beyond its terrible roads. The town of about 66,000 inhabitants has no electricity, petrol station or bank.
“The main transformers in Damboa and Mubi were blown up by Boko Haram about four years ago but they have repaired some, I still don’t know why we don’t have light yet,” Pa Allen asked no one in particular. Since the destruction of GGSS, the Central Primary School has played host to both the Government Day Secondary School and the GGSS. The three schools rotate the lectures within the day with each school allotted about four hours every day before vacating the premises for another school to take over.
Living in Chibok could try the patience of the most diligent. Every end of the month, people send trusted relatives to Mubi with their Automated Teller Machine (ATM) cards for cash withdrawals. Cash is usually scarce in the town and inflation is rife, products coming into Chibok are usually twice the price one can get in Askira or Damboa, leaving the impoverished people with little choice.
This year, there has been less rain and harvest has been bad, particularly for beans. Nobody could explain why this was so and the farmers could only wrung their hands together and lift them to heaven in supplication. “Many people planted large fields of beans this year, but there has been terrible harvest. We don’t know why this has been so, but it is not good,” Pa Allen said. An audacious abduction Bitrus Wavi remembered the exact time he heard gunshots on April 14, 2014. The time, according to him, was 11:15 pm.
The events of the night had always attached a sort of mystery to it. How could Boko Haram abduct over 200 teenagers without protestations? Ahmadu Yidan is the Da Yidan Poga or the traditional head of Chibok. He said the events of that night left everyone in confusion. “Do you know that when these Boko Haram people move, they sometimes move with 100 vehicles? They have lorries and there were some lorries packed here in the town.
They carried those ones. They started bombing all over and they went to the girls and said, ‘Something is wrong, can’t you hear? We are soldiers. Come inside this vehicle, let us evacuate you to a safe place.’ “So the girls thought it was some of the soldiers around, and some of the insurgents came in army uniform. So they rushed into the lorries. Had it been known that they were Boko Haram, they wouldn’t go even with 20 students. “That night, there was confusion. Every animal, even the cows were in confusion.
Those who had BP (high blood pressure) died. A soldier died because of the bombing. Nothing touched him,” Yidan said. After the initial confusion, the people of Chibok gathered and determined to pursue the fleeing terrorists. Armed with Dane guns, machetes, kitchen knives, sticks and stones, they made a blind dash towards the Sambisa Forest. Yidan said: “Our vigilante pursued these people.
They reached close to Sambisa but they had to turn back. People carrying sticks and Dane guns. If they had armed escort at the time, it would not have been like this.’’ But some of the girls escaped. At least 56 of them were able to find their ways back home. “After the girls saw that they were not soldiers, some of them jumped down and fractured their legs. Others hung on trees and dropped from the lorries.
Those were the brave ones,” Esther Allen said. Yidan and his people believe that the government left the rescue of the girls a little too late. And the proximity of Sambisa to Chibok gives the Yidan Poga sleepless nights. “Why should Sambisa exist? This is what I was thinking. Why shouldn’t they make Sambisa to become a desert? They should attack this Sambisa Forest.
It is true there will be collateral damage. If they leave Sambisa and go to somewhere and kill more people and they run to Sambisa and you leave them because they are using human shields. “Sometimes I think would it not be better to attack Sambisa? We are not saying they should burn Sambisa. They should match gradually with these armoured weapons and bomb detectors. We know there will be few casualties, but I think it will not be wise to be leaving Sambisa for years because they are keeping some people and then allow many more to die.
This is my personal thinking. I really don’t know. It is giving me sleepless nights,” he lamented. Yidan spoke before the Army flushed out the insurgents from their Sambisa fortress last weekend, a gallant feat that has elicited national and international acclaim.
The chief said the people of Chibok are grateful to the world for the support it has received. But Chibok remains a prime target for the terrorists. ”They want attention. If they attack Chibok, they will have global attention. That is why everyone must continue to speak up for us.” Christmas in Chibok Around 6 am on Christmas Day, the voice of an itinerant preacher broke through the violent cold wind which had descended on the town.
Moving from one dusty street to the other, he yelled into a loudspeaker: “God is wonderful! His mercies endureth forever!” Soon, he began to describe the “enduring loving of Christ” and urged those who are yet to do so to turn their lives over to Jesus Christ, after which he wished everyone a “happy Christmas.”
The people of Chibok, who might have heard the unknown preacher, could relate to the message of “the mercies of the Lord,” which the longsuffering people of the town are badly in need of. Pa Allen wore his white agbada and began to walk with great strides to the EYN, Lutheran Church of Christ (LCC).
The church would witness its first Christmas celebration in the new building partially paid for by the Borno State Government. All over Chibok, children braved the harmattan and the wind to observe the age-long tradition of exchange of food, especially with their Muslim neighbours.
Culled from www.thenationonlineng.net