Every day at noon and late in the evening, I join my mom and sister in our living room in Birnin-Kebbi, a north-western city in Nigeria. We listen to the news on BBC Hausa radio, a UK-based radio station that airs news in Hausa – our native dialect.
On April 14th, I arrived late in the room, because I was busy writing a blog post. When I entered, I asked, in a high-pitched voice: “What’s the latest? Did Jonathan say he’ll increase the teachers’ minimum wage?”
I was teasing my sister. She’s an English teacher in a Government Day Secondary School in Birnin-Kebbi. Their salary is too low, and they have been appealing to the state governor to give them a much-needed 30% extra. He refused. Usually, when I tease her like this, she says: “You’ll have to write an article if you want that to happen.”
But that day, she didn’t utter a word. So I looked at her closely. Her face was grim, her eyes red. Tears rolled down her cheeks. I turned to my mom, and witnessed the same thing. She was holding the radio with her right hand and wiping tears with her left. I was shocked.
“What’s going on? Is it Boko Haram?” I asked. “Yes,” my mom answered. “They just abducted some young girls from their boarding school. I’m just imagining what the parents are feeling right now.” she said, wiping more tears away.
The radio drifted away from the clear signal and began crackling, so my sister re-tuned to a better signal, and we continued listening to the story. Gunmen in military uniforms stormed a Government Day Secondary School in Chibok (a small town in Maiduguri, where Boko Haram is headquartered), abducted over 200 female students, most of them Christians, and set the school ablaze. It’s just one of many attacks by Boko Haram in Nigeria. This year alone, they have killed more than 1,500 innocent people.
Earlier this month, the sect bombed a popular bus station in Nyanyan, Abuja, killing more than 70 people. Also this month, they struck again near a police check point at the same location, killing more than 20 civilians. A few days ago, as the Chibok outcry continued, the sect stormed Warambe town and took 8 more girls. Before heading back to their destination, they visited a small town called Gamboru Ngala, took all the food in the market, and killed more than 300 people.
They didn’t kill any of the girls they abducted from Chibok. Instead, they loaded them in their trucks and headed off to their evil destination, where they will sell the girls as wives or slaves. Terrified of the horrors they faced, some students risked their lives jumping out of the moving trucks and ran into the bushes. According to a report by someone in touch with the girls’ captors, 2 of those that escaped have already died from snake bites, and more than 20 are seriously ill.
We are as terrified as ever. We have many questions that our government is not willing to answer. How did Boko Haram strike a town that is supposed to be under a state of emergency? Where was Jonathan’s Joint Special Task Force (JTF) when this atrocity happened? Is our government too weak to protect our children?
The Jonathan administration is weak and aimless in its attempts to deal with the menace; his armed forces are just as weak. The weapons and ammunitions that Boko Haram uses are more advanced than the JTF’s equipment. Whenever the two clash, the bad guys win. And still the president does not upgrade his forces’ weapons. Imagine, when the schoolgirls were abducted, their kidnappers stopped wherever they wanted to, camped comfortably in the bushes, and forced the girls to cook them food, with no fear of pursuit.
When insurgents bombed the UN office in Abuja in 2011, the government promised to install surveillance cameras all over the city. Apparently, they forgot that promise, and now that the sect has bombed the city twice this month alone, all we can do is hope that the government will recover from its selective amnesia.
So when Chibok was attacked and Shekau, the sect’s leader, released a video claiming responsibility, tears started flowing once again in Nigeria’s failing society. We have no faith in our government. It fails us constantly: it neither provides us with constant electricity nor protects us from terrorists. The Chibok community and the rest of Nigeria knows that the Federal Government cannot – or will not – rescue their girls.
“I don’t believe in the Federal Government,” one father of an abducted girl said. “I have no hope in the government. They’re just making fools of us.”
But the real question is this: by abducting our children from their schools, is Boko Haram really killing Western education?
One of the abducted girls’ uncles related the story of his niece’s ordeal. “When I saw her,” he said, “she looked terrified. I asked her how she managed to escaped, and she told me that the car she was in broke down on the road. The terrorists told them to get out so they could fix the car. There was a tree beside her. She hid there and escaped.” Later, when her uncle asked her whether she would return to school, she said, “No! I don’t want to hear anything about school now.”
Every student in Northern Nigeria knows two things. One: that Boko Haram is powerful-more powerful than the Federal government. They have the power to bomb, the power to kill, the power to abduct. And two: that the reason the JTF prefers to stay at home is the same reason they wouldn’t enter Sambisa forest: they’re afraid for their lives. If the international community hadn’t stepped up, we could swear on our lives that Boko Haram would keep our schools’ doors closed.
But now that the international community is watching, our despair is beginning to turn into hope.
Back at home, I step into the living room again to listen to the BBC. There’s no electricity at noon, so we watch the TV at 3 p.m. instead. This time, there were no reports of abductions. We switch to CNN, and there is our President addressing the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Abuja.
“Look at your president,” I say to my sister, ready to tease her. “This is the perfect place to meet him, and raise your salary issue.”
“Let him keep the money,” she replies. “Just write him a piece titled ’Go Get Our Girls’ and make him do his job.”
Suhaib Mohammed blogs at: http://haibtext.com. Catch him on Twitter: @Haibtext, and hang out with him on Facebook: http://facebook.com/Haibtext.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters