The Lost and the Found

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Nigerian military forces recently found one of the 276 schoolgirls abducted 10 years ago from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok in the West African country’s Borno State.

Troops rescued Lydia Simon, who was pregnant, and her three children while conducting an operation against her kidnappers, Boko Haram, a terror group affiliated with the Islamic State whose name means “Western education is forbidden,” reported CNN.

Simon and other rescued survivors have been sharing stories about their harrowing abductions and their lives among jihadists on the 10th anniversary of the kidnappings.

For instance, Saratu Dauda, who was 16 when she was kidnapped but eventually escaped, told the New York Times that her fanatical captors gave her an impossible choice: “Get married or become a slave who could be summoned for housework or sex.”

Afterward, the former prisoners underwent three-month “deradicalization” programs to eliminate any hints of Boko Haram’s ideology they might have absorbed through indoctrination, Al Jazeera explained. Many face discrimination for having lived among the terrorists, added the BBC. Some in the government “rehabilitation” camps were forced to marry terrorists who had surrendered.

Many, these days, struggle along. “People insult us some days – they are calling my children ‘children of Boko Haram,’” Rabiat, who managed to escape with her three children after about eight years of captivity, told Al Jazeera. “It’s so painful. My heart can’t endure it.”

Meanwhile, 90 Chibok girls remain missing. Mary Abdullahi’s daughter, Bilkis, is one of them.

“Since my daughter was abducted, I haven’t heard anything from her or about her,” the mother said in an interview with the Vanguard, a Nigerian news outlet. “I don’t know how she’s doing. I haven’t seen her. I feel bad whenever her name is mentioned. I want the government to do something about it. Our girls weren’t taken from home, they were taken from school. It’s the government that must intervene.”

Despite the #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign that went viral after the mass kidnapping in 2014, young girls and other vulnerable groups in Nigeria continue to fall victim to kidnapping as abduction for ransom has become big business in the country. Around 23,000 people are missing in Nigeria, a figure that is likely an underestimate. Many of these are children taken from schools. For example, in March, as many as 400 individuals including at least 100 students were kidnapped in two different Nigerian states.

The Nigerian government has poured money into army campaigns against the militants, yet much of the spending has been ineffective, noted Washington Post columnist Karen Attiah. Boko Haram has killed more than 350,000 people since rising in the remote borderlands of northern Nigeria in the early 2000s. Then-President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration was feckless as well as silent, and Nigeria’s ill-equipped army in the north was outgunned and outmaneuvered by Boko Haram. “It was humiliating to see our soldiers running away from Boko Haram,” one former minister told the Post.

The government has invested too much in combating Boko Haram and too little into improving civilian infrastructure, access to education and job opportunities, argued Joana Ama Osei-Tutu, a doctoral candidate at Monash University, for the Australian Institute of International Affairs. Desperation therefore steers Nigerians into radicalization and armed rebellion.

Radicalization and rebellion, in turn, stifle opportunities. In the northeast and northwest regions where kidnappings are prevalent, parents are reluctant to send their daughters to school since Boko Haram began terrorizing the area. According to a government survey, more than half of women between the ages of 15 to 49 there are illiterate with no education, compared to less than one percent in the southeast and seven percent in the southwest.

“Mothers used to be the ones who insisted… ‘our daughters should go to school,’” former Nigerian education minister Oby Ezekwesili told CNN. “But guess what the Chibok girls tragedy did? It made the mothers feel guilty…that what they did by arguing for education for their daughter was to say, ‘pay with your life in order to be educated.’”

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