What Sarah Lawan endured as one among nearly 300 teenage schoolgirls abducted by Nigeria’s Islamic rebels, Boko Haram, was so frightening that she now fears returning to school.
The 19-year-old spoke over the phone with The Associated Press from her hometown of Chibok, a city in Northeast Nigeria that’s also home to the school from which Lawan and about 276 other students were taken about four weeks ago.
“I am pained that my other colleagues could not summon the courage to run away with me,” she said. “Now I cry each time I come across their parents and see how they weep when they see me.”
Others didn’t flee with her, she said, because they all were told that to do so would result in their death.
For the families, the pain of the abduction was intensified last week when Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau was seen on video promising to sell the girls into slavery. Other reports have had some of the girls being forced to marry Boko Haram members and being ushered out of the country.
Last year, the United States put a $7 million price on Shekau’s head. Now, they and other governments are taking more direct action. Great Britain, which formerly held Nigeria as a colony, and the United States both have put top military, law enforcement, and intelligence operatives on the ground in Nigeria to search for the girls.
President Barack Obama told ABC News: “You’ve got one of the worst regional or local terrorist organizations in Boko Haram in Nigeria,” which has been “killing people ruthlessly for many years now.” Its biggest mistake, implied Obama, was a mass abduction that just might “mobilize the entire international community to finally do something against this horrendous organization.”
Obama and others in his Cabinet were quick to reiterate that this was not a military build-up but only assistance.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Secretary of State John Kerry said that a “coordination cell” would be located at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja “that could provide expertise on intelligence, investigations, and hostage negotiations, and to help facilitate information-sharing and victim assistance… We remain deeply concerned about the welfare of these young girls, and we want to provide whatever assistance is possible in order to help for their safe return to their families.”
After all, said White House spokesman Jay Carney: “These girls were captured and kidnapped 22 days ago, and time is of the essence. Appropriate action must be taken to locate and to free these young women before they are trafficked or killed.”
Human Rights Watch has attributed as many as 300,000 refugees and many thousands of civilian deaths to Boko Haram since its insurgency began in 2009. It hasn’t helped that the government isn’t seen as much of a protector of its own people. According to an Inquisitr report, the government was given a four-hour warning that the abductions would be occurring (HRW has called the government of Nigeria exasperatingly ineffective at every level).
“The horrific attacks by Boko Haram are having a devastating impact on northern Nigerians,” said HRW’s Africa Director Daniel Bekele. “Hundreds of thousands have fled to other parts of Nigeria and neighboring countries, and their rights should be protected.”
[Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]