Today, 10 September, marks 150 days since the attack on the Chibok Government Secondary School that saw around 275 girls abducted. Although 47 of these girls were able to escape either during their abduction or shortly after their arrival at the camp where they were being held, no others have been able to find their way home.
Dr Stephen Davis, an Australian cleric was appointed as presidential envoy in the negotiations with Boko Haram. He told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) following the reports that nobody knew where the girls were, he decided to reach out to contacts he had built up in the years he worked as trouble-shooter for oil and gas company Shell in the Niger Delta.
News about his involvement broke at the end of May. Although he felt the fact that his involvement became known was complicating the negotiations, Dr Davis expressed optimism that they would be able to secure the girls’ release soon. In fact, he succeeded in getting a commitment from Boko Haram to release some of the girls.
“They told me they’d be prepared to release some as a goodwill gesture towards a peace deal with the government, so I went to Nigeria on the basis of being able to secure their release.”
The rebels honoured their promise and brought 60 girls in 20 vehicles to an agreed upon location in Cameroon. But the release was sabotaged.
“We travelled for four-and-a-half hours to reach them, but 15 minutes before we arrived they were kidnapped again by another group who wanted to cash in on a reward. The police had offered a reward of several million Naira just 24 hours before we went to pick them up. I understand, from the Boko Haram commanders I spoke to, the girls eventually ended up back with them.”
Dr Davis has had contact with the four girls who were able to escape the camp. They did this with the help of a young man who was kidnapped by Boko Haram and forced to work as a driver.
One of the girls had a cell phone with her. She switched it off and hid it in her clothing and was able to use it to call her parents while hiding in the bush after their escape. They had no idea where they were. Their parents told them to continue walking west every evening – in the direction of the setting sun. They made it to the Cameroon border and were reunited with their families.
The escaped girls revealed that they were raped almost on a daily basis. They say girls who do not cooperate face severe punishment.
Dr Davis tried to make contact via text message with the young man that helped the girls escape and got a chilling response. “The person you are trying to contact has gone on a journey from which there is no return. He was an infidel.”
Although the world’s attention to the plight of the girls seems to be slowly waning, it remains clear that they are in the hands of brutal men.
In May Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, in two videos received by the French Press Agency said, “These girls you’re talking about, some of them were Christian but they converted to Islam […] They now accept that Allah is the only God and that Jesus is one of his messengers […] This is my message to the world and, yes, I’m content with that…The girls who did not convert to Islam will not be released as long as you detain our people […] But the Muslim girls are our sisters.”
He also said, “I repeat: I’m going to sell these girls. I’m not going to release them as long as you detain our people and brutalize our own women… You’re making too much noise about these schoolgirls.”
After spending four months in Nigeria, Dr Davis returned to Australia. He says in his dealing with Boko Haram, he realized the kidnappings will not end. “It became very clear that if I was able to get 50 girls released then another group would kidnap 70 or 80 more.”
In a telephone interview he told Open Doors that in April they were dealing with three separate factions that had agreed to work together. But now Boko Haram has become amalgamated and is mutating very quickly. The involvement of outside forces such as Al Qa’ida, ISIS and Al Shabaab is radicalising the group even further.
Although President Goodluck Jonathan remains under immense pressure to get the girls released, a rescue attempt is simply too dangerous. The crisis is also unfolding against the backdrop of a very complex political landscape. There are allegations that very high ranking politicians and international sponsors are in collusion with Boko Haram, further complicating any negotiated settlement.
So for now the Chibok girls’ ordeal continues with their greatly distressed family members eagerly awaiting news about their daughters.