Four years ago, Boko Haram attacked Chibok, a town in Borno, north-east Nigeria, raiding it and abducting 276 girls who were writing their final high school exams at the Government Girls Secondary School. 57 escaped, a total of 103 were released (two years after) through negotiation, while 112 girls are missing up till now. TheCable was in Chibok to speak with the witnesses and some parents who are still expecting their girls back.
Monica Stover was 46 when her daughter, Saraya was abducted on April 14, 2014. Today she is 50 years old, the prestigious golden jubilee age. But there is nothing golden or prestigious about her life.
Owing to this singular incident, she has lost a husband, a livelihood, a home, self-esteem, and now four years after, the last ray of hope that Saraya will ever return, is flickering, about to quench.
Speaking to TheCable in Chibok, Monica, a farmer, mother of five, mournfully recounts how it all happened.
“When they told me Boko Haram took my Saraya, I did not believe it because I know my daughter is strong and would find her way out. I know she won’t allow herself to be taken by anybody. I was disappointed to be told she was taken,” she said.
“I did not still believe it, so I followed their footsteps to the bush hoping that she was part of those who jumped out of the truck but I was shocked they took her away. It was later that one of the girls who jumped out of the truck on that day told me that Saraya attempted to escape but was captured by Boko Haram.”
HUSBAND DIES, HOUSE UP IN FLAMES
Owing to the trauma of this incident, her husband died few months afterwards.
“My husband died. He always used to say what he is feeling might not allow him to witness the return of his daughter,” her voice fell and her eyes lowered as she spoke.
Stover is among the 19 parents of abducted girls who were documented to have died from shock, according to the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) movement.
“After his death, the house we were living in was set ablaze. There was nowhere to go, I had to struggle with my remaining four children to sleep outside. Life became worse for us as there was nothing to lean on. Feeding myself and my children was a big problem,” she said.
In the face of the daunting challenges, she had to move to Mbalala, a village in the Chibok district, few kilometres from where Boko Haram had attacked, but she sent her children to Maiduguri.
“Eventually, I asked Thabita (my first daughter) to go to the CAN (Christian Association of Nigeria) center, an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp which is a walkable distance from Sir Kashim College of Education, where she is currently studying in Maiduguri,” she said.
Coupled with her trauma and displacement, she had to care for two sick children. My second daughter is an imbecile and she is with me in Chibok but my eldest son is suffering from chronic spinal cord problem. I will need a lot of money to treat him.
NO ASSISTANCE FROM GOVERNMENT
When asked if she benefited from the government assistance to parents of abducted Chibok girls, she was quick to say she didnt.
“I learnt some of the families of the abducted girls were supported by government but no single support ever came to us. Even if anyone sent any form of support, the people doing the advocacy on the release of the girls in Chibok will hijack everything to themselves. At some point we learnt some families were assisted to send their children to school but they only selected people who were not affected,” she said.
“I have not been fine since Saraya was kidnapped but we have to survive in the hope she would return and meet us strong. I farm what I eat and sometimes, I sell my produce to buy other needs of the family. Sometimes we get cotton and make pillow for sale with other women in Mbalala.
“Last year, I planted rice, maize and sorghum. I was hoping to use the money to take my son to the hospital for proper medication and support the education of Thabita but to my disappointment, Boko Haram came and destroy the farm and looted the food items.”
THE EMOTIONAL NOTE
Monica concluded by sharing words of undying love for her daughter.
“Dear Saraya, wherever you are if you are still alive, just know that your mother is hoping to see you soon. I am always praying for you and I urge you to be strong, resilient and patient as one day you shall be rescued and be reunited with us. I love you.”
THE MAN WHO DREW THE ATTENTION OF THE WORLD
Ayuba Alamson, a Chibok resident, claims he is the first individual who alerted the international community and the media about the kidnap of the girls. Walking with the aide of stick, the visually-impaired man recollected the dark episode.
“The raid started at about 21:38 pm when Boko Haram stormed Chibok. They first started by throwing two heavy explosives followed by rapid gunshots,” he told TheCable.
“We heard them chanting ‘Allah Akhbar’ which literary means Allah is Great. They threw a lot of explosives and looted foodstuffs in shops and many homes. They also looted clothing and valuables and set public buildings on fire. They also burnt cars inside the township motor parks, hijacked some trucks and offloaded the commodities.
“It was one of the trucks that they used to kidnap the girls. When they were about to leave, they set the school on fire and drove away into the forest.”
His narrative lent credence to reports that many of the abducted girls jumped out of the trucks with many sustaining various degrees of injuries.
“I am a living witness to the horrible act but as a physically-challenged person, I had to find someone fleeing with his family to help me check my phone for the contact of BBC. I reported the incident few hours after the attack. The following morning, I received many calls,” he said.
“As I went to the school premises the next day, I witnessed the bitter crying of parents, friends and relatives of the abducted girls. Some rolling on the floor while many fainted because of trauma. The federal government invited me to Abuja a few days after the incident to testify about what really happened at Abuja.”
THE RETURN OF BOKO HARAM
Alamson said Boko Haram later went to his house and blew it up.
“Being the person behind the release of information about the Chibok girls abduction, they and their supporters are not happy; I was very surprised how Boko Haram who are living in the bush knew the particular location of our house,” he said.
“As a result, I lived in constant fear of the unknown. I received many threats, a lot of phone calls from people who threatened me to stop from speaking up for the girls. There was this one call I received from someone while I was on the way to Maiduguri from Chibok. The person said ‘Ayuba where are you; Which car are you in, is it the red one or the black vehicle.’ I immediately asked the driver to park the car and drop me.”
LAST MOMENT WITH KIDNAPPED GIRLS
Alamson said he could still remember vividly his last moment with some of the girls.
“Deborah Solomon is my cousin. She told me, ‘Uncle I am going to school please pray for me so that I can pass my WAEC and go to the high institution and become somebody that would help the community’,” he said.
“Maila Yakubu was a very loving and gentle girl. I was heartbroken when I heard Boko Haram used her to say something that is contrary to our faith. She was forced to say she won’t return to infidels. It brings a lot of disturbance and pain to us.
“Saraya too was used by Boko Haram to say that she will no longer come back to us. Sincerely speaking, I am praying very hard, I know that sometimes these girls were forced to say these things.”