Nigerian elder says abducted girls ‘sold’ as ‘wives’ to jihadists

Screengrab from an April 2014 video of a man claiming to be Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau. (AFP PHOTO / BOKO HARAM)

Demonstrators in the Nigerian capital of Abuja on Wednesday are to hold a “million-woman march” a day after a local leader claimed that some of the schoolgirls abducted two weeks ago had been sold as “wives” abroad.


Activists and relatives of the more than 100 girls kidnapped from their school in the remote northeastern region of Nigeria’s Borno state plan to march on the National Assembly.

Anger against the Nigerian authorities’ perceived inability to address the issue and a failed government rescue attempt has been mounting across the oil-rich West African nation in recent days.

An organisation called Women for Peace and Justice has called for a "million-woman protest march" in the capital Abuja on Wednesday to demand that more resources be committed to securing the girls' release.

The Islamist group Boko Haram has been blamed for the mass nighttime kidnapping, one of the most shocking attacks in a country that’s no stranger to militant attacks.

Public outrage has been compounded by the conflicting information being supplied by the authorities about the attack and the victims.

Borno officials have said 129 girls were kidnapped when gunmen stormed the school in Chibok on April 14 and forced the students -- who are between 12 and 17 years old -- onto a convoy of trucks. Officials said 52 have since escaped.

Locals, including the school's principal, have rejected those numbers, insisting that 230 students were snatched and that 187 are still being held hostage.

‘A medieval kind of slavery’

On Tuesday, a local Chibok elder told the AFP that some of the girls had been taken to neighbouring Chad and Cameroon. They were then sold as brides to Islamist fighters for 2,000 naira ($12) each, said Pogo Bitrus.

In an interview with the BBC, Bitrus said the community had been tracking the girls and has learned that, “one of the 'grooms' brought his 'wife' to a neighbouring town in Cameroon and kept her there," he said before adding, "It's a medieval kind of slavery".

There has however been no independent confirmation of his report from the Nigerian government.

According to Bitrus, 43 of the abducted girls had "regained their freedom" after escaping, while 230 were still in captivity. His figure is higher than previous estimates.

Fears of jihad across West Africa

Some of the girls who escaped have said the hostages were taken to Borno's Sambisa Forest area, where Boko Haram has well-fortified camps.

Founded in the northeastern Nigerian town of Maiduguri around 2002, Boko Haram - which in the local Hausa language means “Western education is sacrilege” – aims to implement strict Sharia law across Nigeria, a multi-ethnic nation of more than 160 million people split largely into a Muslim majority north and a Christian and animist south. Experts have long worried that local militant Islamist groups could ignite the sectarian tinderbox in West Africa’s regional powerhouse.

Last year, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius confirmed that French troops fighting jihadist groups in Mali had found documentary evidence that “terrorists from Boko Haram were being trained in the Ifoghas Mountains” – a remote mountain range in northern Mali.

Boko Haram’s official name is Jama’atu Ahlis-Sunnah Lidda’awati wal Jihad, which in Arabic means "people committed to the propagation of the prophet's teachings and jihad". Last year, the US State Department designated the group a “foreign terrorist organisation” and western intelligence experts say the group has links to al Qaeda’s North African branch, AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb).

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning