Escaped Nigerian schoolgirl recounts 'terrifying' abduction

Photo: AFP

One of the Nigerian teenagers who managed to escape from the Boko Haram Islamists who kidnapped more than 300 schoolgirls last month says the abduction was “too terrifying for words” and that the girls' captors spoke of forcing them into marriage.


Sarah Lawan, a 19-year-old science student, spoke to the Associated Press on Sunday as international calls for the rescue of the 276 students who remain captive continued to gain force.

Speaking in the local Hausa language during a telephone interview from Chibok, the town in northeast Nigeria where the April 14 mass abduction at a girls’ school took place, Lawan told AP that more of the students could have escaped but that they were too frightened by their captors’ threats to shoot them.

“I am pained that my other colleagues could not summon the courage to run away with me,” Lawan said. “Now I cry each time I come across their parents, and see how they weep when they see me.”

Police say 53 of the students have escaped. The leader of Nigeria’s homegrown Boko Haram terrorist network, Abubakar Shekau, threatened in a video last week to sell the girls into slavery.

There also have been reports that some of the girls have been forced into marriage with their abductors, who paid a nominal bride price of $12, and that some have been taken across the borders into Cameroon and Chad.

Lawan confirmed that other girls who escaped later have told her that the abductors spoke of their plans to marry them.

Lawan said her dream was to study law. But the thought of going back – either to the burned-out ruins of the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School or any other school – now terrifies her.

“I am really scared to go back there; but I have no option if I am asked to go because I need to finish my final-year exams, which were stopped halfway through,” she said.

The failure to rescue those who remain captive a month after being taken has attracted mounting national and international outrage. Last week, Nigeria appealed for international help in the search.

US hostage negotiators and other experts from Britain, France, China, Spain and Israel are expected to help in the search for the girls.

Pushing for 'terrorist' designation

The United States designated Boko Haram a foreign terrorist organisation in November last year, making it illegal to contribute to the group. Washington also last year put a $7 million ransom on the head of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau. Britain, Nigeria’s former colonial ruler, and France have also branded the Islamists a "terrorist" group.

Nigeria and the United States are currently pushing for the 15-member UN Security Council to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organisation, which would mean that the group's assets and financing would be blocked globally. It would also impose travel ban and arms embargoes on individuals and entities associated with Boko Haram.

“The future of these missing schoolgirls hangs in a balance. The [UN] council should not leave them to fend for themselves,” executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni, of the leading Nigerian rights group Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, said in a statement.

MEP Marietje Schaake has led recent calls for the EU to place the Nigerian extremists on its black list of terrorist organisations and has called for the development of a "clear strategy on how the EU can help stop the spiral of violence that has gripped Nigeria".

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel cautioned on Sunday that it is “going to be very difficult” to find the missing girls. In an interview with the ABC news show “This Week” he said: “It’s a vast country ... But we’re going to bring to bear every asset we can possibly use to help the Nigerian government.”

Pope Francis on Sunday joined international calls for the girls' release using the trending topic #BringBackOurGirls.

“Let us all join in prayer for the immediate release of the schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria,” the pope tweeted.

Africa’s most populous nation of 170 million has almost equal numbers of Christians and Muslims, but dissent between the two communities has been on the rise – exacerbated by Boko Haram's deadly attacks and its five-year-old Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands of both Muslims and Christians and has driven some 750,000 people from their homes.

Boko Haram claimed two rush-hour bomb blasts that killed about 100 people and wounded more than 200 in the capital Abuja last month.

A Nigerian security expert warned that militants may have laid land mines to discourage any pursuit and said strategists may be considering starving them out.

“They may have laid land mines, one cannot rule that out,” formed Nigerian Air Force Commodore Darlington Abdullah said on Sky TV. And “even as they go along abducting children, they are also going after food, grabbing food”, Abdullah said.

Democratic US Senator Charles Schumer of New York called for the offer of a reward –
including refugee status – for anyone who is not a terrorist who provides help leading to the girls’ rescue.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

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