Samson Dawah was nervous. For two weeks, he had waited for any bit of information regarding his niece, who was among the 234 Nigerian school girls likely kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram. This week, he gathered his extended family. He had news but also an unusual request. He asked that the elderly not attend. He wasn’t sure they could bear what he had to say.
“We have heard from members of the forest community where they took the girls,” he told them. “They said there had been mass marriages and the girls are being shared out as wives among the Boko Haram militants.”
The girl’s father fainted, the Guardian reported, and has since been hospitalized. But the news got worse. Village elder Pogo Bitrus told Agence France Presse locals had consulted with “various sources” in the nation’s forested northeast. “From the information we received yesterday from Cameroonian border towns our abducted girls were taken… into Chad and Cameroon,” he said, adding that each girl was sold as a bride to Islamist militants for 2,000 naira — $12.
The Washington Post could not independently verify such claims, and the Nigerian defense ministry didn’t immediately return requests for comment Wednesday morning. But if true, the news would add another terrifying wrinkle to an already horrifying set of events that has galvanized the nation, spurred foreign leaders to take notice, and exposed the powerlessness of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration in the face of a radicalized and murderous militant group named Boko Haram.
The group, for which Western education is anathema, has killed at least 2,300 people since 2010, according to estimates in journalistic and Amnesty International reports. In the first four months of this year alone, Amnesty International says 1,500 people have died in sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians.
But the girls’ capture and alleged sell-off constitutes one of its most disturbing actions yet. On April 14, scores of armed militants stormed a dormitory in Chibok at night, captured hundreds of girls, and disappeared back into the night. Since, the bungled search for them has lurched from one mistake to the next.
First, the Nigerian military reported that 129 school girls had been taken from the northeastern state of Borno. Then it claimed that all of the girls but eight had been released. This soon proved false. Few, if any, had been released. In fact, parents said an additional 100 girls beyond original estimates had also been taken. In all, 234 school girls are today suspected captured.
Parents have grown increasingly frustrated by what they perceive as a feckless governmental response. Some relatives have launched their own search, riding motorcycles deep into the surrounding forests in search of their girls. “My wife keeps asking me, why isn’t the government deploying every means to find our children,” relative Dawah said.
“All we want from the government is to help us bring our children back,” one father named Pogu Yaga, wept.
The missing girls have ignited a social media campaign underneath the hashtag #BringBackOurDaughters, and the issue has stirred concern in the highest echelons of British society. “We cannot stop terrorism overnight,” said former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who plans to visit Nigeria. “But we can make sure that its perpetrators are aware that murdering and abducting school children is a heinous crime that the international authorities are determined to punish.”
Nothing, however, has brought back the girls, now missing for 16 days.
The news of the mass marriage come from a group of fathers, uncles, cousins, and nephews who gather every morning to pool their resources, buy fuel, and journey unarmed to forests and border towns in search of the missing girls. They learned this week, they said, that mass wedding ceremonies had occurred on Saturday and Sunday. The insurgents reportedly shot their guns into the air after taking their new brides, and split them into three groups. They were then reportedly moved out by truckload.
“It’s a medieval kind of slavery,” village leader Bitrus told the BBC.
“The free movement of the kidnappers in huge convoys with their captives for two weeks without being traced by the military, which claims to be working diligently to free the girls, is unbelievable,” he said.