Nigeria’s Islamic militant group,Boko Haram, kidnapped 400 women and children in the Nigerian town of Damasak. The Boko Haram are known for such mass kidnapping; the most prominent one being the 276 children kidnapped in Chibok which prompted the trending hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. In terms of scale, the Damasak tragedy overshadows the Chibok kidnappings; yet, a shadow of denial and silence looms over the incident preventing the truth from ever seeping out.
The Boko Haram have been exercising their reign of terror since the group launched its insurgency since 2009. Amongst the numerous atrocities the group commits, is the kidnapping of women and girls. An Amnesty International Report conducted last year said that the Boko Haram have kidnapped 2000 girls and women since the beginning of 2014, turning them into cooks, fighters, and sex slaves. A speculation that recently surfaced is that the girls were forced to become suicide bombers.
The worst of the mass-kidnappings occurred last year in the town Damasak. The militants occupied the Zanna Mobarti primary school. According to the Human Rights Watch, of the 400 people abducted, 300 were elementary students. Over the following months the Boko Haram banned teaching in English and forced the captives to learn the Qur’an.
When rumors of the incident first broke out, the government denied the kidnappings, and since the town was still inundated by the Boko Haram, conditions were too dangerous for journalists to enter.
In March 2015, soldiers from neighbouring Chad and Niger advanced on Damasak. The Boko Haram fled the town, bringing their captives with them. Damasak residents divulged that none of their children had been returned, and said that government has been preventing them from speaking out. Some parents claim that there are unconfirmed reports of their children being sighted with the Boko Haram in other areas.
Mausi Segun, a Nigerian researcher for the Human Rights Watch said “Three hundred children have been missing for a year, and yet there has been not a word from the Nigerian government.” She proceeds by saying “The authorities need to wake up and find out where the Damasak children and other captives are, and take urgent steps to free them.”
The bodies of 470 civilians were also found in shallow graves and on the streets in Damasak.
The Boko Haram have killed thousands of people and displaced 6 million in their 6 year insurgency. Furthermore, UNICEF reported on December 5th that around one million kids have been forced out of an education and more that 2000 schools have closed in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger due to their acts of terror.
Despite the prevalence of these horrific events, the government of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari seems to be uninformed. Their claim that they have defeated the Boko Haram insurgency reflects an attitude that is borderline ignorant. The preservation of the country’s reputation seems to be outweighing the real issue at hand; and such a fallacy is costing the lives of thousands.
Michael Han Ding Widjaja
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