Captors Not Husband: The Sad Reality of Girls Abducted by Terrorists

Vanessa Obioha writes that the re-emergence of two of the abducted Chibok girls and their captors, whom they had children for, has drawn mixed emotions for many Nigerians. Given that these victims of war now have ties with these insurgents, albeit involuntarily, this has led to renewed criticisms of the federal government’s Operation Safe Corridor initiative for “ex-Boko Haram members”

The opening scene of the trailer of ‘Daughters of Chibok’ captured the anguish of Yana Galang, one of the mothers of the kidnapped Chibok girls. Galang, like other mothers, still anticipates the return of her daughter Rifkatu, who was abducted by insurgents in 2014 at Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok in Borno State. At the time, the government had only rescued about 80 girls out of the 276 abducted, while some escaped.

Galang was often filled with hope each time she was told about the return of a missing child. As the woman leader of the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) campaign in Chibok, the news reached her first before she relayed it to other parents. Her hope of seeing her daughter often turned to unbearable pain after scanning the faces of the returned girls, some of them a shadow of themselves. Yet, her optimism remains unwavering. In the Virtual Reality (VR), Galang is seen folding her daughter’s clothes as if expecting her to walk through the door.

The 2019 virtual reality documentary by Joel Benson attempted to capture the harrowing experience of the waiting mothers who despite their agony, live in poverty. Some of them like Galang subsist on their farm produce. About 33 parents according to the documentary died waiting for their children to return.

It is therefore unimaginable the feeling of these mothers seeing their innocent daughters whose bright futures were dimmed by the menacing hands of Boko Haram on that fateful April night, returning home as mothers.

Recent Reappearance
The recent reappearance of two of the missing Chibok girls sparked an outcry across the nation. Not necessarily because of their motherly status but the identity of the men who accompanied them home. According to reports, Ruth Pogu and Hassana Adamu returned home after seven years in captivity with children.

Pogu was the first to be received by the state governor, Babagana Zulum. Zulum’s spokesman, Isa Gusau revealed that the young woman was received at the Government House where she reunited with her parents. Pogu was said to have surrendered to Nigerian troops in Bama, Borno, on July 28 alongside a Boko Haram fighter to whom she was married and had two children while in captivity.

Her parents were reached to confirm her identity.

A week later, the Nigerian army handed over Hassana Adamu, along with her two children to the governor.

“The schoolgirl, Hassana Adamu, alongside her two children, was handed over to Governor Zulum by the Commander, 26 Task Force Brigade, Brigadier General DR Dantani,” Gusau said.

The young women are to undergo a rehabilitation and reintegration programme that will focus on health, psychosocial wellbeing, and future ambitions.

Reflections on Ordeal of Abducted Girls
In 2017, the BBC reported the ordeal of the Chibok girls in the hands of their abductors as captured by some of the kidnapped schoolgirls. Naomi Adamu who was the oldest among the girls is the protagonist in a new book by journalists Joe Parkinson and Drew Hinshaw. In her narration, she said the girls suffered many hardships and were moved frequently to avoid being caught. They were mostly in the Sambisa forest where they didn’t have access to water or food.

“We even had to use soil to clean ourselves up when we were on our periods,” she told the BBC.

Adamu said the high-ranking officers in the terrorist group tried marrying her off to one of the fighters but she resisted. Each refusal fetched her a beating. Other girls who refused were given equal if not worse treatment. The weaker girls who gave in to their demands did not suffer less. They were also deprived of food and Naomi and her band of brave girlfriends smuggled food to them.

She was later released in May 2017 alongside other diarists, and by September of that same year, the government sent them to study at the American University of Nigeria in the north-eastern town of Yola.

Captors Not Husband

With such scenarios still fresh in the minds of many Nigerians, while rejoicing over Pogu and Adamu’s return, they were however irked by the term ‘husband’ used to describe Pogu’s captor. Recently, a Christian group, Christian Solidarity Worldwide Nigeria (CSWN) condemned the acceptance, urging the Nigerian government to prosecute insurgents who violate the fundamental rights of the girls.

“The Nigerian government may continue with its re-radicalisation programme that birthed the worrying terminology of ‘repentant terrorists, but we in CSWN, in view of the fact that Nigeria is governed by laws, call for the full application of all relevant laws on those who violated the girls. This would show the supremacy of law over lawlessness and impunity, and a consolation to the victims of insurgency trying to rebuild their lives or still wallowing in IDP camps,” said the group.

This stance was reiterated by Edith Yassin, a broadcast journalist based in Abuja, in a piece published in THISDAY by Enough is Enough Nigeria. According to her, it is triggering to see reports where their captors are referred to as husbands, stressing that “their captors are terrorists. Their captors are criminals. Their captors are slave drivers. Their captors are members of a deadly terror group that has engaged the Armed Forces of Nigeria in war for over 12 years. Their captors are NOT husbands.

“These terrorists have a war economy that thrives on gun running, illegal taxation, drug trafficking, human trafficking and sex slavery. These sons of Nigeria abducted the daughters, nieces, and cousins of other sons of Nigeria. It is cruel. It is evil. It is wicked.

“Several fathers have died from heartbreak. Many have developed life threatening ailments. It is therefore brutal to refer to any of these abductors as husbands. A husband is a legitimate partner, a celebrated spouse, and a bringer of joy and support.

“There is no religion, tribe or creed that will confer the title of husband on this violent abuse of Nigeria’s daughters. Media reportage should be more circumspect and words must be chosen carefully. Careless and insensitive use of words can confer nuances that benefit perpetrators of sexual violence to the detriment of victims and survivors. The female victim suffers a hundredfold when her captor and abuser is referred to as husband.”

Spike in School Abductions

Since the insurgents carried out the Chibok abduction on April 14, 2014, Nigeria has witnessed a spike in mass school abductions. In 2018, terrorists stormed the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe state, kidnapping more than 100 female students. Of the kidnapped students, a young student, Leah Sharibu who reportedly resisted the kidnappers and refused to renounce her faith is yet to regain freedom. Last December, a group of boys were kidnapped in Katsina state but were swiftly rescued by the government a week later.

This year, there have been student abductions in Kaduna State including Greenfield University and Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka.

The mass abduction of students is rampant in the northern region, particularly Zamfara, Niger and Kaduna.

The infamy of Boko Haram propelled the rise of banditry and herdsmen carrying out similar crimes. Following the death of Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram in May, after a battle with rival Islamist group Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), the latter seeks to absorb Shekau’s fighters and unify the groups which during Shekau’s tenure fought one another for control of territory in North-east Nigeria and around Lake Chad.

Operation Safe Corridor

Recently, the Nigerian Army claimed that more than 1,000 Boko Haram members and their families had recently surrendered due to the intense pressure from troops’ sustained offensive actions.

Through the Operation Safe Corridor initiative established by the army in 2016, terrorists who surrendered are given a new lease on life. The programme is based on the De-radicalisation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (DRR) of former members of the terrorist group.

In July last year, the federal government said it reintegrated 601 ex-Boko Haram terrorists and in February this year, the army announced that the second batch of 603 ‘repentant’ Boko Haram insurgents had completed their de-radicalisation programme.


Notwithstanding, many Nigerians vehemently kicked against the programme. To them, it was like choosing to let an evil spirit back into your home instead of exorcising it. So when the army announced that it was reintegrating the 1,000 surrendered terrorists, criticisms flew in from different angles.

Chairman of the Senate Committee on Army, Ali Ndume released a stream of vitriols. “The war is not over and some criminals that have been killing people you say that you are doing Operation Safe Corridor for them. I am completely against that idea. They know my position on that. You are just telling people to go and join Boko Haram and then repent…that’s a totally unacceptable way of solving the problem.”

Another voice of reasoning came from the Former Agriculture Minister and current chairman of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Audu Ogbeh.

“We are currently witnessing large scale surrender of large numbers of Boko Haram insurgents, among whom are bomb makers, commanders, arsonists, rapists, and child snatchers. Do we have good reason to cheer and hope for an end to this decade-old insanity? Is ‘I am sorry’ enough to bring relief to Nigerians and the thousands of dead and maimed?

“What of all the men and women in uniform murdered by them? Who can count the thousands of widows and orphans they have created? And what is the difference between them and the (Sunday) Ighohos or ESN of Nigeria? None.

“So, what do we do with them? Should we just embrace them and trust them wholesale? Are their moves informed by altruistic repentance? We seriously doubt.”

The Shehu of Borno, Abubakar El-Kanemi didn’t find the idea to cohabit with insurgents welcoming at all. “Many people were killed along with their property for 12 years. And you people and the media expect us to forget and forgive the repentant terrorists?”

The anger was equally expressed by Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the North-east. They queried the sincerity of the repentant terrorists.

Interestingly, Zulum had last March raised concerns that the rehabilitated terrorists act as spies. He had spoken at the North-East Governors’ Forum meeting in Bauchi that the initiative needs to be reviewed because some of the ex-Boko Haram members only come to spy on communities and then return to join the group.

Recently, he said that the surrender by Boko Haram fighters has left his state with two extremely difficult situations.

“We are in a very difficult situation over the ongoing surrender by insurgents. We have to critically look between two extreme conditions and decide our future. We have to choose between an endless war or to cautiously accept the surrendered terrorists, which is really painful and difficult for anyone that has lost loved ones; difficult for all of us and even for the military, whose colleagues have died and for volunteers.”

Albeit, the federal government needs to ramp up their efforts in rescuing the remaining girls. It is not enough that after seven years, the girls are still held in captivity under unthinkable conditions.

For many Nigerians, the trauma of having a captor as your husband is better left unimagined but these are what some of the girls are living through. But when choices are scarce and resolve broken, survival is the only hope.

The parents may not have a choice but to accept their forced and unwanted in-laws, but they have a reason to rejoice and for people like Galang, the hope to one day see their child still glows.

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