Nigeria abductions: 'My family is crying and grieving'
- 25 April 2014
- From the section Africa
A man whose sister and two nieces are among the 190 schoolgirls being held by suspected Islamist militants in north-eastern Nigeria tells the BBC about how his family are coping.
Lawan is based in the capital, Abuja, but is in frequent touch with his relatives and has asked for his full name not to be used for security reasons.
The girls were taken by heavily armed gunmen on the night of Monday 14 April from their school hostel in the town of Chibok, Borno state.
It is not clear who is responsible but the Boko Haram Islamist group has often targeted educational establishments during its four-year insurgency; its name means "Western education is forbidden".
Phoning people at home is disheartening. I've been phoning Chibok about two, three, four times a day; the general feeling has been of hopelessness.
My sister is 15 and is the youngest of my mother's four children.
My nieces, aged about 12 and 14, are the daughters of my two brothers; there is nothing as an individual they can confront - there is little one can do.
Their wives are just like the others - crying and grieving, grieving.
Before the attack Chibok was relatively unaffected by the insurgency. A police station was burned down about a year ago, but generally it was thought of some sort of safe haven for people, and business had been going on fairly normally.
People displaced from the neighbouring area of Damboa were being accommodated in the community.
Instead of going to Maiduguri, which is our state capital, people diverted most economic activities to Mubi and Yola in neighbouring Adamawa state because that side is relatively calm compared to Borno, which has been facing attacks.
But with this development, people are so frightened… it's really hectic and very frightening.
About four days ago there was a rumour of some insurgents being sighted and virtually everyone ran to the bush, vacating their homes, except for youths who organised themselves - they said that they were fed up and prepared to defend themselves.
These youths have gone into the forest to search for the girls but they were not successful and their search had to be aborted.
The [Sambisa] forest is thick and fairly vast with not much grass because of the tree cover - it is a place that is rich in game; it has streams and rivers.
There are antelopes, there are lions, I've never seen any, but I heard stories of many lions, and there are elephants. I've seen over a hundred elephants which come close to Chibok and then retreat virtually every year around April or thereabouts.
Before the insurgency there was no problem there, hunters would go into the place for hunting and there was fishing and lots of activities going on.
You find villages on the peripheries of the forest, but these have now been vacated because of the attacks from the insurgents.
We have this kind of communal life in Chibok - where you wouldn't even know who has been actually directly affected [by these abductions]; what affects one person affects everyone.
Chibok is a predominately Christian community - although in families you find Muslim brothers and sisters, but you would not know until you asked because we are mixed thoroughly.
Boko Haram at a glance
- Founded in 2002
- Initially focused on opposing Western education - Boko Haram means "Western education is forbidden" in the Hausa language
- Launched military operations in 2009 to create Islamic state
- Thousands killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria - also attacked police and UN headquarters in capital, Abuja
- Some three million people affected
- Declared terrorist group by US in 2013
I don't think they targeted the community because of their religion, because most of the places being attacked lately are in fact predominately Muslim areas.
My sister was sitting her final exams - after six years of study.
Within our community and in some parts of southern Borno, virtually any student who has performed will be entertaining the idea of going to do further studies, to university preferably.
That's why they [the girls' parents] insisted on the relative risk to make sure their daughters had the chance to write the final exams, so [their] hopes of further studies were not aborted.
There were about 38 soldiers nearby [at the time of the attack], they tried but they were overwhelmed by the sheer number of attackers and their weaponry power.
Both my brothers have other children. I hope they will be brave enough to continue [to send them to school].
There has to be good protection provided for other children who are going to school.
But our quest for education will definitely overcome this.
We have to have faith [in the security forces] because we have no other option.
From the content of what our security officers and politicians discussed yesterday [at the emergency security meeting in Abuja] I think that rekindled some hope that it will produce results that will lead to the release of the girls.
That is our hope and prayer.
The longer it takes for them to be released, the more they are exposed to danger.
I fear that every moment spent in these people's custody exposes them further to the possibility of abuse or a threat to their lives, and everything you can think of.