By Samuel Malik, icirnigeria.org
Over 200 girls abducted in Chibok in April 2014 are being held in Gwoza town in Borno State, a woman who was recently released by Boko Haram has told the icirnigeria.org. She had been held in the same location as the abducted Chibok girls. The 56 year old woman, Mbutu Papka, who was kidnapped in July, 2014 and held by the insurgents for eight months in two locations, said confidently that the abducted girls were being kept under very tight security in a house in Gwoza.
Papka said that nobody is allowed near the fenced building where the abducted girls are being held under 24-hour security. Even the heavily armed guards who keep watch over the girls round the clock, it was learnt, are only allowed to go into the house to deliver food, water and other supplies to them. The woman was seized along with others when Boko Haram attacked Gwoza on July 4, 2014 and taken to Mdita, a remote village near the notorious Sambisa Forest, bordering Askira Uba, Damboa and Gwoza. The abductees, who included many children, according to Papka, were kept in Mdita for five months before being transferred to Gwoza, where they were held for three months before they were finally released on March 15.
It was while in Gwoza that she learnt that the Chibok Girls, whose abduction has attracted global attention, were being housed in a compound adjacent to where she and other kidnapped people were kept. Asked how she knew the girls were there, Papka said she never saw the Chibok girls, but explained that people in the area pointed at the heavily guarded flat and said the girls were inside. Because access to the house was restricted, she said, the girls apparently did their own cooking and chores by themselves.
“In the camp at Gwoza, there were clear demarcations between where people were kept. The Chibok girls, other captives and Boko Haram members and their family members all had their separate areas secured, though the security in the area where the girls are kept is visibly different and much tighter,” she said. Papka explained that the conditions under which the captives in Gwoza were kept were fairly tolerable and far better than the first location, as there was water supply.
She said that after they were taken to Gwoza, their living conditions improved remarkably because the town has modern facilities, as opposed to the rustic Mdita. “When we got to Gwoza, things changed because there were facilities there and the place was 10 times better than Mdita. We had a normal life in Gwoza, except the trauma of living in captivity. Whatever we wanted to eat, they were provided. They would bring water, firewood, etc., and leave them outside,” she explained.
A few other comforts were provided. “They even provided perfume for anyone who requested for it,” she added.
According to her, at Mdita, she met other abducted people including women and children, among whom were many under the age of seven, all living in terrible conditions. “There was a room we used to urinate in and because of lack of water, the place stank and maggots were everywhere. We took our baths once a daily, if we were lucky,” she said. Because of the terrible conditions and absence of health care facilities in the camp, many people fell sick and some died.
“There was a Redeemed Christian Church of God pastor who was killed during the attack on our village, and his wife was abducted with us. She died at Mdita due to the condition of the place and the death of her husband,” she told our reporter. The pastor’s wife, she explained, had diabetes and, before her abduction, had been on a special diet which could not be provided by the insurgents. Papka said she and the other women were not raped or assaulted, though she could not speak for the Chibok girls because nobody was allowed to see or interact with them. She also said that the Boko Haram men lived with their wives and children in the Gwoza camp, but kept away from others and cooked their own meals.
On March 15, 2015, after three months in Gwoza, Papka and 10 other older women were taken from the camp, herded into a vehicle and driven to Izge, a village, from where she was taken to her own village on a motorcycle because the road is bad. The ride, however, was not free. “I was asked to pay N8, 000 for the motorcycle ride, which I collected from my family,” she stated.
This website also learnt that a two years old boy was given to Papka when she was released. The boy, who is reported to be sick and has rashes on his body, has since been reunited with his family, which is now seeking financial assistance to take the child to hospital. “He was crying uncontrollably, so they (Boko Haram) handed him over to me as were leaving,” she said.
Gwoza local government area of Borno State, which is just over 100 kilometres from Maiduguri, the state capital, is said to be one of the council areas still wholly in the hands of Boko Haram terrorists. Gwoza town was first captured by the insurgents in August last year, following a heavy gun attack by insurgents who hoisted the sect’s flag and declared it the headquarters of the group’s Caliphate. Over 12,000 persons were displaced from the town and repeated attempts by the military to recapture it in the past have failed largely due to the hilly terrain, which provide hiding places for the terrorists from which to operate.
If Papka’s present condition is anything to go by, even if the girls have not suffered any physical abuse, the emotional and psychological trauma inflicted by their experience would be, indeed, enormous. Our reporter learnt that Papka’s experience appears to have left a permanent impact on her. Her children say she is like a stranger to them. She is easily scared by sounds and approaching footsteps and prefers to stay alone, not talking to anyone.
These are apparently effects of her abduction and detention by the insurgents. Sadly, there is no mechanism put in place either by the state or federal government, or even civil society organisations, to provide any kind of counselling or medical care and assistance for her. It was learnt that the Borno State government is aware of the release of the 11 women by Boko Haram as their return home was widely celebrated in many villages, but as at Wednesday morning, ten days after, no state official has visited any of them or offered any kind of assistance. On Wednesday, when our reporter talked to one of her relations, she said that the family was planning to take her to see a psychologist.
Attempts by the icirnigeria.org to share information about the girls’ whereabouts with the military and get its reaction were not successful, as the Director of Defence Information, Major-General Chris Olukolade, said in a phone conversation that he was out of town.
Although it was agreed that the information was too sensitive to be shared on the phone and that a face-to-face meeting was necessary, Olukolade, who said that he would get back to Abuja on Tuesday, had not returned or gotten back as at the time of going to press.