Boko Harams five-year battle to impose caliphate kills thousands
By Monica Mark, The Guardian
Sunday, May 11, 2014
Nigerians have suffered more than a year of attacks on western-style schools but the international community is only just waking up to it
The gunmen stormed in just as dawn broke over the school in a remote village in north-eastern Nigeria. There were around two dozen of them, and, survivors later recounted, they worked quickly, methodically and with unflinching brutality.
Allahu Akbar, they shouted, as they lined up students and murdered them with single bullets to the head. Some of the teenage pupils were burnt alive when their dormitories were locked, doused in petrol and set alight; those trying to escape were knifed to death.
They killed 46 boys all in all. Unlike the abduction of more than 200 girls from a school in Chibok last month, in this attack they spared the girls and killed all the boys. The atrocity barely registered in the international headlines. That was almost a year ago, in July 2013.
The schoolgirls have become symbols of an increasingly vicious conflict that had until now not registered on the western medias radar. Yet for more than a year there has been a pattern of attacking western-style schools, seen as anathema to Boko Haram, whose five-year battle to impose an Islamic caliphate in the north of Africas most populous country has killed thousands. Officials and former abductees told the Observer the girls were now being used as sex slaves, a suspicion that has fuelled almost two weeks of social media campaigns and rare protests across Nigeria.
But for ordinary Nigerians, who have lived for half a decade under the shadow of the insurgency, there is frustration that a singular act is obscuring a more complex narrative. Social media campaigns and public anger in different forms both at home and abroad have helped trigger international action from the US and UK, among others.
The accounts of former abductees of the Islamist sect Nigerian citizens ranging from civil servants to street hawkers suggest the schoolgirls are now being used as sex slaves. A day after the Chibok abductions, a squad from the Nigerian army was dispatched into the Sambisa forest. A soldier in the rescue mission told the Observer they encountered a group of 20 women in the scrublands, but they failed to get close to them without alerting the attention of the militants.
My unit found some 20 women abandoned by Boko Haram in the forest. They were traumatised, around 15 of them were pregnant, the soldier said.
Worse was what some of the women said. One, whose identity the Observer is protecting, said: We were lined up in a single file then asked our religion. The Muslims among us were allowed to move around the camp freely and interact, while the Christians were turned to sex slaves. Any girl who was Christian would have to sleep with four, five or six of the Boko Haram men every day