By Philip Obaji Jr.
Borom Mohammed’s four sons: Audu, Babagana, Mustapha and Bulama were all kidnapped from their Islamic school by Boko Haram militants in March 2015 in the north-eastern town of Damasak in Borno state. That same day, the insurgents also seized her husband, Mallam Goni, when they stormed her compound. She and her three little daughters escaped.
It’s been almost two years since that fateful day in which Boko Haram militants kidnapped hundreds of school children in Damasak, and Borom still is yet to get over the incident.
I was ready to visit her home in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital where she now resides after fleeing Damasak, for an interview, but her close friends told me it would be impossible to get her to talk to me, as she hasn’t been in a good state of mind since her husband and sons were taken away by the militants.
“She cries each time she sees young people around her,” said Bukkar Hassan, her neighbor in Damasak, whose two female cousins were also kidnapped by Boko Haram on the same day as Borom’s sons and husband. “Young people remind her of her missing boys.”
There have been no words from their captors concerning their where about, and no comment from the government regarding the issue.
On the day they were kidnapped, Boko Haram militants seized hundreds of other school children in Damasak.
Human Rights Watch in a March 2016 release said the militants occupied Zanna Mobarti Primary School in Damasak in November 2014 after taking control of the town.
At least 300 students were in the building, and in the months that followed, the insurgents forced the captured children to learn the Koran as it banned teaching in English.
When coalition forces from Chad and Niger closed in on Damasak in March 2015, the jihadists fled the town, taking along the 300 schoolchildren and an additional 100 women and children whom they had captured and held captive.
But as they left Damasak, students who attended the Mohammed Goni Primary School and the Al Manil Islamic School where Borom’s children received their education where also forcefully taken along, according to Hassan, whose cousins; Umrama, 8, and Yachalu, 13, attended the former.
“They were captured on their way back from school,” Hassan, who now lives in Maiduguri, said of his cousins. “Up till this moment, no one has heard anything about them.”
Boko Haram also kidnapped students, who attended the Government Secondary School (GSS), Damasak, on that same day, but not while in school, rather, at their homes, according to staff of GSS me. The school had closed for the session at the time of the invasion.
Mallam Abubakar, a schoolteacher at GSS, said the insurgents did storm the school on that day with the hope of abducting school children, but they found just a few teachers including him in the building. Luckily, all the teachers escaped into the river close to the Nigerien border town of Diffa.
“Policemen also escaped into the river,” Abubakar said. “It was hard to immediately contact the media or anyone (to report the incident) because telephone lines were not functional in Damasak.”
Abubakar who now lives in Maiduguri said many of the captives might never be recovered as the jihadists moved them to neighboring Niger.
“Two of my female students who escaped from Boko Haram told me they were taken along with other children to Diffa in Niger,” he said. “The girls said some of their friends were married out to the militants.”
The numbers of school children taken by Boko Haram in Damasak exceed the 276 schoolgirls who were kidnapped from Chibok in April 2014.
But unlike the Chibok abductions, which gained global attention and massive calls for action, the Damasak kidnappings was hardly reported in the media.
And while the ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ movement that has been pressuring the government to rescue the missing schoolgirl continues to be there has been no pressure group doing same for the kidnapped Damasak students.
A local social worker told me he and a few friends thought about starting a movement to put pressure on the government of former president Goodluck Jonathan to rescue the Damasak children, but were discouraged by local administrators who said the focus of the government was on the Chibok girls, and so, no one would listen to them.
When they brought back the idea months after President Muhammadu Buhari took office and with nothing coming from the government concerning the missing children, local politicians who warned them against embarrassing the president who comes from the same northern region discouraged them.
“The first time they (local administrators) said we should wait until the government rescues the Chibok girls before we can talk about Damasak,” the man who did not want to be identified for fear of being victimized by local authorities, said. “When we brought it up again they (local politicians) said we will be unfair to our person (Buhari).”