WASHINGTON (BP) — Saa* sat with other schoolgirls piled on the back of the large truck as it made its way past a Nigerian village in the dark of night.
“We are moving, we are moving, then some of our girls start jumping down from the trucks. Then I told my friend that I decided to jump down from the trucks, that I’d rather die, that my parents have my coffin buried, than to go with them, because we don’t know where we are going. Then she said okay, she would jump with me.”
Saa and her friend — two of the 300 girls Boko Haram militants awakened and violently kidnapped from a Chibok boarding school on the early morning of April 15 — courageously escaped as the caravan of trucks continued down the road. Saa recounted her ordeal during a Sept. 19 panel discussion hosted by the Hudson Institute in Washington and supported by the Jubilee Campaign for religious freedom. The 18-year-old Christian is a member of the Nigeria Church of the Brethren, where her father was a pastor.
Jumping from the truck, her friend injured her leg and was unable to walk. Saa helped her through the forest to a tree, where the two slept for the night.
“She can’t move, we don’t know what to do. Then I decide to go and look for help. … I went and I met a (Muslim) shepherd.” Saa asked him for help, but he expressed fear, recommending they wait along the road and seek help from others who might pass by on their way to market.
“Then we said, ‘But sir, you know that the bad people follow this way. Not any person will come to the market today because they were afraid. … Then he decided to help us, and he carried my friend on his bicycle.” With the farmer’s help, Saa and her friend returned to Chibok.
“When we come home, I met my parents crying. [All my] relatives are crying because what happened. Then, after that, the time they saw me, they were happy, they were jumping, because of what’s happening.”
As many as 75 girls escaped during the days and weeks following the kidnapping, with perhaps 220 still missing. At least one of the girls has been killed as a suicide bomber, Nigerian American attorney and panelist Emmanuel Ogebe said.
Nigerian security officials are reportedly engaged in talks to free the girls, according to news reports. The International Committee of the Red Cross has assisted in talks with Nigerian security officials and Boko Haram militants to negotiate the freedom of the girls in exchange for the release of Boko Haram prisoners, the Telegraph reported Thursday, Sept. 18. But no deal has been reached. The talks were held in one of Nigeria’s maximum security prisons where some Boko Haram leaders are being held.
Since Saa escaped within 24 hours of being kidnapped, she was not able to learn where the girls were being taken. But she does recall that the jihadists questioned some of the girls about their faith, particularly three girls who would not fit on the trucks and were allowed to walk back home. Among them was one of Saa’s Christian friends who denied her faith.
“I was shocked and I was very sad that she said that she was a Muslim. … I’m thinking at that time that maybe if they killed her … what was she going to say to the Lord in Heaven? I was shocked and I was very sad at that time.”
Within a month of the kidnapping, Boko Haram released a video of girls dressed in Muslim hijabs who were reportedly the same girls kidnapped from Chibok. Saa confirmed that at least one of her classmates was on the video.
“Yes, they were Christian girls, because the one that stand at the front, she was a Christian, and she was … in our FCS (Fellowship of Christian Students),” Saa said, her eyes tearing. “And she’s the one standing in the front saying all rubbish things of Muslims.”
Boko Haram is adopting ISIS tactics, said Nina Shea, director of Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom. Boko Haram has established Islamic caliphates in much of northeastern Nigeria.
“As far as the killings go … they’re occurring on a constant basis as Boko Haram becomes more well-armed and grows,” Shea said. “The Catholic Bishop (Oliver) Doeme of Borno today (Sept. 19) is quoted in the Vatican Press as saying that there is clear confirmation that Islamization is occurring in northeastern Nigeria and probably with the intent of targeting all of Nigeria. He acknowledged that Muslims are attacked as well, those who do not abide by Boko Haram’s dictates are targeted, but that Christians are bearing the brunt of this.
“What is going on is very brutal religious cleansing and it’s occurring as we speak … in northeastern Nigeria.”