Fresh findings have emerged that the dreaded Islamic group, Boko Haram captured hundreds of children from a remote town in Northeast Nigeria in late 2014 but initial calls to report the kidnapping were ignored with locals fearful of the government’s response.
Over 300 children were among the 500 girls, boys and women taken from Damasak by the nefarious death cult on Monday November 24, 2014, a local government administrator, a chief and an elderly resident confirmed to AFP on Wednesday.
It was gathered that the numbers of those abducted surpassed even the 276 schoolgirls who were taken from Chibok in April the same year, which drew global outrage.
However, the previous administration in March 2015 denied reports of the Damasak kidnapping while a local senator and a senior intelligence source also doubted the claim.
On Wednesday, March 30, an administrator, whose seven-year-old child was among those abducted, said:
“We kept quiet on the kidnap out of fear of drawing the wrath of the government, which was already grappling with the embarrassment of the kidnap of the Chibok schoolgirls.
“Every parent was afraid to speak out.”
“Locals who managed to flee alerted their political representatives in the Nigerian Senate and House of Representatives but “they kept mute and ignored us”, he said on condition of anonymity.
“The government didn’t want the news out,” he said, explaining that the decision to speak out publicly came after Human Rights Watch (HRW) highlighted the case on Tuesday.
— Human Rights Watch (@hrw) March 29, 2016
Similarly, the local chief, who pleaded anonymity, said:
“They went to the private school and Islamic seminaries and carted away children as young as five.”
“They also went into town and forcibly seized children from their mothers, children too old to be breastfed. My 16 nephews were among the children kidnapped. They were aged between five and 16.”
Hundreds fled across the river that separates Damasak from Diffa in neighbouring Niger but many drowned, he said, adding that he returned to bury “over 200 dead bodies in mass graves”.
Also confirming the abduction, the Damasak elder said the insurgents killed more than 200 in the initial attack, which happened on a market day.
Findings by HRW from multiple interviews showed that the schoolchildren who were abducted – age between seven to 17 – were initially kept at a primary school, which was then turned into a military base.
However, on March 2015, troops from Chad and Niger liberated Damasak and discovered about 100 bodies in a mass grave under a bridge on the edge of the town.
Countless bodies, including of women and children, were found the following month on the streets, in houses and in the dried-up river.
The reports from HRW and AFP underline the brutality by the Boko Haram sect that has claimed an estimated 20,000 lives and made more than 2.6 million people homeless since its inception in 2009.
This might lead to fresh questions about the previous government’s negligent handling of the insurgency, after its response to the Chibok abduction was condemned as slow and lacklustre.
Nearly two years on, 219 schoolgirls are still being held captive in the dungeon of the Islamic cult.