By Mark Ellis
She was only 18, a high school senior, when she was awakened from her school dormitory at 11:34 p.m. by the sounds of gunfire. The terror group Boko Haram had overrun Chibok and was headed for her school.
“I called my father and he said we should not go anywhere,” says Saa, a pseudonym used for her protection. “He said we should gather ourselves together and pray so God will help us.” Saa is a Christian and her father is the pastor of Nigeria Church of the Brethren.
Her riveting testimony was given at a September 19th forum hosted by the Hudson Institute and supported by the Jubilee Campaign for religious freedom.
When Boko Haram entered the school on the evening of April 14th, the teachers and staff had already fled. When the gun-toting extremists entered her dorm room, Saa didn’t realize at first it was Boko Haram – but that soon became clear.
“They said if we shouted or tried to run away they would kill us. We didn’t know what to do. We were scared. A girl showed them where we kept our food, because it was a boarding school. They packed the food on large trucks and all the property. They gathered us near the gates and started bombing the school,” she recounts.
The girls were herded under a large tree and then loaded into trucks. “They said if we didn’t want to go they will kill us,” Saa says.
Three girls would not fit on the trucks and the jihadists questioned them about their faith. An intense verbal altercation erupted between the jihadists over whether to free or kill the three. One of them felt strongly any non-Muslim should die.
Saa was dismayed when she witnessed one of the three – a Christian friend — deny 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.” The jihadists allowed the three girls to walk away without harm.
The other schoolgirls were packed tightly inside the trucks and they rolled away into the darkness.
As they moved down the road, Saa was startled to see a few girls jump from the back of the trucks. Saa wondered if she should try to escape herself.
“I told my friend that I decided to jump down from the trucks. I’d rather die and 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.” They were moving through a forested area.
Saa summoned all her courage and flung herself out the back. Then her friend jumped behind her, but landed badly, injuring her leg so she was unable to walk. Saa grabbed her under the shoulder and helped her off the road a short ways into the forest. The two spent the night under a tree.
The next morning her friend couldn’t move and Saa didn’t know what to do. “I decide to go and look for help. As she walked down the road, she was surprised to meet a shepherd.
“Will you help me?” she asked. The shepherd told her to wait along the road and seek help from others who might pass by on their way to market.
“But sir, you know that bad people follow this way. Not any person will come to the market today because they are afraid.”
The shepherd studied Saa carefully. “I will help you,” he said. He put Saa’s friend on his bicycle and they headed down the road.
When they reached the village, they ran into people looking for their kidnapped daughters who said they would help Saa and her friend return to Chibok. The good shepherd left them, going on his way.
“When we come home, I met my parents crying. [All my] relatives were crying because of what happened. Then, after that, the time they saw me, they were happy, they were jumping, because of what’s happening,” she recounted.
Some of the schoolgirls escaped during the days and weeks following the kidnapping, while at least 220 are still missing. One of the schoolgirls has been used as a suicide bomber, according to Emmanuel Ogebe, an attorney who testified at the forum.
Nigerian security officials are negotiating to free the girls with the help of the Red Cross, according to news sources. A tentative deal might involve the release of Boko Haram prisoners. Negotiations have been conducted in one of Nigeria’s maximum security prisons where a few Boko Haram leaders are incarcerated.
Because Saa escaped shortly after her kidnapping, she doesn’t know where the girls were taken. Saa recognized at least one of her classmates on the video of the schoolgirls released shortly after the kidnapping.
“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, overcome with emotion. “And she’s the one standing in the front saying all rubbish things of Muslims.”
“Boko Haram has been inspired by ISIS,” said attorney Ogebe. “These are terror groups that feed off each other. They both kidnapped girls and they both declared a caliphate. A half-dozen towns have fallen recently. You see a situation where a couple hundred jihadists can overrun a town of 10,000 people. It’s scary they can do this.
“Nigeria could do more against the terrorists. But for the last two years America has been telling Nigeria, ‘Don’t fight the terrorists. This is not a military thing; this is economic. This is not jihad.’ I call it a see no jihad, hear no jihad, say no jihad strategy, so they have weakened Nigeria’s response.
“Now they are saying we’re not doing enough. It is hard to believe it is the same State Department. Boko Haram sees America as Christian and Christians as synonymous with America. They are killing those they think are affiliated with the American Christian religion. So we are all in this together.”