Africa

Escaping Boko Haram: How three Nigeria girls found safety

  • 27 October 2014
  • From the section Africa

For six months the world has waited for news of the fate of more than 200 girls abducted by Nigerian militant group Boko Haram. As the Nigerian government insists a deal to release the "Chibok girls" is being negotiated, three girls who escaped their captors have told their story to BBC Hausa.

Lami, Maria and Hajara were at school in Chibok, north-eastern Nigeria, when they were kidnapped in April. Best friends Lami and Maria escaped by jumping from the back of a truck. Hajara was taken to a camp but later fled with another girl.

To protect the girls' identity we have portrayed their story as an animation, and provided an edited transcript of their account below.

The girls' names have been changed for their protection.

Animation by Luis Ruibal.

The BBC's 100 Women season runs online, on BBC World News TV and on BBC World Service radio from 27-29 October.

Lami: It was Monday night. We had exams the following day. Then we started to hear shootings in the town. So we went out. We phoned our parents to tell them what was happening in the town. They told us to run away when we got the chance. We told them that the town was already surrounded so there was no way we could run.

Maria: Lami woke me up saying: "Maria didn't you hear what's happening? Haven't you heard sounds of shooting from the town?"

I said we should climb the wall and run away. She said: "No. No-one has run away. We should gather in one place and wait to see what's going to happen."

Other girls said nothing would happen to us. "We're girls. They don't do anything to girls. We should wait and see what God would do."

Lami: We were at the school when suddenly three Boko Haram members entered.

They said: "If any of you attempt to leave we'll kill all of you." When we went out they were everywhere. They gathered us where we have our school assembly. As we were there they kept burning the school. They burnt everything.

Hajara: They asked us to get out of the gate, saying that when we were out they would let us go back to our homes. They said whoever did not have a headscarf or shoes should go and get them. They then asked us to climb on to a lorry, on top of the food loaded in it. The lorry was so high that we couldn't easily climb on.

Maria: They said to us: "You're only coming to school for prostitution. Boko (Western education) is haram (forbidden) so what are you doing in school?"

We kept quiet. I think there could have been about 100 Boko Haram members - they were all over the school. They outnumbered us. They took us away in their vehicles. We were sitting on oil drums in the vehicle. Our vehicle was really overloaded. We were saying to one another that we should throw away our shoes and scarves so that if our parents came they would know the road we had taken.

Hajara: The vehicle became full before I could get on. There were about 100 of us walking. We stopped at one town and people brought us water. I saw one of those who brought us water changed his clothes and joined the Boko Haram men. They then put us in other vehicles.

They put the rest in the boots of cars. Some of the Boko Haram members were so small that if I were to grab their necks I could break them. Some couldn't even carry their guns properly.

Maria: We were wondering where we were being taken to. When we entered the vehicle, Lami said to me: "Shouldn't we jump out of the vehicle here so that we may possibly escape? There are no other vehicles close by."

Hajara: I thought, it's preferable to have these people shoot me as I run than have them humiliate me. They kept saying to us: "Make sure you put on your scarves. Make sure you put on your scarves. We'll shoot any girl we see without a scarf. And any girl who jumps out will die."

I was about to jump out when one girl held me back and said they'd shoot me if I did.

"What's the difference," I said. "Is it not to the same death we're going? They should shoot me here and let my corpse be collected."

I was crying and praying until we reached the camp.

Lami: There was a lot of dust on the road, they couldn't see us. When we jumped out, we started to run. We were running without shoes. We found other people. We started to run away from them thinking they were Boko Haram. But they too had run from the town.

Hajara: Boko Haram gathered us in a forest around noon. Some of the girls were tired and were lying down. But I couldn't lie down. The spirit of God was asking me to go. It was telling me: "Get up and go. Get up and go."

So I went. Another girl followed me. When we were going I saw some of them [Boko Haram members] performing ablutions. We stooped as if we were trying to pull out thorns from our shoes, as if we were just going to wee. We'd walk a little then bend down for a little while as if we were looking for something we'd lost.

After walking for a while they couldn't see us properly since it was forest. We then started to run. After we had run for a short distance, we heard them saying "catch those girls." We kept running. Whether they came after us not, we didn't know.

Hajara: We kept going and our shoes were ripped. We found a house, where a girl could speak Hausa. Her parents gave us a place to sleep. We reached the Chibok area in the morning. A man looking for a relative among the missing girls drove us on motorbike into town.

When I saw my elder and younger brothers, I fell to the ground crying. My mother and father were crying and all members of my family cried. Before I reached home it was as if there was a death in the house. Mats were spread. People were consoling my father and mother thinking that I had died.


Who are Boko Haram?

  • Founded in 2002
  • Initially focused on opposing Western education - Boko Haram means "Western education is forbidden" in the Hausa language
  • Launched military operations in 2009 to create Islamic state
  • Thousands killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria - also attacked police and UN headquarters in capital, Abuja
  • Some three million people affected
  • Declared terrorist group by US in 2013

Who are Boko Haram?

Profile: Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau

Will 'truce' with Boko Haram free Chibok girls?


Lami: The people we met said: "Your town is far away. You can't go there now. Come here and wait until morning when we'll take you into the town to get transport back home." We stayed there till morning when they asked us to get up so that we go to the town. We couldn't walk. Our feet were full of thorns.

They said: "Let's go find a vehicle to take you home."

Maria: The men who helped us took us to Chibok, and I cried. It was the second time that something like that had happened to me. My dad was a pastor; Boko Haram went to our house and killed him. They also shot my mum in the stomach; they gave her 2,000 Naira ($12) to have the bullet.

Lami: My parents warmed up water and cared for my feet. I was taken to the hospital and it was two weeks before I could stand up.

Maria: I continued to live with the thought that Boko Haram members were coming to get me. I couldn't sleep.

Hajara: I was having nightmares every day. There was even a day when I dreamed that they gathered all of us who fled in one place, and said to us: "You girls have defied us and fled. We're now going to burn you alive."

I haven't forgotten about the other girls who are still in the hands of those people. I keep praying for them.

Lami: God will never make us meet these people again. And for our sisters who are still in the forest, may God help them. And may the whole world cry out for these girls to get out so that we continue with our education in school again.

Maria: They should pray to God to forgive them their sins. I'd also ask them to bring back the girls they have kidnapped because their parents are in distress. Some of the parents of the girls have already died. It was the thought of their girls that killed them.

Hajara: God will do what he wills, but I don't want to look at them because of what they have done to my life. They think they've ruined me, but God willing, they haven't ruined me. I'll continue with my education.