Leah Sharibu escaped from her captors and roamed for three days with two other girls before she was captured and sent back to captivity, Aisha Ibiwa, her friend and classmate said to the Guardian newspaper in an interview. “She didn’t tell us she was leaving. We thought she was just going round the corner, but she sneaked out along with Maryam and Amira [her classmates].”
Leah, the only Christian among the 110 schoolgirls kidnapped by Al-Barnawi’s faction of the Islamic jihadi Boko Haram terror group on 19 February, was said to have escaped her captors but the 15-year-old could not make her way back to Dapchi from where they had been abducted.
Leah, who, according to her school mates, refused to renounce her Christian faith and convert to Islam, was held back by her captors when the other school-girls, all Muslims, were released.
When Leah and the other two girls had walked for three days, and were hungry and exhausted, they met a nomadic Fulani family and asked for help to get back to Dapchi. But the Fulani only scolded them and took them back to Al-Barnawi, their kidnappers.
“The Fulani man said to them: ‘So you are the missing girls that we’ve heard about on the radio.’ (recognizing them as the Dapchi schoolgirls spoken about on local radio) He gave them a jerrycan filled with cow’s milk and brought them back,” said Hajara Adamu, another girl held by Boko Haram . “Leah and her group weren’t flogged. They [Boko Haram] said it was because they had suffered a lot while trying to escape”, she added.
Hajara herself had tried to escape but was caught when she asked some local women for directions. She was whipped and made to squat and leap like a frog back to the camp with a gun at her back, she reported. “They started laughing at us and even insulting us, saying that we wanted to go back to the land of unbelievers.” Hajara, and any who tried to escape, were given ten strokes each.
Another girl was beaten with a branch from a thorn tree, before the kidnappers changed to a leather whip. Hajara, however, and some of her friends, wrapped blankets under their hijabs to reduce the impact. “It wasn’t painful, but we had to pretend it was, but not cry, because they said whoever cried would get twice as many strokes,” she said .
Narrating how some of the girls died, another of the kidnapped girls, Fatima Abdullahi, said when they were kidnapped the terrorists piled them up in a truck and some of the girls were trampled on and suffocated. “They were saying ‘Pull us up or we’ll die,’ but I couldn’t help them. They just threw us all into the vehicle, that’s why we were piled up like that. I was lucky that someone pulled me up.”
Their kidnappers paid no attention to the screaming from the girls and five died as they travelled through the night. “In the early morning, they dug a hole and put their bodies in it. They didn’t give them an Islamic burial, and they didn’t pray,” Hajara said.
They hid during the day and were moved by night. The girls said they were forced through shrubs and where they came to a stream they walked up to their necks through the water. They hiked for hours through forest, before being rowed on wooden canoes to board the biggest boat the girls had ever seen.
The girls said they finally arrived at a village called Tumbu Gini in Tabdichadi, meaning “water of Lake Chad”, in the Lake Chad region, near the border with Cameroon and Chad. It was a place covered by lots of trees and from time to time they watched aircraft circle overhead.
At the camp, they had only two guards. They met the “the Khalifa” a tall, dark-skinned, youngish man with a long beard, suspected to be Al-Barnawi himself, the son of the founder of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf. Al-Barnawi was endorsed by ISIS in 2016 to be the leader of Boko Haram, a move which split the group into two as Abubakar Shekau was not ready to relinquish his position as the leader.
Al-Barnawi, the girls said , came weekly to see them during their four weeks in captivity and would preach to them. He reassured them that they would not stay in captivity for long. “We don’t have any issue with you – our issue is with the government,” Hajara remembered him saying. “They’ve taken our men. Don’t worry, you’ll all go home soon.’ He’d take off his balaclava and say: ‘You shouldn’t go back to Nigeria. It’s a country of sinners and unbelievers. When you go back, convince your parents to come back here to the Islamic caliphate with you.’”
They were freed after a negotiation by the Nigerian government in which money was paid and Boko Haram terrorists were released, according to reports which the government denies. The girls came back with the small container of milk Leah was given by the Fulani family when they took her back to captivity after her escape. They still have it and want to give it to Leah’s mother whenever they meet.