A Nigerian schoolgirl will tell the House of Lords today of her terrifying ordeal during one of the biggest ever mass abductions carried out by the Boko Haram terrorist sect.
Victoria Yohanna, 15, [pictured above] was one of more than 400 people taken prisoner during an attack by a Boko Haram raiding party on the north-east Nigerian town of Baga on the shores of Lake Chad in January.
Their captors ordered them to convert to Islam on pain of death, and tried to marry them off as bush-wives to Boko Haram fighters.
Victoria, who managed to escape, will describe her experiences to an audience at the House of Lords at an event to mark the launch of a major new report on the persecution of Christians worldwide. It has been compiled by the charity Aid to the Church in Need.
It is believed to be the first time that one of Boko Haram’s thousands of schoolgirl victims has travelled to Britain to give evidence about their ordeal. The group’s use of women as chattels and sex-slaves gained worldwide attention last year when it kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls from the north-east Nigerian town of Chibok, most of whom are still missing.
Displaced people from Baga in a refugee camp after the attack
The report highlights the plight of Christians in both Africa and the Middle East in the face of murderous campaigns by Islamic extremists.
It says that Africa’s Christian community – one of the few where the church is still thriving worldwide – is now under serious threat thanks to Boko Haram in Nigeria and al-Shabaab in Kenya.
It also warns that if the current flight of Christians from Iraq continues at its current pace, the country could have no Christians left in five years time.
Speaking to the Telegraph ahead of the report’s launch, Victoria told how she was seized along with her mother and five siblings when Boko Haram attacked Baga just after New Year. The raiding party had split into three separate groups of “shooters, looters and recruiters” – the first to fight Nigerian troops, the second to rob local banks and shops, and the third to kidnap new recruits for the “Caliphate”.
“Every morning they took the hostages for training at Islamic school. They would say the Koran is the religion God had for you.” – Victoria Yohanna, 15
“We heard shooting and the sound of bombs in the early hours of the morning, and at first I thought it was the Nigerian army trying to protect us,” she said. “Then I realised it was Boko Haram. Those Boko Haram members whose duty is to take women and children for their caliphate took our entire family and made us walk on foot to one of their camps.”
En route, she said, she saw numerous corpses of people who had been killed and beheaded by the group, with bullet cases “scattered like raindrops” everywhere.
She then spent two weeks at a makeshift Boko Haram camp in the outskirts of Baga, which by then was completely in the militants’ hands.
“Every morning they took the hostages for training at Islamic school. They would say the Koran is the religion God had for you,” she added.
Victoria said she was able to fool the militants into thinking she was a Muslim by pretending to perform the “buta”, a Hausa word that describes the ritual handwashing that local Muslims before prayer. There were Muslim captives among the hostages who knew she was a Christian but they chose not to tell the militants, she said.
She and the rest of her family eventually escaped one night when the fighters went out to kidnap more people. “I knew what had happened to the Chibok schoolgirls and was very scared,” she added. “Were it not for God we would probably all be dead by now”.
Victoria has been accompanied to the UK by Father Gideon Obasogie, a priest in the city of Maiduguri, where she is now living.
Victoria and Father Gideon Obasogie
He said that when he had first met her, she found it impossible to relate her ordeal without breaking down in tears. “The church has been trying to organise counselling sessions for these victims of Boko Haram,” he said. “Simply offering them confessional is not enough.”