We received with mixed feelings the news of the conviction of a Boko Haram terrorist involved in the infamous Chibok schoolgirl kidnappings almost 4 years ago.
While enthralled that this signals the first step in ending impunity for this notorious crime that is the world’s longest mass abduction, we are not unmindful that millions in ransoms have previously been paid and prisoners released meaning on the whole that crime does and has paid handsomely.
Secondly parents of abducted girls we are privy to query the minimality of the 15 year sentence pronounced on Haruna Yahaya a self-confessed terrorist who admitted to mass murder, abduction and an affair with a female captive which, shorn of all pretext, is a euphemism for rape.
The reported testimony from the trial raises several issues and concerns to wit:
1. The convict Yahaya admits that a schoolgirl named Maryam asked him for help escaping during the abduction but he declined claiming he himself was a conscript.
However escaped Chibok girls informed us that several of the truck drivers who drove the girls were themselves captives but intentionally drove slowly thus enabling some to escape.
Yahaya therefore had opportunity to do the same but failed.
2. Convict Yahaya says he thought of escaping with the schoolgirl Maryam but didn’t. Again there is evidence that the first escaped girl after 2 years captivity Amina Ali did so with the help of her forced husband, himself also a conscript.
Accordingly, once again Yahaya had the opportunity to do likewise but failed.
3. Convict Yahaya claims he had no choice but to kill people otherwise the terrorists would kill him.
While it is true that such coerced conscription is a trademark of Boko Haram terrorists, the fact remains that Boko Haram generally exempts the crippled as escapees whom we have interviewed have confirmed to us. Indeed several girls who courageously refused to be forced into marriage and were deployed as suicide bombers, heroically turned themselves in to the authorities. More over the principles of the Nuremberg trials that obeying a superior order to perpetrate war crimes is not a defense do not exculpate him.
Yahaya had the opportunity to be excused from terrorism, to escape or to show mercy to his victims but didn’t.
4. Convict Yahaya claims he had a “love affair” with the captive schoolgirl Maryam. However
i.In the first place, it is debatable if she were at the age of consent since many abductees were minors
ii. any notion of a consensual relationship is negatived by the very fact that she was a captive. A person in captivity cannot be ordinarily presumed to willing and voluntarily undertake any action without an implication of coercion
iii. Maryam had previously asked him for help escaping which he declined making it all the more unlikely that she would be romantically enamored by him
iv. The provision of a $12 cloth to Maryam appears to be a mind game by Convict Yahaya to justify what ordinarily would amount to the crimes of abduction and rape of a female sex slave under domestic and international law.
It is therefore clear that Maryam approached him for help but not only didn’t he do so, he expressly went out of his way to take full advantage of her.
Further to the above, additional questions arise:
5. The schoolgirl Maryam he alluded to may or not have escaped or been released. Is Convict Yahaya providing information to her family and authorities to enable her rescue?
6. Our information from interviews of escaped Chibok girls is that one Maryam Ali, a prefect, tried to stop her other schoolmates from escaping during the abduction. It is possible that she later wished to escape having seen others successfully do so.
7. Our records indicate that the Maryam Ali mentioned above escaped from Boko Haram over a year ago in November 2016. Unlike prior escapee Amina Ali, she appears not to have returned with a “husband” though she had a baby.
Our information is that she named her baby after her dad implying that whoever impregnated her did not play a role beyond that.
Accordingly we urge that:
8. The Nigerian government conduct a DNA test to ascertain if the baby of the escaped Chibok schoolgirl Maryam Ali is potentially the child of Haruna Yahaya
9. The Nigerian create an opportunity for the terror convict to apologize to the girls’ families for purposes of trauma healing
10. The sentences be increased by the inclusion of additional charges and consecutive sentencing.
i. We submit that 15 years is too small for mass terrorism and mass abduction especially of a crime that drew global outcry, opprobrium and international infamy
ii. Moreso considering that it is a continuing crime as over 100 girls have remained missing for 4 years including possibly the said Maryam. It would be unconscionable and morally reprehensible if Yahaya is released after 11 years (adjusted per Nigerian prison term calendar) and the girls remain in captivity longer
iii. Even the soldiers convicted by court-martial for failing to defend the attack on Chibok in 2014 were sentenced to 2-3 years imprisonment.
Chibok parents have expressed unhappiness with the lenient sentences.
11. While commending the government for the recent negotiated releases of abducted college professors and policewomen, they should step up efforts to release all remaining Chibok schoolgirls before the 4 year anniversary in 2 months.
12. We urge the release of the Sabo report on the Chibok abduction and remind the government to fulfill its failed promise to set up its own inquiry into the Chibok abductions which it promised over two years ago to ensure the families and public are kept informed about the situation.
ABOVE: International Human rights lawyer Emmanuel Ogebe pictured with the father of Maryam Ali (m) & Chairman Human Rights Subcommittee of the US Congress Rep Chris Smith (R) during a visit to Nigeria weeks after the Chibok abductions – Photo credit US Nigeria Law Group.
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