470 Nigerian schoolgirls have reportedly been rescued from Boko Haram by civil rights leader I. G. Wala.
Last year, Boko Haram’s abduction of 279 schoolgirls from Chibok inspired the world to get involved, with the popular Bring Back Our Girls movement and its accompanying hashtag. The organization’s name translates to “Western Education is Forbidden,” and they have repeatedly abducted children who have reported maltreatment, emotional abuse, and sex slavery at their hands. Young boys have been forced to fight alongside their captors, and women and girls have been taken as wives or laborers, according to Uganda’s daily newspaper, New Vision.
Ibrahim Garuba Wala, more commonly known as I. G. Wala, is a well-known civil rights figure in Nigeria and the leader of the National Consensus Movement, which campaigns against the “insensitivity of the Federal Government of Nigeria” toward people who have suffered “unimaginable atrocities and calamities.” He’s also an active participant in the Bring Back Our Girls campaign, writes Jonathan Miller.
As Robyn Pennacchia reports, the 470 schoolgirls were living at the Federal Government College in the town of Bajoga when it was attacked by Boko Haram. I. G. Wala was on the phone with a desperate teacher and overheard the attack. “I could hear the teachers screaming at the girls just to drop everything and run. All I could think of was the girls from Chibok and I knew that we could not let this happen again.”
The Nigerian military did not intervene at Wala’s request because of the danger, but they did provide Wala with two escort vehicles. The girls and their caretakers ran 15km without water, most of them barefoot, through dusty territory that was being bombed from above by military aircraft. Wala arranged a rendezvous with vans from the state capital, Gombe, 50km away. By the time they arrived safely at the vans, many girls were dehydrated, one was injured from stepping on a spike, and some were being carried on the backs of the rescuers.
Nigerian media has not reported much on this event, and the military refuses to even confirm that it happened, but I. G. Wala has provided photographs and video proof. The eyewitness testimony of the speaker of the Gombe State Assembly, Inuwa Garba, has also confirmed these events.
Wala said of the incident, “I had a sense of accomplishment on completing this task. After the whole thing, what is important is that whenever you feel that you just have to do something, you just have to do it, regardless of risk.”
The Gombe area has suffered a few Boko Haram attacks since the events in Bajoga, including a car bomb explosion (narrowly missing President Goodluck Jonathan) that killed one and wounded seven, and the day before, a suicide bomber killed five and wounded eight.