Nigerian missing girls: Families sleep in the bushes, fearing more attacks

Parents doubt Nigerian government
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Story highlights

  • A father says despite officials' claims, he has seen no military presence
  • Parents and children sleep in the bushes, fearing more attacks by Boko Haram
  • The father has searched for the girls himself, venturing out with bow and arrow
  • Mother: Our daughters have been adopted or captured as slaves

He ventures into the forest looking for his daughters, armed with bow and arrow in case the terrorists surprise him.

The odds are stacked against him. No one has found the 276 girls abducted from their school last month by the terror group Boko Haram.

But then again, no one's really been looking, the father says.

That night of horror

The father's voice shakes as he recalls the night his two daughters were snatched from their dormitory at an all-girls school in Nigeria.

It began with an explosion so loud that it shook buildings in the northern village of Chibok, waking the girls' family. That was quickly followed by the sound of gunfire echoing into the dark night.

By the time father made it to the Government Girls Secondary School, the militants had already opened fire on security guards and set buildings on fire.

Unarmed, there was nothing the father could do but watch ... and wait.

"When I went into the school compound, nobody will ever stand it," said the father, who is not being identified for fear of reprisals from attackers or the government.

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A policeman stand beside children holding as members of Lagos based civil society groups hold rally calling for the release of missing Chibok school girls at the state government house, in Lagos, Nigeria, on May 5, 2014. Boko Haram on Monday claimed the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls in northern Nigeria that has triggered international outrage, threatening to sell them as "slaves". "I abducted your girls, " the Islamist group's leader Abubakar Shekau said in the 57-minute video obtained by AFP, referring to the 276 students kidnapped from their boarding school in Chibok, Borno state, three weeks ago.

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Map: Where the girls were kidnapped

"You will see their dresses cut out all over. And the hostel and dormitory, everything was bombed into ashes. So this man told us they have gone with our daughters. We couldn't believe him."

Armed members of Boko Haram attacked the school on April 14, overpowering the guards and herding the girls onto waiting trucks, according to accounts of that night.

The trucks disappeared with the girls into the dense forest bordering Cameroon, a stronghold for the terror group whose name translates to "Western education is sin" in the local Hausa language.

That's where the story gets hazy.

Mixed messages from the government

There are questions about just how many girls were taken, with varying reports putting that number between 230 to 276, depending on who is talking.

In the days after the attack, the military said all the girls had been released or rescued. But after the girls' families began asking where their daughters were, the military retracted the statement.

This much the father knows for sure: His two daughters are among those still in captivity after almost a month.

Nigerian officials have defended their response and said they are searching.

"We've done a lot -- but we are not talking about it," presidential spokesman Doyin Okupe said. "We're not Americans. We're not showing people, you know, but it does not mean that we are not doing something."

But the father scoffed at the government's response.

"We have never seen any military man there," he said.

"Had it been military men who went into the bush to rescue our daughters, we would have seen them."

'We can't let this be the new normal'

Terrorists fill the void

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Boko Haram, on the other hand, is entrenched in the region.

The father believes that either supporters or members of Boko Haram live in his village.

They know his family, the father says. They know about his daughters.

The family is so afraid, he says, that they have fled their home and taken to sleeping in the bush.

"Life is very dangerous in Chibok right now. Since on 14th of April, to date, we don't sleep at home," the father said.

They're not alone. The father said that starting around 5 or 6 o'clock in the evening, "people will disappear into the bush because there is no security."

"We sleep in the bush with all of our little ones," he said.

A violent force, a mother's plea

Boko Haram is a ruthless, powerful force.

The group says its goal is to impose stricter enforcement of Sharia law across Africa's most populous nation, which is split between a majority Muslim north and a mostly Christian south.

Under its version of Sharia law, women should be at home raising children and looking after their husbands, not at school learning to read and write.

A video that surfaced this week showed a man claiming to be the group's leader saying he will sell the hundreds kidnapped girls.

"I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah," said a man claiming to be Abubakar Shekau. "There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women."

The mother of the two girls had little response, just tears.

"Most of the women, we mothers, we started crying because had no one to help us," she said. "Our daughters (have) been adopted or captured as slaves. Now ... we cannot even eat."

This isn't the parents' first experience with Boko Haram. They adopted one of their two daughters after her parents were killed by the terrorist group.

The mother begs for the girls' freedom, away from a lifetime of abuse and slavery.

"They don't know, probably one of them are born a president or doctor or pastor or a lawyer who will be helpful to the country," she said. "Why would they molest these little ones? Please ... release them."

READ: Nigeria's government defends its actions as more girls are abducted

READ: Boko Haram: The essence of terror

READ: CNN The Freedom Project: Six reasons we need to care about the abduction