Girl held by Boko Haram: 'I'd have shot at rescuers'

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Story highlights

  • One girl freed from Boko Haram told Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani she relished her life with the Islamist group
  • Nwaubani: The Chibok girls could very well have metamorphosed into our enemies

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani is a Nigerian novelist, humorist, essayist and journalist. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)In February 2016, I interviewed 16-year-old Zara John, who was freed from Boko Haram by the Nigerian military in March 2015. She told me how much she relished her life with the Islamist militant commander to whom she was married off while in captivity for about a year, how he had taken care of her and provided all her needs.

"If I had a gun when the Nigerian military came to rescue me, I would have shot at the soldiers," she says.
    There are any number of reasons why a teenager would feel this way about a man who was part of a group that razed her home before abducting her and several other girls, women and children in her community.
    It could be Stockholm syndrome, or puppy love, or simply a case of a girl who, for the first time in her life as a young female in the hinterlands of northeast Nigeria, found a life purpose other than cooking and cleaning and babysitting for her family: she was part of a group which planned to take over the world.
    Whatever the case, Zara was clearly not the trembling sex-slave that many other rescued girls are reported to have been.

    The wait continues

    April 14 marks two years since nearly 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram from their school dormitory in Chibok, northeast Nigeria, sparking off the global "Bring Back Our Girls" campaign.
    Many Nigerian activists were thrown into a state of panic last month, when a suspected female suicide bomber claimed to be one of the missing Chibok girls after she was arrested in Cameroon. Official investigations eventually revealed that the 12-year-old was not from Chibok but abducted from Bama in northeastern Nigeria by Boko Haram a year ago.
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    However, as the world continues to await and advocate the return of the missing schoolgirls, we must also be prepared to face the hard fact that some of them might be in an even more dangerous state of mind than Zara was at the time of her rescue. The Chibok girls could very well have metamorphosed into our enemies, ready to fire guns and detonate bombs.
    Some of the Chibok schoolgirls who escaped by jumping off the trucks which ferried the abducted students from their dormitory to the Sambisa forest stronghold of Boko Haram were generously offered scholarships at the American University of Nigeria, Yola.
    Another batch was given the opportunity to leave Nigeria and continue their education in the United States. There must be scores of other eager benefactors waiting for the still missing Chibok girls to be found so that they can be whisked away to safety in America, land of freedom and boundless dreams.

    'Agent of death'

    The world obviously exalts the girls from Chibok above the other thousands of girls who have been kidnapped by Boko Haram from other parts of northeast Nigeria, and the Islamist militants must have noticed. Boko Haram could very well decide to grant us our wish and release the missing girls, using the opportunity to unleash terror across the globe.
    The group's tactics have included suicide bombings using young girls with explosives strapped beneath their flowing hijabs. During such an attack on a refugee camp in the northeast Nigeria town of Dolori in February 2016, which left dozens dead, one of the three girls changed her mind about detonating the explosives strapped to her torso after she identified members of her family among those in the camp.
    Clearly, she was fully aware of her role as an agent of death. And when I commiserated with Zara over the process by which her Boko Haram husband tattooed his name on her stomach in Arabic, she assured me that she was willing to bear the pain of the sharp knife and charcoal after the man explained his reasons for the tattoo: to forever mark her as a commander's wife, to ensure that no one would maltreat her even if he never returned from battle, to enable him identify her no matter how much time passed.
    Who knows what plausible explanation these sweet-tongued murderers may be feeding young girls to justify blowing themselves up and taking dozens of lives along? It is probably similar to the rhetoric which persuades young girls in Western countries to abandon home to go and join ISIS.
    Without a doubt, not all the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram think or feel like Zara did. Many are surely living in hell, longing to be reunited with their families. Nevertheless, the world's plans for receiving the missing Chibok girls whenever they are freed must extend further than offering them a better life. Any brainwashing must be detected and reversed.
    Now is the time to start articulating a detailed plan for the de-radicalization of the Chibok girls before they are reintegrated into society.