Chibok has no access road, and residents had long feared militant may attack cars slowed by the dilapidated road
Before the heinous attack of Monday the April 14, in which over 250 secondary schools girls were taken captives by Boko Haram militants, only a handful of Nigerians outside of Borno State knew or ever heard of Chibok, a small town in the northeast state.
But three weeks after the raid that shocked the world, Chibok, a laidback town southeast of Maiduguri, Borno State capital, has lost all of its seeming solitude and now sits at the centre of a growing global spotlight, catapulted there by an atrocious crime the world has risen to condemn.
As attention focuses on the abducted girls, it has also helped frame the narrative of a town and its people so deprived and tucked far off, almost from the Nigerian civilisation.
According to the 2006 population census, Chibok Local Government Area has a population of 66,105 people spread across an area of about 1,350 km².
For a start, there is no road access to Chibok- no single asphalted road in the entire local council area. Traveling to Chibok is like groping in the dark, drivers often say, as they and other commuters often have to meander through contoured earth-road that could best be described as footpath or cattle route.
One government driver quite conversant with the area said “It has always been like this since 1970’s when I started as a government driver; each time we are told to get set for a trip to Chibok, it was like being told to get set for a trip to hell”.
A federal highway leading to the town has remained unattended to for years. The construction of the 20 kilometre Damboa-Chibok-Mbala road was approved in September 2009, and was to cost N1.24 billion.
That decision came after previous governments planned and failed to build the road. Ali Ndume, a senator, who was then a House of Reps member representing Gwoza, Damboa, Chibok federal constituency, claimed the 2009 contract was his achievement.
In 2013, the Borno state government included Mbala-Chibok-Damboa road amongst the 2500km roads that will link 33 towns in the state. The so-called government’s “comprehensive master plan” for rural roads was to gulp a total of N36 billion.
A few earthmoving equipment deployed to the road, still lie in its dirt, but nothing more has been done by the authorities.
A home to some of Borno State’s brightest and most outstanding public servants- at state and federal level- Chibok local government has remained one of the most obscured in the troubled northeast state.
But something is unique about Chibok. It is one of the most homogenous communities in the state where the people only share a single language (Chibok). Also, the local government has an exceptionally large Christian majority population of nearly 90 percent, amongst the highest in the Muslim-dominated state.
Government Secondary School, Chibok, where more than 250 girls were abducted by the Boko Haram militants is the only secondary school in the entire local government – a situation not uncommon in other parts of the state.
The school was first established in the mid-1970s as Women Teachers College which was to serve the people of Chibok, Damboa, Askira, Uba, Ashigir, Azir and even Gwoza. The locals of Chibok had to fight it out during that period when an attempt was made by the then government to move the school to Azir, a village in present day Damboa local government area.
In 1988, following the relaxed education policy on teachers colleges, the school was converted to a Government Girls Secondary School. At that time, some of the local government areas like Askira-Uba, Damboa and Gwoza had similar secondary institutions. So the new GGSS, Chibok now served as catchment centre for students from Chibok council area and those in Askira-Uba and Damboa councils whose villages are closer to Chibok town.
In 2011, due to the lack of any other secondary school in the entire local government, which often compelled parents to send their male wards to distant schools, the state ministry of education upgraded the school to a mixed institution, where both boys and girls are allowed to study together.
“The boys are on permanent day-students arrangement, while the girls still maintain their boarding school culture; only those that are from the Chibok town are at the liberty of choosing to come from their homes,” said a teacher who asked not to be named.
The school’s relatively high population is explained by its being used by the entire local government, the staff said.
“It is not usually common to have more than 100 or 200 students sitting for exams in a single school in other parts of the state; but here we have about 530 students that sat in the last exams, and more than 70 percent of them are girls”, the teacher added.
Though there are a handful of Muslims in Chibok town, there is no record of a religious conflict there. “It has always been a one-big-family affair for us; because we are all related,” a resident said.
Unlike most of the tribes in southern Borno which are purely non-Kanuri speaking- except those in Damboa whose language has a mixed grill of Kanuri and Marghi language-, the people of Chibok share a chieftaincy tradition that is purely like those of the Kanuri. In fact, Chibok, unlike other emirates and chiefdoms of Southern Borno, is still under neo-colonial control of Borno Emirate. Its District and Village heads answer the title “Mai”, while the princes there are called “Maina”, just like the Kanuri Royal Households of Borno, Dikwa and Bama do.
Despite the proximity of the local government area to the dreaded Sambisa forest, where Boko Haram is believed to have its main operational base, attacks never occurred in Chibok until April 14.
“We have hosted people from Damboa and Izge who had to run here to take refuge after Boko Haram attacked their villages; we have not recorded any incident until the recent attack on our town and the Secondary school; it was indeed a shocking experience to us because we never expected it,” a resident, who identified himself as Amos, said.
Still, with the relative peace, apprehension about the likelihood of a future attack was rife in the community, and that fear was with the dilapidated road leading into Chibok.
Locals had worried that with the abysmal nature of the road- which ensures cars do not go beyond about 20km per hour- the thick forest by the sides of the road could serve as a hideout for insurgents who could easily spring on slow-moving vehicles.
The attack of Monday, April 14, 2014, barely took that form, according to the various accounts that have emerged. But somehow, it was the manifestation of what the community had long dreaded.
This post is supported by the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme, funded by DFID and managed by a consortium led by the British Council