Heartbroken parents Yussuf and Habiba Tijjani can do little but wait – and pray – for news of daughter Zara

 

 

The kidnapping of 110 girls from a school in the north-eastern Nigerian town of Dapchi bears striking similarities to the 2014 abduction of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok – right down to the contradictory information from the authorities. The BBC’s Stephanie Hegarty went to the town to visit the school and meet families of those missing children.

The grounds of the boarding school in Dapchi town are eerily quiet. Instead of the high-pitched chatter of 900 schoolgirls, there’s only the bleating of goats as they wander through empty classrooms.

Thirteen-year-old Fatima Awaal is walking down the dusty path. She walks past a littering of rubber sandals, lost by girls as they ran away on Monday 19 February.

When the militants from the Boko Haram Islamist group attacked, she was in her boarding house with her best friend Zara. They were just about to have dinner when they heard the gunshots.

“One of our teachers told us to come out,” she said “And that’s when we saw the gunfire shooting through the sky.”

The militants were coming from the far end of the compound, firing in the air.

Falmata, Zara’s sister, says she cannot stop crying

 

Sitting on a mat outside their house, Zara’s mother and father showed us some of her schoolbooks, her name scribbled over and over across the pages. Her favourite subject was business, her friend Fatima had told me. “Yes,” her proud father said, pointing to the teacher’s full marks etched in red on the pages.

“She’s a good girl, so caring,” mother Habiba said. “We are very close but now we’ve lost her. My heart is breaking. She’s my daughter and I don’t know where she is or who she is with.”

‘The children of poor men’

Zara is just one of 110 girls who were taken that night. All around the small town of Dapchi, families are grieving.

Like the Manugalawans. Eighteen-year-old Hafsat was in school that night when she heard the gunshots, grabbed her 15-year-old sister Hauwa, and ran.

“The Boko Haram man was shouting at us to stop, he said he would shoot but we kept running,” she said.

Hafsat paid the words no heed. They ran towards a perimeter fence and she told her younger sister to climb first. But when she got to the other side, Hauwa was gone.

 

Zara’s parents were proud to show off her books and high marks

 

Their mother Joloni Mohamed is angry. “I can’t put in words how I’m feeling,” she said. “Only God knows.”

“At the beginning we were told that our daughters were rescued, that they were on our way back to us,” she said. “That was the hardest part.”

She was referring to an announcement by the governor of Yobe State two days after the attack, claiming that some girls had been rescued. The following day the governor addressed parents, admitting that the rescue had never happened.

Standing outside as we spoke to Joloni was yet another anguished relative: Her next-door neighbour Aisha Isa Kalallawa. She was holding her phone, waiting to show us pictures of the three sisters she lost – Maryam, Fatima and Falamatu. The youngest was 14, the oldest 17.

On every corner of this small town there is a sad story.

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