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Amid Calls To Ramp Up Fight Against Boko Haram, UN Ambassador Meets Girl Escapees


Nigeria's president says his country is making progress in the fight against Boko Haram. The victims of the group still live in fear and don't see an end to violence. This week, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, visited the town of Yola in eastern Nigeria. She met with some of the women who escaped, and NPR's Michele Kelemen was with her.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Twenty-six-year-old Husseina Jidda nurses her 7-month-old while describing her escape from Boko Haram.

HUSSEINA JIDDA: I will go. I will pack all my provisions to carry - to run with my small baby.

KELEMEN: Her child died crossing a river and Jidda had to leave the body behind. Four of her nieces have been abducted by Boko Haram. One of them has since escaped, and Jidda says, in her own language, Housa, that some villagers point fingers at her niece, calling her baby a Boko Haram son.

JIDDA: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: And sometimes she cries and tell them it's not her fault. She is a victim.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (Foreign language spoken).

KELEMEN: At one of the refugee camps here, 51-year-old Fatima Hassan stands in the kitchen hut, describing her four and a half months in captivity

FATIMA HASSAN: I worked for them. We cooked in the kitchen.

KELEMEN: She says the younger girls were forced into marriage. No one we met would speak openly about rape. Hassan says one militant actually helped her escape. She still doesn't know if her husband is alive.

HASSAN: I don't have a shelter. My shelter has been burned to ashes. If I go back home, I have nowhere to sleep.

KELEMEN: The Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, still insists the tide is turning in this war.

MUHAMMADU BUHARI: I think the people on the ground know the progress we have made.

KELEMEN: Activist Oby Ezekwesiki says at least Nigerian troops are no longer fleeing.

OBY EZEKWESIKI: We feel much more persuaded. I mean, the greatest shock for us as citizens was to see our military, our soldiers, running away from Boko Haram at a time that we were saying get them.

KELEMEN: She leads the Bring Back Our Girls campaign, which is pushing the government to find the 219 Chibok schoolgirls abducted two years ago. She's also advocating for a plan to rehabilitate boys and girls brainwashed by Boko Haram.

EZEKWESIKI: This is a tough moment for our country. Even if we finished winning this war, it's going to be with us for a while because we're going to have to win the war of the psyche.


KELEMEN: In a classroom at the American University of Nigeria, which is in Yola, Power met with the few of the Chibok girls who got away. The ones who jumped from the truck, says Boko Haram, carted away their classmates two years ago.

POWER: People admire you and your hunger for learning. It's become very symbolic, kind of like Malala.

KELEMEN: Several smiled as they were compared to the Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize winner and two spoke about their ambitions to become doctors and return to Chibok. For many Nigerians, though, aid is in short supply. Thirty-two-year-old Maria Saidu is struggling to rebuild her life after spending more than a year with the militants, badly beaten and traumatized.

MARIA SAIDU: (Foreign language spoken).

KELEMEN: "No one helped me," she says, except for the person who gave her the dress she was wearing. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Yola, Nigeria. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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