How we were exploited in US after escaping Boko Haram - Kauna Birtus
Kauna Bitrus and the girls have narrated their American ordeal, how they were trapped again and how they were exploited by a Nigerian human right lawyer.
Frederica Wilson with one of the Chibok girls in the United States of America.
(McClatchy Washington Bureau)
Kauna Bitrus, one of the Chibok girls that escaped from Boko Haram after kidnap has narrated how she and other girls have been exploited by a Nigerian human rights activist in the United States of America.
The young Kauna and other girls, who were awarded full scholarships and sanctuary at Christian academies in rural America, have explained their travails in the hands of their supposed 'benefactor' in the last four years.
Kauna and the girls narrated their American ordeal and how they were trapped again to the Wall Street Journal.
Escaping from Boko Haram
In 2014, Kauna had jumped out of a moving truck heading toward the Sambisa forest hideout of Boko Haram , in a desperate move to avoid the fate of the more than 200 other schoolgirls abducted from Chibok, Borno State.
She alongside other escapees had been welcomed by the Nigerian government and enrolled into a private Institution, the American University of Nigeria until Emmanuel Ogebe, a Nigerian human-rights lawyer, showed up to take their custody.
The journey to America
Ogebe, who allegedly claims he is an authority on what he termed a “Christian genocide” in Nigeria, had helped shape U.S. policy toward Africa’s most populous country, the Wall Street Journal reported.
With this 'power,' Ogebe arrived Nigeria and in a hurry, made demands of the school’s administrators to release the Chibok girls in the school's custody.
According to the report, Ogebe was accompanied by parents and pieces of paper demanding the school gives him four Chibok survivors, which include Kauna Bitrus, for weekend meetings in Abuja.
After much pressure, administrators of the American University of Nigeria reluctantly agreed to Ogebe's demand and released the girls. The girls never returned as they found their way to America.
Kauna and nine others were flown to Virginia alongside Ogebe where they were meant to study at the Mountain Mission School, a boarding school in Appalachia.
Human rights lawyer, Emmanuel Ogebe is in the centre of alleged exploitation of Chibok girls escapees in US. (Vimeo)
Ogebe's charms on prominent US dignitaries
Ogebe's calmly narrated accounts of Boko Haram murders of Christians - he rarely mentioned the sect’s more numerous killings of Muslims - won him friendships with powerful contacts.
Some of the powerful Americans that fell for Ogebe's ability to use the right words to get attention and what he wants are Republican Congressmen, Jason Chaffetz, Chris Smith and Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, a Miami Democrat.
Jacob Zenn, a widely-cited Boko Haram expert said Ogebe frames himself as the best personality to talk to when Nigeria's insurgency is concerned.
“He frames himself as a go-to-guy to talk about the insurgency. He knows the trigger words to say that will get attention to his issues in Washington,” Zenn told WSJ.
In America, the girls were split into two
After landing on the American soil,, the students split up into two groups, both sent to Christian boarding schools in rural America: the Canyonville Christian Academy, Oregon, school run by Doug Wead, the former White House adviser; and Virginia’s Mountain Mission.
Months after their arrival in the United States, Ogebe and Wead would repeatedly clash, accusing each other of using the young women for personal and political gain.
WSJ reported that Wead says the students evaded one tyrant in Nigeria only to fall into the hands of another in the U.S.
“This is a tale of girls being passed from Muslim predators in Africa to Christian predators in America,” he said.
Wead was further quoted as saying he never pressed the young women to tell their story but did tell them people would lose interest if they didn’t shop their story to filmmakers soon.
The group Kauna belonged to studied in Virginia, returning to high school for the first time since the night of their escape. They shared dorms with around 20 other students.
And Ogebe's alleged exploitation of the girls began in America
After a few days, Ogebe reportedly drove Kauna and another girl to Manhattan with sweet and lofty promises of a better life and secured future.
“He told us ‘We are going to New York, to see New York because New York is beautiful, it’s like the biggest city in America,’ ” Kauna told WSJ.
On their arrival in New York, Ogebe reportedly brought the girls to a conference room full of journalists and before they could phantom what was going on, a phalanx of cameras were flashing lights as Kauna and another student stuttered while retelling the story of their escape.
pl A Chibok girl with an American congresswoman. (Nation)
According to The Wall Street Journal, two reports written by the American schools the Chibok girls attended, as well as two undisclosed Nigerian governmental investigations alleged that Ogebe and his Nigerian associates fraudulently exploited the ex-hostages for tens of thousands of dollars.
In the last four years, the girls have changed schools more than five times as a result of Ogebe's exploits around America, using the girls to solicit funds despite the scholarship and relocation process by the Christian community.
Kauna's verdict: “There were too many lies. It’s like we were prisoners again."
“All the things that have been said about our Uncle Emmanuel are true,” said another girl.
“For those of you who gave money to him, we are sorry. There is nothing we can do about it. We forgive him,” another girl said.
The exploitation route
Ogebe took some of the girls for speaking engagements around the U.S., and later, abroad.
Though the girls' visas showed the schools were responsible for them, Ogebe laid claim as their guardian and on Sundays, Ogebe would often bring one set of Chibok students or another to a church, where donations poured in for their education.
WSJ reported further that according to the Nigerian government investigation, one online fundraiser by the Jubilee Campaign, a Virginia NGO to help religious minorities, raised about $66,000 in the first five months of their time in the U.S.
Ogebe reportedly broke ties with the charity in 2015 after he insisted he is the custodian of that money, a decision the Jubilee Campaign felt breached financial reporting rules for nonprofit organizations.
In another fund raising ceremony, Ogebe had told a raucous crowd of hundreds of evangelical Christians that he had just received a phone call from former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, thanking him for what he is doing for the girls.
When contacted, a spokesman for Brown says “Mr. Brown is absolutely not in contact or communication with this person.”
Ogebe's denial of accusations
Ogebe has denied the accusations against him saying the young Nigerians have been turned against him by other actors eager to exploit them.
The human rights lawyer said those that have turned the girls against him range from Nigeria’s government, biographers looking to publish their story and a former adviser to George H. W. Bush who took two of them to meet President Donald Trump.
As against enriching himself with proceeds of donation for the girl's schooling, accommodation and feeding in the United States of America, Ogebe says the Chibok saga ultimately left him poorer.
“This was a dirty operation and they did a lot of havoc and subterfuge. It’s heartbreaking to a philanthropist and humanitarian when you see how heartless people can be,” he said in an interview.
Ogebe is yet to be charged with any crime because he spent money housing, transporting and catering for the kids all through their travails.
The WSJ reported that in 2016, the FBI probed allegations that Ogebe committed financial fraud but didn’t pursue charges because. investigators found out that he had likely been keeping or misappropriating money he raised in the name of the Chibok students , but that he also spent some fraction of that money housing and transporting them, according to people familiar with the inquiry.
The final escape in US
Towards the end of 2015, Kauna had had enough and wanted her freedom and she began contacting people she’d met over the WhatsApp messaging system, to escape from the strongholds of Ogebe.
It was further reported that another student had called Jamila Fagge, a Nigerian-American Voice of America reporter asking to be rescued.
Fagge reportedly contacted law enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security began organizing an extraction of the girls.
The agencies in conjunction with Nigerian Ministry of Women and Children, began plans to get the girls out without attracting so much awareness.
On the last day of school in May 2016, DHS agents deployed to the campus in Grundy and Vienna, Va., where Ogebe had enrolled several of the girls.
The girls were picked up by the DHS agents and after a brief car chase, law-enforcement officers sorted the matter out and DHS escorted the Chibok students to a suburban safe house.
Within days, seven of the young women signed documents saying they no longer wished to be associated with Ogebe and also signed an open letter to their families saying they were no longer kidnapped.
Ogebe, who was present when the girls were picked reportedly said: “You are wicked, wicked girls. Do you want to see me go to jail?”
Over 200 girls were kidnapped by the deadly terrorists, Boko Haram in Nigeria in 2014 with Kauna and few others making initial escape.
Following the resumption of office, President Muhammadu Buhari's administration had negotiated the release of over 110 girls from their captors while others are still in captivity.
It is currently been bandied about in Nigeria that the remaining girls in captivity have died but there are no confirmations to the tale.