Return to Transcripts main page


150 Dead After Boko Haram Attacks Border Town; African Startup: Sena Ahadji; Homs Evacuated After Rebels, Government Negotiate Truce

Aired May 7, 2014 - 11:00   ET


ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Boko Haram commits yet another atrocity. Witnesses say more than 150 people are dead following an attack in a border town.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian government is taking a new approach in efforts to find more than 200 girls held by the Islamic militants.

I'm Isha Sesay live from the capital Abuja.

AMARA WALKER, HOST: And I'm Amara Walker at CNN Center.

Also ahead, rebels ship out of a pivotal Syrian city. We'll examine whether the evacuation of Homs symbolizes a wider shift in favor of the government.

Also, Interfax reports Vladimir Putin says he has withdrawn troops from the border with Ukraine. The tensions are still high on the other side. We'll take you there live.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is Connect the World.

SESAY: Welcome everyone. We begin with breaking news out of Nigeria. Witnesses tell CNN that Boko Haram has attacked another town in the northeast, killing more than 150 people. This attack happened along Nigeria's border with Cameroon. And it comes as authorities step up their search for the more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants last month.

They're now offering a $310,000 reward for any information that helps them crack the case.

And now the U.S. is sending military and law enforcement assistance to help with the search.

Well, protesters have accused the Nigerian government of not doing enough to find the girls.

We want to tell you a little bit more about the attack that took place recently in that town on the border with Cameroon. These details just coming into us here at CNN. It is our understanding that the attack actually took place on Monday, but those details only coming out now, today Wednesday, because only now are petrified local residents going back to their homes, finding them burnt out and the streets littered with corpses.

We'll have much more on this terrible attack a little later in the show. I'll also have more from Abuja and all the other movements on that story to find the missing girls. We're going to talk to the parents of one of the kidnapped girls, hear them describe the horrific scene they found after the girls were taken and why they've been living in fear ever since. That is a CNN exclusive.

And Boko Haram has threatened to sell the girls, although slavery is illegal in Nigeria. The problem is still all too real in many parts of Africa.

And we'll also take a closer look at the man who orchestrated these kidnapping Abubakar Shekau. Find out how this ruthless killer became leader of Boko Haram.

But for now, I want to turn it back over to Amara Walker at CNN Center with more on the days top stories -- Amara.

WALKER: Isha, thank you. We'll see you in a few moments.

Syrian rebels are beginning to evacuate from the symbolic capital of the country's uprising. Now this video purportedly shows opposition fighters leaving the old city of Homs. The withdrawal is part of a truce between the government and rebel forces. In exchange, the rebels agreed to release 70 Hezbollah fighters, 20 Iranian officers, and an Iranian agent. And they're to allow humanitarian aid into two enclaves in the Aleppo countryside, which have been blocked for months.

Now video taken just over a year ago shows what people in Homs have endured. The city has been under siege for two years. And as many as 2,500 people are believed to be trapped there. The city has seen some of the worst violence in a conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people and displaced millions more.

Now while the governor of Homs says security will improve, the opposition coalition has expressed doubt this truce will hold.

We want to take now at the importance of Homs in the broader context of the Syrian war. for that, we're joined now by independent Syrian documentary filmmaker Nyrabia. He showed us what was happening in his hometown in his documentary Return to Homs.

Mr. Nybrabia, it's great to have you, thanks for being on.

NIRABIA: It's a pleasure to be with you.

WALKER: You know, I understand you and your crew began filming some time in 2011. When exactly did you guys start filming. And you could just set the scene for us what Homs looked like when you began your film?

ORWA NYRABIA, PRODUCER, RETURN TO HOMS: : We started a couple of films, not only Return to Homs in Homs towards -- at the mid -- at the summer 2011. The city was still did not have severe bombing or shelling by airplanes. The regime did not at the time start already using its fighter jets against civilian areas, what became later on a very normal and acceptable thing to the world. At the time, it was only the beginnings of the regime's attempt of cutting the sitting into different neighborhoods and creating checkpoints and even canceling or closing some of the streets so that it can control the city easier.

WALKER: We just mentioned a few moments ago that there is now a truce in effect between opposition fighters and the Syrian government. I want to first get your reaction to that. And what do you think this means for the direction in which the civil war is going?

NYRABIA: The revolution, in general, was -- have had -- gave a huge importance to my hometown of Homs. Homs has been inspirational to the revolution in general because it kept it alive, especially with the amazing sense of humor of the Homsies (ph). And that was really crucial. And symbolically became the capital of the revolution what meant was that its resilience was really of a great moral importance.

But today is a good day. This is the first impression I have as much as many Homsies (ph) because our wonderful people inside the siege are going to guarantee -- not guarantee, but at least have a better chances in surviving when they leave the siege. And they leave with their dignity. They leave with their weapons, even, the fighters amongst them. And it's come to a good end in the sense that after almost two years of them being really resilient and not allowing the regime to go in, they go out with negotiations and some terms.

Of course we would have -- it's painful in -- from the other angle looking at it. Because we always hoped that a solution would not include people leaving their homes. People stayed for almost two years in Homs, because they believed they have the right to stay, not because they could not leave at some points. Leaving was an option at some points. And they chose to stay.

They chose to stay, and now instead of the world providing them with humanitarian aid, creating humanitarian corridors or similar solutions, what's happened is that they have to negotiate their exit.

So in this sense, it's a good day from one side and a bad day from the other.

WALKER: We also heard that, you know, opposition rebels are saying that this truce will not hold. Their not optimistic about this. What are your thoughts?

NYRABIA: I don't think there's a truce at all. I think this is a very kind of sound bite solution that is very temporary. What's happening is a cease-fire for three days maybe, only the time needed for the evacuation, and then things will be bad again. It will not be easy.

And the area that the regime is taking over tonight or tomorrow is a devastated area, totally destroyed. And it doesn't have much of a logistic or military importance, it's important only symbolically.

So today what will happen is only that this will happen. The world will celebrate it. The United Nations might be outline a success in creating a localized solution, but I think it's totally marginal in the long-term strategically speaking.

WALKER: You lived and worked there for some time Mr. Nyrabia. Can you talk to us a little bit about what it was like? And also as we mentioned that as many as 2,500 people are still believed to be trapped in Homs. Have you been talking to the people there, the people you profiled in your film and what life is like currently there?

NYRABIA: Well, I've been communicating with quite a few people on the siege until half an hour ago. And generally speaking they are truly -- they have decided to leave, but they're not happy with leaving. They feel a lot of pain that they stayed for two years and have to leave now. But still they are -- they've been eating green grass for the past couple of weeks. Before that, they had a very small amount of food they found somehow. And when they took over an additional small neighborhoods three weeks ago, they started eating some rice. But that only lasted for a couple of days.

They one of the Syrian activists put it beautifully this afternoon on Facebook writing, "Dear Homs, we're going out for a bite. And we'll be back soon."

So I don't think it's a long-standing map in that sense. I think it's being blown up by the regime as a big success, or a big story while it's not really a big story.

WALKER: All right, Mr. Orwa Nyrabia, I really appreciate your time. He's the producer of a documentary Return to Homs, really appreciate your insight on this withdrawal of the rebel fighters there in Homs. Thank you.

Well, right after the break, we'll be going back to Isha Sesay in Abuja with more on the fight against Boko Haram and the search for those missing schoolgirls.

Also ahead, more uncertainty in Thailand, the impact of a court ruling ousting Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

And high unemployment and political scandals could have an impact on South Africa's presidential elections. We'll have a live report later on Connect the World.


WALKER: You're watching CNN. And this is Connect the World with me, Amara Walker, bringing you special coverage. Nigeria on the continuing search in Nigeria rather for more than 200 missing schoolgirls.

Now witnesses tell CNN that Boko Haram has attacked another town in northeastern Nigeria, killing more than 150 people. The massacre happened in a town along Nigeria's border with Cameroon.

Now this comes more than three weeks after the militant group abducted more than 200 girls from the same region.

Nigerian officials hope a hefty reward will aid their search for the students. They are offering $310,000 for any information leading to their rescue.

Under pressure to do more to find the girls, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has now accepted U.S. military assistance. It's likely to be limited to intelligence mission planning and hostage negotiations.

The Nigerian government has come under fire for what many say has been a slow response. But a presidential spokesman said that is not the case. He says planes and helicopters have been used to search some 250 locations.

For more on what's happening there on the ground, let's go now to Abuja, Nigeria where Isha Sesay is standing by live -- Isha.

SESAY: Hi there, Amara.

Well, the details of this horrific attack that took place on Monday in this border town with Cameroon are just becoming clear to us here at CNN. The attack happened on Monday, but we're only getting details here on Wednesday, because basically petrified local residents ran into the bush. They have to flee when these Boko Haram militants storm their own with rocket-propelled grenades, firing indiscriminately, killing at least 150 people.

Amara, we're hearing that people were burned alive in shops, in their structures. We're hearing that the streets are littered with corpses. And one local senator also told CNN that the number of dead could be as high as 300. So this is a story we are very closely monitoring here in Abuja for our viewers.

You know, the feeling among people living in that region of Nigeria is one of absolute fear, absolute fear because they feel that no one can guarantee their safety. You know, when we come to talk about the girls that were abducted, we haven't really heard very much from their families, because they've been too afraid to speak out. But Vladimir Duthiers was able to speak to two parents of two missing girls and get really a sense of the utter horror that they are going through right now.

It has been more than three weeks since the girls were taken. And the ordeal has been basically nonstop, because they've not only had to deal with the fact that there's been a very little in the way of information that has come out, but also with the fact that they've had to see this video from the Boko Haram leader saying that he is going to sell their children.

It is every parent's worst nightmare. Take a look at our own Vladimir Duthiers' conversation with these family members.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I went into the school compound nobody will ever stand it. You will see their dresses cut out all over and the hostel and the dormitory, everything was burned into ashes.

So, the watchman told us that they have gone with our daughters. We couldn't believe him.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Describe for us what life is like living in Chibok with the threat of the Islamist insurgency there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Life is very dangerous in Chibok right now. Since on 14th of April to date we don't sleep at all.

DUTHIERS: You don't sleep at home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't sleep at home. Around five, six people will disappear to the bush because there is no security. There is no security.

DUTHIERS: You sleep in the bush?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We sleep in the Bush with all our little ones. Life in Chibok, it looks like we have no hope.

DUTHIERS: Have you seen any large groups of soldiers, any kind of search and rescue operation that you can tell is meant to bring your daughter?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I'm hearing this over the media even it provokes me. That the federal government, all the rulers are playing with we parents. They are looking at us as we are fools. Had it been there is military men who went into the bush to rescue our daughters, we would have to see them.

Why can't they bring military men and ask even one of the parents, we would want to show them the place where our daughters are.

DUTHIERS: When you saw and heard the video of Abubakar Shekau yesterday and what he said on that video, what did you think?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (Through Translator): When I heard the story of Shekau yesterday, most of the women, we mothers, we started crying because we have nobody to help us. Our daughters have been abducted or have been captured as slaves. Now since that day we cannot even eat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She is pleading let them release these girls. They don't know probably, there is -- one of them are born a president, or a doctor, or a pastor or a lawyer who will be helpful to the country. Why would they molest these little ones? Please let him release them.


SESAY: It's just heartbreaking when you hear these parents speak of their anguish. And you hear the points she made there. One of these girls could be a president, they could be a doctor, they could a pastor, they can be so much more. These girls are like girls all over the world. You know, they all have hopes, they all have dreams. And right now their futures are in the hands of Boko Haram.

It is almost too much to bear, too much to think about.

Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the abductions and have threatened to, quote, sell the girls in the market. That threat cannot be taken lightly in a country where slavery still remains a huge problem.

Jim Clancy has the details.


JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This story of the mass kidnappings of girls in Nigeria shocking many of our viewers. Unfortunately, it's an issue that's all too common.

Slavery is illegal in every single country, including Nigeria.. But still, people continue to be sold like object, forced to work for little or no pay, or forced into prostitution.

According to global estimate, there are between 20 million and 30 million people living in slavery around the world right now. A nonprofit research foundation called walk free released its global slavery index last year. It showed the top 162 countries for the prevalence of slavery. And they found four out of the top 10 worst offending countries were right there in west Africa.

Nigeria itself was 48th. But when you talk about the total numbers of slaves in a given country, walk free researchers estimated 700,000 people in Nigeria are living as slaves today.

Now that ranks fourth in the world behind India, China, and Pakistan.

In this case, the kidnappings and the threats to sell the schoolgirls are embedded in a much deeper culture of slavery.

AIDAN MCQUADE, DIR. ANTI-SLAVERY INTERNATIONAL: Certainly there is an element of sexual exploitation associated with this, but there are also elements of labor exploitation, which would be associated with it. People will be -- the worst way in which women have been treated in marriage from years past will be what they have to expect and something which will be inflicted on them as children.

So this is unequivocally a form of slavery, which has grown out of a more - a much wider cultural attitude towards women and girls.

CLANCY: Now, like the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram, the majority of victims come from rural areas. They're sometimes taken to neighboring countries. And in some cases they are then forced into prostitution rings and trafficked as far away as Europe.

Slavery in west Africa is brought on by extreme poverty, ethnic divisions and high levels of corruption that give the perpetrators impunity for their crimes.

Forced marriage is just one form of slavery. Women and girls are married without having any choice and forced into a life of servitude, which often includes physical violence.

I'm Jim Clancy. Back to you.


SESAY: Yeah, our thanks to Jim Clancy, a reality that must be brought to an end.

You can join the conversation about modern-day slavery in Nigeria and the rest of Africa on our Freedom Project website. Just go to to see how people right around the world are trying to put an end to human trafficking and what you can do to help. That's at I'll be right back in about 10 minutes from now here in Abuja to bring you the latest on the kidnapping of the more than 200 girls.

But for now, it's back to Amara in Atlanta -- Amara.

WALKER: OK, Isha, thank you.

Live from CNN Center, this is Connect the World.

Coming up, she is young, talented and taking the design industry by storm. We head to Ghana in this week's African startup.


WALKER: You're watching Connect the World live from CNN Center. Welcome back. I'm Amara Walker.

Every week we take a closer look at some of Africa's entrepreneurs. Today, we're in Ghana where we met Sena Ahadji, a young artist who has launched her own design company. Fionnuala Sweeney reports she's attracting a growing list of clients, but says that's just the beginning.


SENA AHADJI, DESIGNER: Hello, my name is Sena Ahadji, and I started a design company in (inaudible) Ghana.

My startup is called Moment Catches. I provide design services from illustration to graphic design and photography as well.

FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Sena Ahadji started her design business early last year and has more than 50 clients. One of her biggest projects is for a new local coffee shop.

AHADJI: I researched about how to go about doing a mural. And I realized that if you're painting a building it takes time, resources, you need measurements, health and safety and all that kind of stuff.

SWEENEY: Ahadji also designs product packaging for stores like this skincare company.

AHADJI: She was really happy with the outcome. And now all her products are wrapped up in he packaging that I designed and I'm very happy to be a part of that.

SWEENEY: Another big client is the owner o a co-working apace where Ahadji does most of her creative thinking.

AHADJI: I grew up in Togo, which is next door to Ghana. And this is actually the second year I've lived in Ghana. It is very challenging starting a businesses by yourself. First of all in terms of finances, everything you earn goes back into the business.

SWEENEY: As a self-employed designer, Ahadji says image is another major challenge.

AHADJI: I'm starting to find my personality as a designer, which before I struggled with, but now I think I'm becoming a bit more confident and comfortable with my design aesthetic.

My drive is not just money. I want to be successful to give back to the community. So for me, if I'm successful, it means that I'm able to assist someone else, because I feel like there are many girls who they don't -- they're not really encouraged to pursue design.

SWEENEY: Ahadji is starting to teach graphic design to local girls in Akra (ph). And she recently created a workshop called iDesign to inspire and encourage girls to be creative.

AHADJI: For anybody who wants to start their own business who is the creative, I would tell them to do it. You can dream and dream and dream, but if you don't do something about that dream, it will never come true.

And dreams do come true.


WALKER: And more of the days top stories right ahead, including Putin's latest move. We'll bring you some very interesting developments from the Kremlin relating to the crisis in Ukraine.


WALKER: This is Connect the World. I'm Amara Walker at CNN Center.

Witnesses and a local official says an attack by Boko Haram terrorists has killed more than 150 people in northeastern Nigeria. Dozens of militants stormed a town near the border with Cameroon on Monday. The attack comes amid outrage over the mass kidnapping of schoolgirls by the terrorist...