Girl held by Boko Haram: 'I'd have shot at rescuers'

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Girl held by Boko Haram: 'I'd have shot at rescuers'

In February 2016, I interviewed 16-year-old Zara John, who was freed from Boko Haram by the Nigerian military in March 2015. She told me how much she relished her life with the Islamist militant commander to whom she was married off while in captivity for about a year, how he had taken care of her and provided all her needs.

"If I had a gun when the Nigerian military came to rescue me, I would have shot at the soldiers," she says.

    There are any number of reasons why a teenager would feel this way about a man who was part of a group that razed her home before abducting her and several other girls, women and children in her community.

    It could be Stockholm syndrome, or puppy love, or simply a case of a girl who, for the first time in her life as a young female in the hinterlands of northeast Nigeria, found a life purpose other than cooking and cleaning and babysitting for her family: she was part of a group which planned to take over the world.

    Whatever the case, Zara was clearly not the trembling sex-slave that many other rescued girls are reported to have been.

    The wait continues

    April 14 marks two years since nearly 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram from their school dormitory in Chibok, northeast Nigeria, sparking off the global "Bring Back Our Girls" campaign.

    Many Nigerian activists were thrown into a state of panic last month, when a suspected female suicide bomber claimed to be one of the missing Chibok girls after she was arrested in Cameroon. Official investigations eventually revealed that the 12-year-old was not from Chibok but abducted from Bama in northeastern Nigeria by Boko Haram a year ago.

    However, as the world continues to await and advocate the return of the missing schoolgirls, we must also be prepared to face the hard fact that some of them might be in an even more dangerous state of mind than Zara was at the time of her rescue. The Chibok girls could very well have metamorphosed into our enemies, ready to fire guns and detonate bombs.

    Some of the Chibok schoolgirls who escaped by jumping off the trucks which ferried the abducted students from their dormitory to the Sambisa forest stronghold of Boko Haram were generously offered scholarships at the American University of Nigeria, Yola.

    Another batch was given the opportunity to leave Nigeria and continue their education in the United States. There must be scores of other eager benefactors waiting for the still missing Chibok girls to be found so that they can be whisked away to safety in America, land of freedom and boundless dreams.

    'Agent of death'

    The world obviously exalts the girls from Chibok above the other thousands of girls who have been kidnapped by Boko Haram from other parts of northeast Nigeria, and the Islamist militants must have noticed. Boko Haram could very well decide to grant us our wish and release the missing girls, using the opportunity to unleash terror across the globe.

    The group's tactics have included suicide bombings using young girls with explosives strapped beneath their flowing hijabs. During such an attack on a refugee camp in the northeast Nigeria town of Dolori in February 2016, which left dozens dead, one of the three girls changed her mind about detonating the explosives strapped to her torso after she identified members of her family among those in the camp.

    Clearly, she was fully aware of her role as an agent of death. And when I commiserated with Zara over the process by which her Boko Haram husband tattooed his name on her stomach in Arabic, she assured me that she was willing to bear the pain of the sharp knife and charcoal after the man explained his reasons for the tattoo: to forever mark her as a commander's wife, to ensure that no one would maltreat her even if he never returned from battle, to enable him identify her no matter how much time passed.

    Who knows what plausible explanation these sweet-tongued murderers may be feeding young girls to justify blowing themselves up and taking dozens of lives along? It is probably similar to the rhetoric which persuades young girls in Western countries to abandon home to go and join ISIS.

    Without a doubt, not all the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram think or feel like Zara did. Many are surely living in hell, longing to be reunited with their families. Nevertheless, the world's plans for receiving the missing Chibok girls whenever they are freed must extend further than offering them a better life. Any brainwashing must be detected and reversed.

    Now is the time to start articulating a detailed plan for the de-radicalization of the Chibok girls before they are reintegrated into society.

    Source: Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani / CNN

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    Why The FDA Has Never Looked At Some Of The Additives In Our Food

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    Why The FDA Has Never Looked At Some Of The Additives In Our Food

    Food on display at a Miami supermarket. Advocacy groups say they're concerned that Americans are consuming foods with added flavors, preservatives and other ingredients that have never been reviewed by regulators for immediate dangers or long-term health effects.

    Food on display at a Miami supermarket. Advocacy groups say they're concerned that Americans are consuming foods with added flavors, preservatives and other ingredients that have never been reviewed by regulators for immediate dangers or long-term health effects.

    Companies have added thousands of ingredients to foods with little to no government oversight. That's thanks to a loophole in a decades-old law that allows them to deem an additive to be "generally recognized as safe" — or GRAS — without the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's blessing, or even its knowledge. 

    The loophole was originally intended to allow manufacturers of common ingredients like vinegar and table salt — when added to processed foods — to bypass the FDA's lengthy safety-review process. But over time, companies have found that it's far more efficient to take advantage of the exemption to get their products on shelves quickly. Some of these products contain additives that the FDA has found to pose dangers. And even ingredients the agency has agreed are GRAS are now drawing scrutiny from scientists and consumer groups that dispute their safety.

    Critics of the system say the biggest concern, however, is that companies regularly introduce new additives without ever informing the FDA. That means people are consuming foods with added flavors, preservatives and other ingredients that are not reviewed at all by regulators for immediate dangers or long-term health effects

    The vast majority of food additives are safe. Some, however, have proved to cause severe allergic reactions or other long-term health effects. Scientists and advocates worry about the growing number of ingredients that the FDA doesn't know about and is not tracking.

    Rather than going through the painstaking FDA-led review process to ensure that their new ingredients are safe, food companies can determine on their own that substances are "generally recognized as safe." They can then ask the FDA to review their evaluation — if they wish. Or they can take their ingredients straight to market, without ever informing the agency.

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    "FDA doesn't know what it doesn't know," said Steve Morris of the Government Accountability Office, which published a report in 2010 that found that "FDA's oversight process does not help ensure the safety of all new GRAS determinations."

    And even when a company does go through the FDA review process, safety decisions have been criticized. For example, advocacy groups and lawsuits allege that mycoprotein, a type of fungus used in vegetarian products, has caused consumers to suffer a range of reactions, including nausea and anaphylactic shock. The complaints prompted the Center for Science in the Public Interest to urge the FDA in 2011 to revoke the ingredient's GRAS status.

    For a company to determine that an ingredient is "generally recognized as safe," it must establish that the additive's safety is commonly understood by qualified scientific experts.

    But some ingredients defy consensus, as consumers, scientific groups and sometimes even the FDA have pointed out. Even GRAS additives that have been used in food for decades are now coming under fire as their uses expand and scientific research emerges that casts doubt on their safety.

    This is true of one of the most known — and vilified — GRAS additives: partially hydrogenated oil, a form of trans fat. Widely used in food products including fried foods and cake mixes, trans fats have been named by public health experts as a contributor to heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. Despite strong pushback from industry, the FDA in November 2013 made a tentative determination that artificial trans fats should not have GRAS status, and the agency is likely to make that determination final this summer.

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    But it's the ingredients the public doesn't know about that have critics of the GRAS system most worried.

    Researchers for the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Natural Resources Defense Council say that allowing companies to make safety determinations without telling the FDA makes it nearly impossible to identify whether there are health effects caused by long-term exposure to certain ingredients.

    Their concerns are heightened because safety decisions often rest in the hands of a small group of scientific experts selected by companies or consulting firms with a financial incentive to get new ingredients on the market. Several of these scientists, a Center for Public Integrity investigation found, previously served as scientific consultants for tobacco companies during the 1980s and 1990s, when the tobacco industry fought vigorously to defend its products.

    The GRAS loophole was born in 1958. Americans were growing concerned about the increased use of preservatives and other additives in food, so Congress passed — and President Dwight Eisenhower signed — the first law regulating ingredients added to food.

    To restore confidence, the law set up a system requiring companies to submit new ingredients to an extensive FDA safety review before going to market.

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    "Congress had a clear understanding of what 'generally recognized as safe' means, but that's not the understanding that basically prevailed," said Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit advocacy group seeking reforms to the GRAS system. "There are plenty of ingredients that are receiving GRAS status the safety of which are in dispute."

    In the past five decades, the number of food additives has skyrocketed — from about 800 to more than 10,000. They are added to everything from baked goods and breakfast cereals to energy bars and carbonated drinks.

    Meanwhile, the FDA's food additive approval system has slowed to a crawl — the average review takes two years, but some drag on for decades.

    "The food additive review process is a highway that is constantly gridlocked. If the food additive road doesn't go anywhere, what do I do?" asked Stuart Pape, a Washington, D.C., attorney who consults for companies that manufacture food additives. "GRAS is the other pathway."

    Source: Center for Public Integrity

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