Ninety eight of the 276 students kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists from Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, are still in captivity, nine years after their abduction.
The Chibok schoolgirls were abducted from their school on April 14, 2014.
The incident sparked local and international outrage with leaders and activists putting enormous pressure on the Nigerian government to rescue the girls while offering intelligence and support.
For instance, in Nigeria, a former Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili; a former Managing Director of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala Usman and an activist, Aisha Yesufu, among others, championed a series of peaceful protests for years with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls to put pressure on the government on the plight of the girls.
Three weeks after the incident, then US First Lady Michelle Obama also joined worldwide calls for the safe return of the Nigerian schoolgirls.
In a tweet that went viral, Mrs Obama said, “Our prayers are with the missing Nigerian girls and their families. It is time to #BringbackOurGirls.
Apart from the 25 girls who slipped from the grip of their abductors on the day of the attack, none was freed until 2016, when Amina Ali was found by vigilantes around Sambisa Forest. Then Maryam Ali Maiyanga escaped with her Boko Haram husband and their baby, Ali, followed by two others who escaped individually.
Then, the federal government facilitated the release of 21 more girls following a negotiation brokered by the International Red Cross. Another set of 82 girls were released by the insurgents in 2017.
So far, 178 of the girls have escaped but sadly, many of them suffered serious violations as they returned home traumatised, some with children sired by Boko Haram terrorists.
The administration of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan had lived in denial of the abduction for days, a development, which pundits believed gave the terrorists an opportunity to hide the girls deep in Sambisa Forest.
Some of the freed girls were then enrolled in a foundation programme at the American University of Nigeria (AUN), Yola under a federal government scholarship while others were sponsored by foreign donors.
For instance, in May 2022, one of the girls, Lydia Pogu bagged a Master’s Degree in Human Services Administration from the Southeastern University, United States of America.
This came a year after she bagged a Bachelor’s degree in Legal Studies with Minors in Political Science from the same university.
In Pogu’s speech which she presented on behalf of the graduating class of 2022, she said she never thought she would have an opportunity to go back to school after the threats issued to her by members of the Boko Haram sect.
Girls facing stigma
The chairman of the Chibok Parents Association, Yakubu Nkenki, said out of the 107 girls admitted into the programme, 84 had progressed into the university section; while 23 dropped out. He added that some of those in school got married and sought for deferment to have time for their new born babies.
While appealing to the federal government to seek the release of the remaining girls who were still in captivity, he also stressed the need to assist those who dropped out of the American University by assisting them to start some businesses to support themselves and their children.
He said while the parents appreciated the efforts made by the government, they relied on a statement made by President Muhammadu Buhari that the girls had left darkness behind and his government would make life easy for them, calling on the president to help them cater for the children they bore in captivity.
“These are grown up girls between 25 and 27 years of age, if left like that in the village, their life would be endangered,” Nkenki stated.
He expressed concern that fourteen of the abducted girls who were recently found as thousands of Boko Haram fighters surrendered to the troops with their families were still in Maiduguri instead of being taken to Abuja for proper rehabilitation as was the case with those freed earlier.
Asked whether the freed Chibok girls faced stigmatisation in their communities, Nkenki answered in the affirmative, saying on three occasions, he had reported bullies to the police in Chibok town and had them detained for addressing the girls as Boko Haram.
One of the Chibok girls, who pleaded anonymity, said she came under verbal attacks several times but never reported to the authorities.
“People often called me Boko Haram’s wife. Sometimes, I would overhear them gossiping about me. It is painful but I never react,” she stated. A parent, Lawal Zanna, who is the secretary of the association, said he was still looking forward to the return of his daughters.
He called on government not to relent until all the girls return to their parent
He expressed concern that President Buhari’s tenure will end on May 29, while some of the abducted girls still remain in the forest.
He called on the president-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to take up the matter with the same vigour as soon as he is sworn in to office.
Another parent, Rifkatu Solomon, told Daily Trust that although her daughter, Saratu, had regained freedom and is currently at the American University of Nigeria, Yola, Adamawa State, she would not be completely relieved until all the remaining girls were freed like her daughter.
The Executive Director, Communications, AUN, Daniel Okereke, refused to give details about the girls, saying journalists should contact the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs for details about the girl’s level of academic progress.
“But essentially, we first admitted 25 (those who escaped from the kidnappers) in Aug 2014 and in September 2018, the federal government sent another batch of 106 girls (from among those released). All other information you seek can be obtained from their custodians, the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs in Abuja,” Okereke said.
Abduction my most traumatic experience – Principal
Mrs Asabe Kwambura, who was the Principal of GSS Chibok at the time of the abduction told the Daily Trust in a telephone interview yesterday that she was yet to recover from the shock.
“The abduction of the school girls was the most traumatic moment in my life. I am still nursing the pain,” she said.
“We have been praying in the last nine years for God to touch the hearts of the abductors to see reason and release our daughters.
“I share the pain of the parents…It is very sad. My granddaughter is one of those still in the hands of the abductors. We are hopeful God has answered our prayers and they will come back home soon,” she said.
Daily Trust reports that some of the parents have died while awaiting the return of their daughters while others have developed health complications because of trauma.
All missing girls must be rescued—Amnesty Int’l
In a statement yesterday, Isa Sanusi, Acting Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, said: “Parents of the 98 Chibok school girls who are still being held by Boko Haram — as well as other children abducted by gunmen — are living in anguish, knowing that their children are in the hands of ruthless individuals who subject their loved ones to chilling brutalities.”
Sanusi said all the missing girls must be returned to their families.
According to him, “It is beyond time that the Nigerian authorities took meaningful action to counter armed groups like Boko Haram and gunmen. Nigeria has an obligation to implement safeguards to protect all children, and the lack of accountability for these callous crimes is fuelling impunity. The missing Chibok school girls should be returned home to their families, and all those responsible for committing grave violations must face justice.”
Buhari won’t give up till last day in office—Presidency
Reacting to the inability of the Buhari administration to get all the abducted Chibok girls out of captivity as promised, the Presidency noted that over 100 Chibok girls kidnapped in 2014 by the terrorist Boko Haram group had been rescued.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, disclosed this while reacting to enquiries from Daily Trust.
The presidential spokesman, who said some of the rescued had been trained up to degree levels, added that the Buhari administration was not giving up on the return of the remaining girls till its last day in office.
Shehu said: “I hope you have not lost sight of what led to the failure of their early recovery, the fact that the sitting government at that time was arguing with Nigerians for two weeks on whether the girls had been stolen or not.
“By the time they came to terms with the unfortunate incident, the footmarks of the victims had disappeared from the sands of Sambisa Forest.
“Against these odds, the Buhari administration, in the first instance, got back 84; 83 came home because one declined to come along, choosing to remain with the terrorists. Among the rescued, we have some of them who have been trained up to degree levels.
“Thereafter, 24 more were rescued. From here, the rescue and return of the girls, in batches of one, two, three or more has continued. To its last day in office, the Buhari administration is not giving up on the return of the remaining girls.”