After spending time with parents of the girls Boko Haram abducted from the Chibok State Secondary School in April 2014, an employee for Open Doors International, which supports Christians under pressure for their faith, spoke to World Watch Monitor.
Remind us what happened
“Boko Haram stormed the Chibok Government Secondary School on the night of Sunday 13 April, 2014. The school girls had reported to the school the day before to prepare for an exam on the Tuesday. At about 11pm that Sunday night, armed Boko Haram insurgents arrived and broke through the school area. Upon entering the dormitory, the rebels told the girls that Chibok town was under attack and that they were soldiers who had come to protect them. The attackers were dressed in uniforms, so the girls, thinking that they were soldiers, followed their orders to go outside and mount the vehicles. Before they left, the insurgents burned down most of the buildings in the compound. From there they drove the girls deep into the Sambisa forest.”
Is there clarity now about the number of girls who remain in captivity?
“There is fluctuation in the figures used when speaking about the Chibok girls. The Chairman of the Chibok Kidnapped Girls’ Parents’ Association refers to 219, but other parents use other numbers. Since the start, we were told that 275 had reported to the school the Sunday before the attack. In total, 47 of the girls managed to escape either shortly before the abduction, on the road to the hideout, or at the first location where they were kept, now leaving 228 girls in captivity. As far as we know, none of them have been released or have been able to escape. Recent news reports that one girl has escaped and had been found by Fulani men have been dismissed as unreliable.”
Has there been any other news about the girls?
“There has been no concrete news about the whereabouts of the girls. As the multinational task force, consisting of forces from Cameroon, Nigeria, Benin and Chad, has had success against the insurgents, many hostages have been freed, but so far none of the groups included any of the Chibok girls. Some of the hostages freed in Nigeria during the past year claimed to have seen the girls.
“Most recently the parents have heard rumours that their daughters have been divided into three groups and have been taken across the border. There are even rumours that they are in Niger and have been married off.
“President Buhari in a recent interview with Al Jazeera said: ‘We have an idea where the girls are. Our main problem is … that we want to rescue them alive.’ He also said: ‘There are Boko Haram leaderships who wanted us to [talk]. We want to make sure, they have to prove to us that the girls are alive, they are well, and then we can promise them and negotiate with them’.”
“It is hard to say whether this is the truth or just political talk.”
Has the security situation in Chibok and northeast Nigeria improved?
“Yes, the situation has improved somewhat. During previous visits, we found Chibok to be all but deserted. We have since heard that many have returned to the area and are trying to pick up their lives again. Some are trying to cultivate some crops to sustain their families.
“However, it is important to point out that insecurity remains a major concern. It continues to disrupt the lives of the people in the Chibok area.
“People cannot go to outlying farms because they claim that Boko Haram are still very present in the area. The week before we met the parents [in Sept. 2015], there was another attack on a village near Chibok in which Boko Haram fighters killed an unknown number of people and abducted around 30 children under the age of 10.
“All markets are still closed, which means that people have to travel very far to buy and sell.
“Additionally, there are no schools in operation and this is one of the most pressing concerns for the parents. Their children have now missed a year and a half in school.”
Do the parents have more trust in the new president to bring back their girls?
“Many were deeply disappointed that, although the previous president promised to bring back the girls alive, by the end of his term in office they had seen no tangible results. A lot of hope was placed in the new government, but [the parents] expressed disappointment that insecurity continues. They do not feel that they are enjoying adequate protection. One of the biggest concerns is that some parts of the local government area are under the protection of army bases too far away to offer real help when Boko Haram strikes. Usually the insurgents would have long left by the time the army arrives.”
How are the parents doing?
“They are taking a lot of strain. All of the fathers we spoke to expressed concern over the emotional state of their wives and children. The stress they are experiencing has a very negative effect on their health. At least 18 of the parents have died of stress-related diseases. The fathers told us that they are at the hospital constantly with their families, but that the hospital mostly cannot really help them. They are not equipped to provide trauma care. They are frustrated with the federal and state government for not helping them in this area of post-trauma care.”