Nigeria marks a bitter anniversary today. One thousand days ago, 276 schoolgirls were kidnapped from Government Secondary School, Chibok, in Borno State, by the Boko Haram terrorist sect. Fifty-seven of the girls managed to escape while being taken away in vehicles by their captors.
One was found and rescued in May last year by the military working in conjunction with local vigilantes, also known as civilian JTF. Twenty-one were released on October 13 last year after negotiations, and one was found on November 5 with her 10-month-old baby. On January 5, the army announced that another of the girls had been found with her six-month-old baby and rescued. The whereabouts of the remaining 195 is unknown.
Today’s anniversary of the April 14, 2014 abduction of the Chibok girls will be marked worldwide, but without fanfare. While civilised humanity can heave a sigh of relief now that some of the girls have been freed and there is hope that many of them are alive and may soon regain their freedom, an atmosphere of solemnity still pervades the anniversary. Some of the parents of the kidnapped girls have died in agony over the fate of their children, and for many, it remains a grief that their children are still in the custody of the abductors. Sadder still are some of the stories that have emerged about the fate of the girls remaining in captivity.
If the reports are correct, it means over 40 per cent of the girls kidnapped in 2014 by Boko Haram stand no chance of returning alive or even being freed. For now, only 81 of the 276 girls may return.
The negotiations for the release of the girls were brokered by the Swiss government and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Though, the Nigerian government has denied claims that the talks involved swap of captured Boko Haram terrorists for the girls or ransom payment, there are allegations that both conditions featured in the release of the 21 girls.
The kidnappings had sparked global outrage, with prominent figures such as U.S. first lady Michelle Obama and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai lending their weight to the #BringBackOurGirls campaign for the release of the girls. The BBOG group, led by former education minister Obiageli Ezekwesili, and comprising many female activists, has tried, through rallies and advocacy, to inspire proactive steps by the federal government to rescue the kidnapped schoolgirls. The support of prominent Nigerians and foreigners lent the group a good deal of credibility. But it also tended to set them up as political pawns.
The then opposition All Progressives Congress had found in the BBOG group a close ally against the former ruling Peoples Democratic Party in the period before the 2015 general election. APC succeeded markedly in currying favour with the masses by identifying with the#BringBackOurGirls campaign.
But after winning the election, President Muhammadu Buhari and his APC have frowned on the campaign. In September last year, the Nigeria Police labelled the Bring Back Our Girls group a “threat to public peace and order” and took steps to block their rallies.
The politics of the terrorist kidnap has continued, sometimes getting really messy.
In March last year, Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State, a PDP member, alleged that the story of the Chibok girls abduction was fake and politically motivated to sway public opinion against the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan ahead of the 2015 general election.
Fayose’s allegation was consistent with the initial sentiments of the Jonathan government, which was said to have disbelieved reports about the kidnap and delayed the authorisation of rescue operations, giving the insurgents ample room to consolidate their hold on the girls.
Fayose said on March 30 last year, while declaring open a two-day workshop on “Political Aspirants Capacity Enhancement,” organised by Women Arise for Change Initiative, “I don’t think any of these girls is missing; it is a political strategy. Who is fooling who? If you wanted to use it to remove some people, you have succeeded already.
“I don’t know if there are missing girls but no indication has shown that. It is a political strategy, because I don’t think any girl is missing. If they are missing, let them find them.”
But when in October 21 of the girls were released, Fayose retorted that it was a ploy by the APC government to divert public attention.
“It has become the practice of the All Progressives Congress-led federal government to divert the attention of Nigerians each time it goofs,” he said. “I keep my fingers crossed on this reported release of 21 Chibok girls. This is because we were once told by this same government that one of the girls was released and the girl, who was supposed to be writing Physics WAEC examination then, could not speak one sentence in English….
“Again, it was reported yesterday that Boko Haram bombed Maiduguri, Borno State and killed more than 10 people. How the same Boko Haram insurgents that bombed Maiduguri yesterday could release 21 Chibok girls today is a question Nigerians must ask.”
While the politics and advocacy around the April 2014 kidnappings continue, the fate of the schoolgirls still held remains uncertain. Buhari has promised to do all within his powers to ensure that they are rescued alive. But for now, the parents of the victims and Nigerians, generally, can only live in hope that one day the girls would come home.