By Emma Ujah, Clifford Ndujihe, Laide Akinboade-Oriere & Mike Eboh
IT is exactly 365 days that 276 school girls were kidnapped by the Boko Haram insurgents at Government Sceondary School, Chibok, Borno State. Apart the 57 girls, who escaped on their own, nothing has been heard about the remaining 219 girls.

The inability of the government to rescue the girls or tell their whereabouts 12 months after has continued to elicit anger in the polity. Disturbed by the development, Pakistani Nobel Peace Laureate, Malala Yousafzai, yesterday, criticised Nigerian and world leaders for not doing enough to help free the 219 schoolgirls kidnapped on April 14, 2014.

Nigeria, world leaders have not done enough –Malala

Members of #BringBackOurGirls (#BBOG) group on a silence protest match to show the sorrowful state of the abducted Chibok school girls who have being in captivity a year ago in Abuja yesterday. Photo by Gbemiga Olamikan

“In my opinion, Nigerian leaders and the international community have not done enough to help you,” she said in a letter to the teenagers, on the eve of the first anniversary of their abduction. They must do much more to help secure your release. I am among many people pressuring them to make sure you are freed,” she added, calling the girls “my brave sisters”.

Yousafzai’s letter, which she said was “a message of solidarity, love and hope”, comes as events, including marches, prayers and vigils, are being held to mark the girls’ 12 months in captivity by the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) led by former Education Minister, Dr Oby Ezekwesili. Following the delay in rescuing the girls, Boko Haram Leader, Abubakar Shekau has claimed the girls have all converted to Islam and been “married off”.

BBOG lines up activities: A couple of days ago, Chairman of the Chibok Community in Abuja, Mr. Hosea Abana, and one of the Coordinators of BBOG group, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, during the group’s walk round the major streets of Abuja, on their second day of global activities in commemoration of the Chibok girls, expressed strong convictions that the 219 female students of Chibok Secondary School are still alive contrary to speculations that they might have been killed during military raid of Bama or Sambisa forest.

According to Abana: “As parents, we believe that our children are still alive and well. Sambisa forest is a large expanse of land that even extended as far as Bauchi, so I don’t believe that the military has combed everywhere. Our daughters are still being held by their captives.”

Surface of the earth

Speaking in the same vein, Ezekwesili said, “Our Chibok girls are somewhere on the surface of the Earth and for as long as we are a country, we have the military, we have the intelligence, we have collaboration, we have cooperation with other nations of the world, we must find our Chibok girls. How can our country move on without 219 citizens that can still be rescued? It just doesn’t make sense. No society grows by abandoning the citizens.

“We are not going to speculate. We refuse to speculate as to whether they are alive or dead. People want to think about the possibility of them being dead. We know we must bring back our Chibok girls, their parents are waiting and they have not lost hope. They are holding on to even a glimmer of hope that their girls would be rescued.”

She stressed that the group would never give up hope over the safe return of the girls even as she insisted that they had not been killed by the solders inside the forest. “We believe that these girls can be rescued, we believe that even before May 29, our Chibok girls can be rescued. So during this week of global action, we have cities all over the world reminding everyone that the girls we began to call for 360 days ago are still not back with their parents. People want to move on but we can’t afford to move on. We must find our Chibok girls and bring them back home.”

To commemorate one year of the abduction, BBOG lined up different programmes including seven day global countdown to one year, Press briefing, walkthon plus red ribbon, special jumat service, tweet meet, special church service and prayers, seminar, silent protest, global school girls march, unveil Chibok girls signpost and vigil and candlelight procession. According to the group, they organised the programme in order to awaken the minds of people, especially the authorities and international community, about the plight of the missing girls.

In a statement issued in Abuja the group reiterated their advocacy for the rescue of the abducted girls and their believe in the girls still being alive. “We are, therefore, extremely saddened as the first anniversary of this abduction dawns on us. However, we remain hopeful and expectant of their rescue. Bringing closure to the issue in whatever way, either rescuing them or telling the parents and Nigerians what happened to the remaining 219 girls that are still in the captivity of Boko Haram, will bring solace. The silence of Federal Government about its effort in the rescue of the abducted is condemnable. More efforts must be in place and it is very important for the government to carry the parents of the abducted girls along and even the management and staff of the school.

”The only thing the federal government has been saying is that they are making efforts, but the community, parents and Nigerians cannot feel the effort made so far in the rescue of the girls, because they are not carried along. Seventeen parents of the abducted girls are dead, it would be sad for the girls to return home and discover the death of their parents.” BBOG, since it started its sit-outs on April 30, 2014, have continued to condemn the government for its inaction in the rescue of the remaining 219 girls in captivity.

Nigeria’s Chibok girls ‘seen with Boko Haram in Gwoza’

A woman’s account lifted hope that the girls could still rescued alive. She told BBC that more than 50 of the girls were seen alive three weeks ago. She saw the girls in the north-eastern Gwoza town before the Boko Haram militants were driven out of there by regional forces. The Nigerian woman, who lived under Boko Haram’s rule in Gwoza, told the BBC she saw the girls in Islamic attire, being escorted by the militants. “They said they were Chibok girls kept in a big house,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals. We just happened to be on the same road with them,” she added.

Three other women also told the BBC they had seen the girls in Gwoza. Another woman told the BBC she last saw some of the girls in November at a Boko Haram camp in Bita village, also in the North-east. About a week after they were brought to the camp, one of us peeked through a window and asked: ‘Are you really the Chibok girls?’ and they said: ‘Yes’. We believed them and didn’t ask them again,” the woman said, adding “They took Koranic lessons, cleaned their compound, cooked for themselves and they braided each others’ hair. They were treated differently – their food was better and water clean.”

There are more puzzles than answers, we need less talk, more action –Osu

Disturbed by the delay in freeing the girls, Msgr Gabriel Osu said: ”It is very unfortunate that one year ago, April 14, 2014, following their sudden abduction from their school, the Chibok girls are yet to be found, not to talk of being rescued. It is more worrisome to note that despite the fact that the Nigerian Army have liberated virtually all the towns and villages occupied by the insurgents, including the dreaded Sambisa forest, no clue has yet been made public on the possible where-about of the adopted girls.

Sambisa forest

This makes one to wonder, what exactly is the problem? Is it that the girls have vanished into thin air, or is it that the much publicized story of their adoption was a farce in the first place? These are just some puzzles plaguing most Nigerians at this period in time. Perhaps there is more to the whole incident than meets the eyes.

”I believe the top echelon of the Nigerian Army is in a better position to tell Nigerians the true situation of things regarding the girls, and the evidences they have (if any) that there are still some possibilities that the girls may be found alive in the near future. But one thing is very clear: Even if the girls are found, many of them would not be the same again. Judging from the threat by the sect members, many of them would have been married away, sold, or even killed, as the case may be.

It would be wonderful if the outgoing president Goodluck Jonathan can give Nigerians a very wonderful parting gift by ensuring that his government gets to the root of the matter as soon as possible. By so doing, he would have succeeded in entrenching his name further in the hearts of Nigerians. However, the President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari has also pledged that within a short time, after his swearing in, he would ensure the girls are brought home. Whatever be the case, what Nigerians need at this point in time is less talk and more action.

”As for the families of the girls, my heart goes out to them even as I remember them always in my prayer. They need also the empathy and support of everyone of us, including the government. However, the big lesson in all of this is that our government must place high premium on security in all aspects of our national life, including educational institutions, and also around our border towns to guide against such reckless invasion of our territorial integrity by terrorists in the future. May God help Nigeria.”

On July 23 and 24, 2014, vigils and protests to mark 100 days of the abduction were held in Nigeria, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Togo, the United Kingdom, UK, the United States, US, Canada, and Portugal and following global attention brought by the abduction, the UK, US, France, China, Canada, Israel and the European Union all offered support to Nigeria.

What went wrong

What went wrong with the pledges by the international community to assist Nigeria in the rescue efforts remains to be disclosed. It cannot be argued that Sambisa Forest was so inaccessible that the world’s intelligence community, using the best state-of-the-art technologies could not locate the girls.

On March 2015, a 56 year old woman, Mbutu Papka, who was kidnapped in July, 2014 and held by the insurgents for eight months in two locations, said confidently that the abducted girls were being kept under very tight security in a house in Gwoza. But when Gwoza was recaptured from insurgents, the military did not see the girls in the town.

A few weeks ago a senior official of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, Mr. Raad Zeid al Hussein, said the over 200 Chibok schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram a year ago may have been killed by the insurgents, just before the military recaptured Bama, (one of the captured town by Boko Haram). He said he based his belief on the fact that the girls may have been part of the women who were murdered by the insurgents before they fled from Bama and other towns in Borno State just before the Nigerian military and allied forces from Chad and Niger recovered the territories.

This was due to the fact that scores of abducted women who had been forcibly married by Boko Haram fighters were slaughtered in March by the fleeing terrorists as the military advanced towards Bama and other towns to recapture the territories. Eyewitnesses said that the women were killed by the insurgents to prevent them from getting remarried to what they termed ‘infidels’ after their release.

Al Hussein also said a couple of days ago that Boko Haram murdered people who were captives, including women and girls who were taken as ‘wives’ in their flight against the advancing forces. The senior official noted that with the UNHCR, various reports which arrived at his department in Geneva showed that the recent recovery of territories in Northeastern Nigeria “has brought to light macabre scenes of mass graves and more obvious signs of killings by Boko Haram.”

These included the “…murder of the wives of combatants, women and girls actually held in slavery. And the use of children by Boko Haram as ‘expendable cannon meat’ and human bombs could, if confirmed, constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity,” the official said.

Despite this report from UNHCR, BBOG and parents of the abducted girls are optimistic that the girls are still alive and well and with the terrorists.

Meanwhile, the US, China and other foreign powers had promised to help find the girls. However, the girls have never been traced, and little has been heard of them since they were taken from their boarding school. The whereabouts of the remaining girls is not clear. Campaign group Bring Back Our Girls organised a silent march in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, on Wednesday to raise public awareness about the abductions. Incoming President Muhammadu Buhari has vowed to “crush” the insurgents.

He is due to be inaugurated on 29 May after defeating Mr Jonathan in last month’s presidential elections.

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