By Dayo Adesulu
As today marks the second anniversary of the disappearance of 276 students at the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State, stakeholders in education sector are asking if the Chibok girls will ever return to their parents.
You will recall that on the night of 14–15 April 2014, suspected Boko Haram terrorists, attacked the Government Girls Secondary School Chibok, broke into the school, pretending to be guards and told the girls to get out and come with them. They were taken away in trucks, into the Konduga area of the Sambisa Forest, where the terrorists were known to have fortified camps.
Before the attack, the school had been closed for four weeks due to the deteriorating security situation, nevertheless, students from various schools had been asked to take their final exams in physics in the school.
Reports revealed that there were 530 students from different villages who registered for the Senior Secondary Certificate Examination, although it is unclear how many were in attendance at the time of the attack. The students were aged 16 to 18 years and were in their final year.
Parents and others took to social media to complain about government’s perceived slow and inadequate response. The news caused international outrage against Boko Haram and the Nigerian government. On April 30 and May 1, protests demanding greater government action were held in several Nigerian cities. Most parents, however, were afraid to speak publicly for fear their daughters would be targeted for reprisal.
Protests: On May 3 and 4, protests were held in major Western cities including Los Angeles and London. A lawyer in the Abuja started the hash tag#BringBackOurGirls# campaign which began to trend globally on Twitter and the story spread rapidly internationally and became most tweeted hash tag such that by May 11, 2014, it had attracted 2.3 million tweets and by 2016, it had been retweeted 6.1 million times.
On May2, 2014, the Police had said that approximately 276 students were taken in the attack out of which 53 escaped.
However, on October 17, 2014, hopes were raised that the 219 remaining girls might soon be released after the Nigerian Army announced a truce between Boko Haram and government forces. The announcement coincided with the sixth month anniversary of the girls’ capture and followed a month of negotiations mediated in Saudi Arabia by Chadian president, Idriss Deby.
The announcement was met with doubt as this was not the first time the Nigerian government had claimed a breakthrough in negotiations with the Islamic militant group – it had to backtrack on a previous announcement in September after saying the girls had been released and were being held in military barracks.
Intimidating the civilian population
Jonathan Hill of King’s College, London, disclosed that Boko Haram kidnapped those girls with the aim of using them as sexual objects and as a means of intimidating the civilian population into non-resistance.
Forced into marriage: It was also reported that Chibok girls have been forced into marriage with members of Boko Haram, with a “bride price” of N2,000 each ($12.50/£7.50) adding, that many of the students were taken to neighbouring countries of Chad and Cameroun, with sightings reported of the students crossing borders with the militants, and sightings of the students by villagers living in the Sambisa forest.
While parents were expecting their children back, on May 2, 2014, Police said they were still unclear as to the exact number of students kidnapped. They asked parents to provide documents so an official count could be made as school records had been damaged in the attack.
Twenty days after the kidnap, May, 4 precisely, President Goodluck Jonathan spoke publicly about the kidnapping for the first time, saying the government was doing everything it could to find the missing girls. At the same time, he blamed parents for not supplying enough information about their missing children to the Police.
In May 2015, it was reported that the Nigerian military had reclaimed most of the areas previously controlled by Boko Haram in Nigeria including many of the camps in the Sambisa forest where it was suspected the Chibok girls had been kept.
In January 2016, the Nigerian military were reported to have freed 1,000 women held captive by Boko Haram but none of the Chibok girls was found.
On 29 May, 2015, the newly elected President Muhammadu Buhari in his inaugural address to the nation said that they could not claim to “have defeated Boko Haram without rescuing the Chibok girls and all other innocent persons held hostage by insurgents. The government will do all it can to rescue them alive.”
On June 12, 2015, just two weeks after President Buhari was sworn in, he and his wife, Hajia Aisha and the Vice-President’s wife, Mrs. Dolapo Osinbajo met with some mothers of the abducted Chibok girls, a meeting Mrs. Buhari had wanted to hold for a long time.
Trump card: In 2016, one newspaper article commented that the international publicity for the Chibok schoolgirls had ironically made it more difficult to free the girls. A Nigerian military commander based in Maiduguri said: “Boko Haram sees the Chibok girls as their trump card. We think they are keeping them with their main leadership. The day we get the Chibok girls will spell the end of Boko Haram, but I fear they will kill all the girls in mass suicide bombings in the process.”
I sympathise with parents
In his reaction, Dr. Christopher Kolade, Founder of Christopher Kolade Foundation said: “As a grand father, I have girls in my family and have girls who are grand daughters and I know how I will feel if I don’t know where they are in the past two years.
“I am full of sympathy with the parents and I am praying and hoping that we will be willing to pool our resources together so we can find where the girls are.
“The Almighty God didn’t create those girls to vanish like that or to be destroyed. They have a destiny and a future to be fulfilled and I am trusting God that one day, those girls will be rescued and reintroduced to their future.”
Harrowing experience: On his part, the Deputy Director, Distance Learning Centre, DLC, University of Ibadan, Professor Oyesoji Aremu, lamented that the insurgency which is about seven years old in Nigeria has put Nigeria on the radar of Terrorism Global Index where Nigeria is currently ranked third after Afghanistan and Iraq.
According to him, the last two years of abduction of Chibok schoolgirls remain the most perpetual harrowing experience of Boko Haram-motivated insurgency in Nigeria.
Possibility of the return
He said that in spite of the celebrated ‘technical victory’ over Boko Haram, the supposed victory remains a mirage until the Chibok school girls are found, liberated and reunited with their families.
Aremu who pointed out that two years is more than enough to dampen the expectations of possibility of the return of the abducted girls, said that it is not to say that the safe return of the girls is not possible, but the concurrent signals (female kid bombers, killing and indoctrination) point to the contrary.
‘’The distressed parents of the girls would also be in perpetual agony of a hope of reunion that is everyday not forthcoming,’’ he said. He explained that because no intelligence has given a clue as to where the girls are, the hope of reunion of the girls with their families remain at the level of conjectures.