“You’re only coming to school for prostitution. Boko [Western education] is haram [forbidden] so what are you doing in school?” This was a question posed by a member of the Islamist group Boko Haram to one of the Chibok girls who was kidnapped in 2014.
This girl was one of the lucky few who escaped the harrowing experiences encountered by 275 schoolgirls who were seized from their dormitory at Chibok Girls’ Secondary School.
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The girls were sleeping in their dormitories in the Chibok town in northeastern Nigeria when Boko Haram terrorists carrying AK-47 rifles stormed into the school and seized them.
The unfortunate incident sparked global outrage and united activists around the world, including former United States first lady Michelle Obama, around the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. It also brought the world’s attention to the activities of Boko Haram, an Islamist group which does not want to have anything to do with western culture, particularly, western education.
The group has so far killed more than 20,000 people and other 2 million people have been forced to flee their homes in an insurgency that started in 2009 aimed at creating an Islamic state.
1,394 days after their abduction, 112 schoolgirls are still in Boko Haram captivity.
What happened after their abduction?
Following the uproar over the kidnapping of the Chibok girls, 57 managed to escape but the others were taken far into the Sambisa forest. The girls were compelled to move from forest to city to caves, while their parents and family were at home waiting in agony and pain for their release.
Months of negotiations between the terrorist group and the Nigerian government as well as the Red Cross resulted in the release of 21 girls in 2016. Many believe this was done in exchange for some militant leaders. A year later, 82 others were released in a similar deal negotiated by Mustapha Zanna, a barrister who is currently the proprietor of an orphanage in Maiduguri and once a lawyer of the late founder of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf.
In January 2018, one of the girls in captivity, Salomi Pogu was found by the Nigerian army. She was found along with another girl, Jamila Adams in the town of Pulka in the northeast Borno State and they have since been receiving care and medical attention from the military.
What are the over 100 freed girls up to?
When the 82 girls were released in May, a government official close to the negotiations told CNN that the girls will be in military custody in the town of Banki in northeast Nigeria.
He added that they will be transferred to the capital, Abuja, where they will have medical checks and be reunited with their families.
Ten of the 57 girls who escaped right after the kidnapping gained scholarships to study in the United States. Many other freed girls are still under rehabilitation awaiting reintegration.
Twenty-four of the girls are based in the capital Abuja, where they are going through a nine-month remedial education course. As part of the course, the girls are taken on trips to Chibok every three months to see their families.
The move by the government to keep them under a military reintegration programme is to basically protect them. They are also providing intelligence information to the Nigerian security forces to help locate the terrorist group’s hideouts and to release their colleagues who are still in captivity.
But what about their parents? For how long would they wait for their freed daughters to be returned to them permanently? Aisha Yesufu, a leader of the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) campaign group said: “It doesn’t make sense for them to have been in captivity for over three years and when they come back here, they do not have access to their families… It seems like they left one captivity to be in another”. “[While] the government security probably think they are trying to protect them, they must ensure they are able to have access to their families.”
In effect, the government must put the wellbeing of the girls first before any potential intelligence benefits they could give.
And the 112 still in captivity?
At the moment, over 100 of the former schoolgirls, who are now around 20 years old, are still in the hands of Boko Haram. There are many others, male and female, including very young children who are also being held.
Some of the children have been compelled by the Islamist group to carry bombs to busy areas and explode them, killing themselves and so many others.
The Nigerian government is making some inroads in the fight against Boko Haram. Its military in 2017 drove the militants into enclaves in the Sambisa forest, a remote shrubland in Borno state where they are based.
Military engagements have led to the release of thousands of people held captive by the militant group. The Nigerian Army commenced road construction into the heartland of Sambisa forest in a bid to dislodge remnants of the extremist group who often use the forest as their hideout.
Now, what we know is that the Buhari administration is still negotiating the release of the remaining prisoners, including the 112 Chibok girls in captivity. But what we do not know is how fast these girls could be released, considering their whereabouts is unknown. What is the extent of negotiations? What happened to the campaign to get the girls released? Why the apparent silence? Has the world forgotten about them so soon? Many of us cheered when the 82 girls were released last year. We still need those voices to put pressure on the government and other relevant authorities to ensure the release of the remaining girls.