Tears welled up in the eyes of Martha Mark, whose daughter Monica Mark was kidnapped by Boko Haram on the 14th of April 2014. Martha tried to stay composed when she showed her daughter’s portrait to the journalists. The 219 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram from a boarding school in northeastern Nigeria, known as the Chibok girls, remain missing after 15 months.
On the 14th of April 2014, Boko Haram broke into the Chibok school, capturing nearly 300 students and setting the school buildings ablaze. They loaded the girls into trucks and headed toward the Sambisa forest, their former stronghold. Only 57 managed to escape.
Abigail, whose father was killed by Boko Haram in November 2013, jumped off the truck. Despite the wounds, Abigail dashed into the bush until she reached Kwada, a village near her house. Shortly afterwards, Ramaa Mosley, an American film director, launched the campaign, Bring Back Our Girls, with the support of the First Lady, Michelle Obama. The 11 escapees, with the help of Education after Escape, a non-profit organisation set up after the abduction, continue their education in the United States.
Apart from those who managed to escape, the rest of the Chibok girls, along with an unknown number of Boko Haram captives, were treated as sex slaves and soldiers. Miriam, once detained in the Boko Haram camp, saw some Chibok girls ‘slit the throats [of the captured men]’ in her village. Others fear that some Chibok girls died as suicide bombers, since the age of the bombers match those of the Chibok girls. Boko Haram, coined as the ISIS of Africa, means ‘Western education is sin’ in the local Hausa language. They abducted the girls in order to deny their right to be educated. They counter western education by imposing their version of Islam on their captives.
These captives hold little prospect. Muhammadu Buhari, the President-elect in Nigeria, does not promise that they will be rescued. ‘Currently their whereabouts remain unknown. We do not know the state of their health or welfare, or whether they are even still together or alive’, Buhari wrote in the New York Times. Any promises, in his words, would be ‘unfounded hope’.
While parents grieve for their beloved daughters, they have to leave their hometown in droves as Boko Haram keeps advancing, taking over large swathes of land. To remain would cost them their lives. Reverend Enoch Mark, who lost her daughter in the abduction, lamented, ‘I had to move the rest of my family somewhere safe’.
Boko Haram continues to add new scars to old wounds. In April, the local government reported large numbers of dead bodies, supposedly killed by Boko Haram, which were found in Damasak, a town in the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno. Earlier in January 2015, Boko Haram swept through Baga in northeastern Nigeria and executed more than 2,000 people. The massacre was so harrowing that Amnesty International regarded it as ‘possibly the deadliest [massacre] in Boko Haram’s history’.
Nigeria has historical roots in conflicts. Being a former British colony created in 1914, the country was arguably doomed to undergo intense ethnic and religious tensions. Being the most populous country in Africa, Nigeria comprises more than 250 ethnic groups. People speak over 500 languages and believe in different religions, mainly Islam in the north and Christianity in the south. All the people are grouped into one country. After gaining independence in 1960, Nigeria came under military control until a civilian government was established in 1999. Although the country has high hopes in President Buhari, he cannot root out the deeply entrenched conflicts in a day.
In Nigeria, a country marred by racial and religious conflicts, the abduction of the Chibok girls is by no means an isolated tragedy. To quote Salil Shetty, the Secretary General of Amnesty International: ‘the Chibok girls have come to symbolize all the innocent people whose lives have been destroyed by Boko Haram’. Despite the difficulties, Nigerians do hope for miracles. Samuel Yaga, the father of a missing Chibok girl, told the Guardian, ‘I’m eagerly and honestly hoping for Buhari to bring them back’.