Abuja, Nigeria – Six months after the armed group Boko Haram kidnapped 276 Nigerian girls from a boarding school in the northeastern town of Chibok, 219 remain in captivity after 57 escaped.
That may come as a surprise to many because the April 14 mass abduction that drew global shock, condemnation, and media attention has since been largely forgotten – except in Chibok that is.
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Every day at Unity Fountain in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, family members of the girls, community members, and citizens in solidarity gather to chant the message that was heard around the world last April: “Bring back our girls.”
None of the young women so far have been rescued, despite a global #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign that went viral and garnered support from such high-profile figures as the US president’s wife, Michelle Obama, and Nobel Peace prize winner Malala Yousafzai.
World leaders from countries including the United States, United Kingdom, France, China, Canada and Israel offered assistance to Nigeria to free the schoolgirls, but to date no diplomatic or military action has secured their release.
“As far as our girls are concerned, they have been abandoned,” said Mkeki Mutah, an uncle of two of the missing – 17-year-old Saratu and 18-year-old Elizabeth.
“There is a saying: ‘Actions speak louder than words.’ Leaders from around the world came out and said they would assist to bring the girls back, but now we hear nothing. The question I wish to raise is: why?” Mutah told Al Jazeera.
“If they knew they would not do anything, they wouldn’t have even made that promise at all. By just coming out to tell the world, I see that as a political game, which it shouldn’t be so far as the girls are concerned.”
On April 14 – in one of its most brazen assaults to date – Boko Haram fighters stormed a high school in Chibok after dark as hundreds of young women wrote exams. The students were then loaded onto trucks and driven off. Fifty-seven managed to escape as they were being hauled away or soon after.
Boko Haram has demanded a swap for detained fighters in exchange for the girls, but so far President Goodluck Jonathan has refused.
Outrage over the abductions soon spread and the world’s media began marking the number of days since the schoolgirls disappeared. But six months later, world leaders and the Western media have since shifted their attention to the international fight against the group calling itself Islamic State (ISIL) in Syria and Iraq and the threat of Ebola.
Despite decreasing attention, a small but faithful group of supporters is trying to keep pressure on the Nigerian government – and the spotlight on the missing Chibok teenagers. Bring Back Our Girls campaigners in Nigeria still meet daily and they organised a Global Week of Action from October 11-18 to mobilise people around the world to the girls’ plight.
On Tuesday in Abuja they will march to President Jonathan’s villa to demand the immediate rescue of the missing girls from Chibok, a town 130km from Maiduguri, the Borno state capital.
Jonathan has been accused of keeping silent on the mass abduction and failing to bring the girls home. He responded in June saying his government would never abandon the search.
“My government and our security and intelligence services have spared no resources, have not stopped and will not stop until the girls are returned home,” the president said in a Washington Post opinion piece.
But months later, that pledge still remains unfulfilled – and for those affected the international media, too, has also failed to follow up on the story that dominated global headlines at the time.
|Hadiza Bala Usman said international attention to the girls’ plight has not amounted to anything [Ashionye Ogene]|
“People need to remember that 219 girls remain in captivity,” Hadiza Bala Usman, a protest coordinator, told Al Jazeera. “We appreciate the fact that the media propelled a lot of support around the world, but that support has not translated into any rescue. For us, if whatever is said and done doesn’t translate into the rescue of the girls, it hasn’t really achieved anything.”
While the Nigerian military has made little progress in tracking down the missing teenagers, the government, however, has highlighted its achievements in neutralising core commanders of Boko Haram.
Last month it released a statement announcing the death of Mohammed Bashir, a man it claimed featured in Boko Haram’s recent video allegedly posing as the group’s leader Abubakar Shekau, who the government said had been killed in a military operation.
The government said it is doing all it can to bring back the students.
“It has been hard to rescue the girls, but rescuing the Chibok girls has remained a focus of the Nigerian government, despite all that is happening on other fronts,” Mike Omerri, director general of the National Orientation Agency, told Al Jazeera.
Omerri said releasing information publicly about the pursuit of the students wouldn’t be beneficial.
“Because rescue efforts require regular information about troops and their activity, this could lead to disruption of tracing them. Therefore, the Nigerian government is asking all citizens to exercise patience.”
‘Pleading for more voices’
|Peter Joseph’s sister Elizabeth was taken [Ashionye Ogene]|
But patience has run out in the town, and for some the hope of finding them has disappeared.
“Our Chibok people have given up already. They don’t even believe there is a rescue operation going on,” said Peter Joseph, brother of Elizabeth, 17. “Each time I speak to my mother about my sister Eli she always cries. They were taken away alive, and we just don’t know where she is or what is happening to her. That feels worse than knowing she’s dead.”
Members of the Chibok community described how their town has been torn apart. Victor Ibrahim Garba, uncle of 18-year-old Naomi Stover, said: “There are a lot of parents in Chibok that are dead today. A lot of parents have died because of heartache … It has affected me and my family psychologically, emotionally and otherwise.”
Garba said the international fury that erupted in April is again needed to help free the teenagers.
“Whatever it takes, however long it takes, we are pleading for more voices. We are here every day under the sun and in the rain for others in our community and around the world to see that we are here. We will not stop until the girls are back even if it takes 100 years, even if it is just one person that remains standing.
“We demand the girls are brought home from hell, and we are pleading with people around the world to come to our aid. We are still here.”
Follow Ashionye Ogene on Twitter: @AshionyeOgene