Nigeria’s Chibok schoolgirls: Five years on, 112 still missing

At least 276 girls were taken from a government secondary school in Chibok town by Boko Haram in 2014.

Boko Haram released several girls after years of tense negotiations but more than 100 are still missing [Reuters]

The sleepy town of Chibok in Nigeria‘s northeast continues to grapple with the seemingly endless wait for the return of more than 100 schoolgirls who were abducted by the armed group Boko Haram, five years ago on Sunday.

Life has not remained the same for the community, which still feels haunted by the April 14, 2014 kidnappings.

The town attracted international attention after Boko Haram fighters forcibly removed at least 276 girls from the government secondary girls school in Chibok town, prompting global outrage with various organisations and celebrities calling for their release.

In the first frantic minutes of their ordeal, 57 girls managed to jump from the trucks in which they were transported, and escaped. The remaining 219 were taken away by the fighters.

A social media campaign with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls went viral and celebrities, leaders and activists across the world joined the campaign to free the kidnapped schoolgirls.

Five years after the Boko Haram attack, more than 112 girls are still missing.

Boko Haram frees dozens of abducted Nigerian schoolgirls

Over the years, a total of 107 girls have been found or released as part of a deal between the Nigerian government and the armed group.

“They [the government] are not talking about our girls anymore. They are acting as if they are happy about what happened to us,” Enock Mark, whose two daughters are still missing, told Al Jazeera.

“We have lost hope in the government helping us. They have not shown any serious interest in ensuring that our daughters are found. It looks like it was done intentionally. They don’t care about us anymore,” he said.

“We won’t give up. Even in a hundred years, we will keep believing that our daughters will return home. Until we all die, we won’t stop believing that our daughters will come back.”

Mark and other parents of the missing girls still regularly make the difficult journey of nearly 900km to the nation’s capital, Abuja, for updates about their daughters.

The road leading to Chibok is often being targeted by Boko Haram with very little done by security agencies to protect commuters.

The town has also come under repeated attacks by gunmen with buildings burned and some residents killed.

Endless grief

In recent years, the Nigerian government has come under immense criticism for doing very little to free the Chibok girls.

Some of the parents have died waiting for their daughters to return. Local media reports say they died of heart attacks and grief-related ailments. Others are still grieving and hoping their children will be found.

More than 100 abducted Nigeria schoolgirls still missing

“There is great pain in our heart every day when we remember our missing daughters. We leave it to God to help us,” Mark said.

“My wife has been finding it so difficult to cope without her children. She keeps crying every time she remembers her missing daughters. I have to keep consoling her,” he added.

At least 20 of the girls who escaped from Boko Haram have since moved to the US to continue their education. The remaining girls may have been forced to integrate with Boko Haram, Chibok community leaders say, adding that some may be ashamed to return home because they were forced to marry the fighters and have babies.

Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates to “Western education is forbidden”, has waged an armed campaign in northeastern Nigeria since 2009.

The group wants to establish an Islamic state, following a strict interpretation of Islamic law.  

More than 27,000 people have been killed by the group and over two million others displaced from their homes.

Over the years, the group has kidnapped thousands of adults and children. Most of those abducted are women who are used as sex slaves, while the men are often forcefully recruited as fighters.

The group has repeatedly attacked schools, churches, mosques and markets, but state institutions such as police stations and military facilities have remained primary targets.

They have used minors and veiled women for suicide bomb attacks, attacked people with car bombs and opened fire on civilians at public places.

Boko Haram allegedly operates its largest camp in the vast Sambisa forest in Nigeria’s northeast.

The forest stretches for about 60,000 square kilometres in the southern part of the northeastern state of Borno, which has borne the brunt of Boko Haram’s violence.

In August 2016, the group split into two after long-time leader Abubakar Shekau rejected an attempt by the a branch of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group’s Abu Musab al-Barnawi to replace him.

Al-Barnawi is believed to be the son of late Boko Haram founder Mohammed Yusuf and used to be Boko Haram’s spokesperson.

There are reports that Al-Barnawi has been removed as the factional leader.

The northeast remains a battleground in Nigeria’s decade-long fight against the armed group of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Boko Haram.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari promised to crush Boko Haram during his first term election campaign in 2015.

But his administration has failed to end the decade-long violence, with increasing attacks on military bases and strategic towns.

The group continues to launch attacks in the country’s northeast, and its leader remains at large.

Fading advocacy

Since 2014, Chibok has hosted hundreds of journalists, activists, security operatives and government delegations.

Most of the advocacy groups that pleaded for the release of the girls have however gone quiet.

Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) has kept the campaign going, but the group has become smaller, seemingly having lost its punch.

“It is quite challenging to sustain a singular core demand – #BringBackOurGirls – when facing a government that has taken up a disinterested and hostile stance for almost five years,” spokesperson of the Bring Back Our Girls group, Nifemi Onifade, told Al Jazeera.

“The drain of standing for the Chibok girls is real and heavy and so, many may have had various reasons over the years for their reduced commitments,” Onifade added.

Inside Story: Has Boko Haram been defeated? (25:00)

Source: Al Jazeera