Today makes it 1,000 days since 276 girls preparing to write their final exam were abducted from the Government Girls’ Secondary School in Chibok town of Borno State by the Boko Haram terrorist group.
The abduction marked a turning point in the five-year war against the terrorist organization, and the silence and poor handling of the incident by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan led to international outcry and protests, which culminated in the creation of the #BringBackOurGirls group to maintain pressure on government and the military to not relent in efforts to rescue the girls.
Almost three years later, 219 of the girls are still missing: 57 having escaped shortly after the abduction by either jumping from the vehicles ferrying them or escaping from their camps, 21 were released via a reported negotiation with the terrorists and the rest found wandering in the Sambisa Forest where the group had reportedly made its headquarters.
However, there are still a lot of information gaps that need filling: for example, the terms of the release of the 21 girls in October last year is still not known, whether anything was given in exchange for the girls.
Also, all prior intelligence had previously pointed to the girls being held in the Sambisa Forest; however, after the pre-Christmas takeover of the forest by the Nigerian military and the non-discovery of the girls, there is need for the military and intelligence agencies to seriously consider the possibility that the girls have been split up into groups and likely trafficked across borders. This will also mean collaborating with foreign countries especially across the Greater Sahel and the Lake Chad region to track them down.
Even though the military has declared victory over Boko Haram by virtue of its taking over of the Sambisa Forest, it is common knowledge that the war is far from over, especially as its leadership is still alive. We can only hope that the military is extracting every valuable bit of information and intelligence from the rescued girls who have spent time with them.
As the rescued girls are reunited with their families and reabsorbed into society, the Nigerian government will also need to do better in how it manages publicity around the girls as captivity for up to two years and the possibility of multiple rapes could have harmed their psyche, and how they are reabsorbed into their society. The manner in which many versions of the story around Amina Ali Nkeki, the girl found by the military in May 2016 left so much to be desired.
The Nigerian government must not also let the abduction be the end of education for the girls – the ones that have been rescued must be put back in school as soon as possible. Not only that, their school which was destroyed by the terrorists during the abduction should be renovated so that other students are not denied the chance of decent education. As such, the government must investigate fully reports that N500m raised for this purpose cannot be accounted for.
We hope that the Federal Government does not relent in its efforts to rescue not just the Chibok girls, but also the hundreds of other people who have been abducted by Boko Haram.
To the families of the missing girls and other abductees, we urge them to remain strong. Our thoughts and prayers are always with them.