Even in captivity, they refused to be forgotten.
Their spirits refused to die and they cried out, willing the world to come to their aid, even as some Nigerians denied the kidnapping at a boarding school in Chibok, Borno State, ever happened.
Even as then-president Goodluck Jonathan was pictured dancing at a political rally just days after their kidnapping. Even as his wife held a bizarre press conference in the wake of their abductions wailing ‘Diaris God o’.
From thousands of miles away I heard the cry of these girls who simply wanted to get an education. How could I not? I am a daughter of the soil. I grew up in Nigeria and went to boarding school here, just like these girls. I imagined if this had happened to me, or any of my friends or family. I could no longer stay away.
They even inspired a global response with public figures such as Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai and US first lady Michelle Obama supporting the #BringBackOurGirls campaign on social media. This hashtag was used more than five million times on Twitter at the height of the campaign to free the Chibok girls.
They also sparked the creation of the BBOG group, who have staged sit-ins, marches, and protests for nearly every day that the girls have been missing.
I cannot remember a time when the world joined forces for the plight of African girls in this way.
Their spirits simply refused to die. Some of them, so determined to live, jumped off the trucks carrying them to captivity. One of them, now living in America, told me she broke her leg and slid along the floor on her tummy, terrified, unable to move, convinced Boko Haram fighters would capture her again.
For two years after those initial few months, there was no news of them and the world moved on to other more pressing global matters. Then earlier this year, I received a tip-off earlier that a proof of life video existed of the Chibok girls — long presumed to be dead or sold into sex slavery.
Yet here was proof that they were clearly alive and well and the international spotlight was turned firmly on them once more. This video, I’m told by government sources, spurred action for the negotiation talks that eventually led to the release of some of them.
I was overjoyed when 21 of them were freed in October this year. The scenes of joy that followed the reunion with their parents are unforgettable. Mothers and fathers wept openly as they hugged and held the daughters they feared they would never see again.
One of the mothers took off her wrapper and carried her child squarely on her back, like you would an infant. It was one of the most touching scenes I’ve ever witnessed and a stark reminder that no matter how old you are, in your parents eyes, you will always be their child.
But the reunion was tinged with sadness for a handful of parents whose daughters remain in captivity — some 197 girls are still being held by Boko Haram. The families too deserve all the accolades — they stood strong in the face of indifference and ridicule. At least 13 of them have also been killed by Boko Haram.
I met some of the newly-released Chibok girls last month and the one thing that struck me was their resilience. One can only imagine the horrors of what they went through at the hands of their captors, yet their smiles were as bright as their colourful outfits.
Only when you give a welcoming hug do you feel their emaciated frames through the clothes. You catch a glimpse of a collarbone jutting out… clear signs of undernourishment, the pain masked in their eyes.
These young girls, some in their late teens and early 20s, were clearly unused to the limelight, yet find themselves thrust firmly into its glare.
Thousands of girls have been kidnapped by Boko Haram, yet it is the Chibok girls who have come to symbolize these kidnappings.
It is them that history will never forget.
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