On April 14, 2014, the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram abducted more than 300 schoolgirls from the village of Chibok, cementing their international reputation as one of the most ruthless and dangerous terror groups in the world. One year later, more than 200 of those girls remain missing, and Nigeria’s president-elect is making no promises to find them.
The exact number of girls abducted out of Chibok’s secondary school during their physics examination that day remains unconfirmed. Africa Check, a project by the Agence-France Presse, notes that estimates range from 200-500 girls and estimates the exact number to be at 360 girls. According to the Nigerian police commissioner in charge of the investigation, 53 of those abducted escaped. Still missing are 219 girls, or 85%, not seen since Boko Haram released a horrifying video of more than 100 of the girls wearing black Islamic garb and reciting Koranic verses.
Nigeria is commemorating their loss today with a large march in its capital, Abuja, demanding the girls be returned home safely. Two hundred nineteen girls marched today, one representing each of the victims still missing. Every day that passes makes the possibility of their safe return less likely.
The international community’s immediate reaction to the Chibok kidnapping was lackluster enough to embolden Boko Haram to embark on at least 38 other abduction sprees in the past year, according to Amnesty International. At least 2,000 women are estimated to be in their custody, though Amnesty notes that number may be much higher.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said in a video released shortly after the Chibok kidnapping that the girls would be sold into slavery or married off. While this is true for many of Boko Haram’s victims, a number of others have been used as suicide bombers to attack public squares in northern Nigeria.
The United States responded to the alarm following the Chibok kidnapping with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, with which First Lady Michelle Obama posed for a photo. Even before the Chibok kidnappings, the Obama State Department was reticent to acknowledge the Boko Haram threat, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton actively objecting to placing the jihadist group on terror lists.
President Obama also sent a team of American military personnel to help Nigeria find the girls, though this was widely criticized as insufficient support, and detractors have been proven correct by the continued absence of the Chibok girls in their families’ lives–that is, those family members who themselves have not fallen victim to Boko Haram. Eleven parents of Chibok girls died in a Boko Haram attack in July 2014, long before the jihadist group took temporary control of Chibok in November, slaughtering more residents who attempted to defend themselves. The Nigerian military eventually liberated the town of the Boko Haram threat–an attempt to thwart the final humiliation of losing the town that has become emblematic of Nigeria’s inability to defeat the group.
Nigeria’s failure to eradicate the group is believed to have been a deciding factor in incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan’s loss to Muhammadu Buhari, who served as the nation’s military dictator in 1983 before becoming a serial presidential candidate. In an election postponed but otherwise unmarred by Boko Haram, Buhari–who himself survived a Boko Haram car bomb–vowed to eradicate the group.
And yet even Buhari, who played a pivotal role in the destruction of the violent Maitatsine sect, is making no promises about the Chibok girls. “We do not know if the Chibok girls can be rescued. Their whereabouts remain unknown. As much as I wish to, I cannot promise that we can find them,” Buhari said in remarks on Tuesday, nonetheless promising to place all efforts towards finding them.
In the past two months, escaped Boko Haram captives have claimed to have either spotted personally or heard rumors from other captives of where the Chibok girls are being held. Nigerian military sources have said in the past that the group has likely been split into smaller groups and hidden in the woodlands of the north.