Sunday marks the fifth anniversary of the terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapping 276 schoolgirls in the Nigerian town of Chibok. More than 100 remain missing, according to officials.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said this week the number of children Boko Haram has kidnapped and killed is likely much higher:
Those that have been rescued or escaped have been receiving help from UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, which says that since 2013, more than 3,500 children have been recruited and used by non-state armed groups in the north-east of the country.
It has warned that these numbers are only those that have been verified, while the true figures are likely to be higher. In addition to these children, last year, 432 children were killed and maimed, 180 were abducted, and 43 girls were sexually abused in this conflict-wracked part of the Lake Chad region.
Media reports citing those released or escaped have detailed what unfolded over the past five years for some of the girls.
Deborah Peters escaped from Boko Haram and eventually came to the United States with the help of human rights activists.
The then-15-year-old spoke at the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC, in 2014, where she shared her chilling story of witnessing Boko Haram kill her father and brother.
“Three men knocked on our door, and then my brother opened the door for them,” Peters said. “And they asked him, ‘Where is your dad?’ And he told them, ‘My dad is in the bathroom taking a shower.’”
Peters said the terrorists told her father he was “wasting their time.”
“So when they take [sic] him out of the bathroom, they told him that he should deny his faith,” Peters said. “He told them that he can’t deny his faith, so they told him that they were going to kill him if he didn’t deny his faith.
“But he told them that he should rather die than to go to hellfire,” Peters said. “So my dad refused to deny his faith, and then they shoot [sic] him three times in the chest.”
The Islamic terrorists also shot her brother three times, then tied up Deborah and left her lying between the two corpses.
“I was in shock,” Peters said.
The Religious News Service told the story of Dorcas, another of the Chibok survivors:
“At 15 years old that Sunday, she was one of the youngest of the Chibok girls kidnapped from the Chibok secondary government school.
Dorcas’ parents, Esther Yakubu and Yakubu Kabu, learned about their daughter’s fate only when they saw her featured in a 2016 Boko Haram “proof of life” video. She was the only girl who spoke. She asked her parents to beg the Nigerian government to agree to Boko Haram’s demands so that all the Chibok girls could return home. “There is no suffering we have not seen,” she said.” “Tell the government to give them their people so we can come to be with you. Our sisters are injured. Exercise patience as we also have endured.”
One year later, in May 2017, Dorcas appeared in another video. But this time her message was different. Holding an AK-47 rifle, Dorcas stated she did not want to return home because her parents live in a town of unbelievers and they are not fulfilling Allah’s wishes.
Thomas Reuters Foundation reported on Margret Yama, a 22-year old survivor.
“Sometimes, it can make me sleepless because I’m thinking of them,” Yama said in a phone interview from her home in Yola, Nigeria. “Sometimes, they are even appearing in my dreams. It is very painful.”
“Relatives of missing girls often ask those who have returned home about their daughters,” Reuters reported.
“We didn’t tell their families about the ones that died,” 22-year-old Hannatu Stephens said in the Reuters said. “But they are always asking us, and we tell them that they are fine.”
“We don’t know how to tell them they are dead,” said Stephens, who lost a leg during her ordeal.
When the news first broke of the kidnapping, it launched the #BringBackOurGirls campaign on social media. The BBOG movement still exists and works tirelessly to advocate for the girls years later, even as the fate of the Nigerian children has fallen from the headlines. According to the Religion News Service:
This advocacy group recently faulted the Nigerian government for not doing enough to ensure the remaining girls’ release. For five years BBOG has organized a daily sit-in at Abuja, the country’s capital; weekly sit-ins in Lagos; and events in Ibadan, Osogbo, London, New York and Washington, DC. They have visited local and international stakeholders to demand justice for the slain, safe schools and the launch of the National Missing Persons Register. BBOG will hold an overnight vigil on April 14th at the Nigerian Embassy in New York City as well as vigils in Lagos, Abuja, London.
Over the past five years, civil society and faith-based groups in the U.S. and around the world have launched petitions, social media campaigns, and written letters to raise awareness about the Chibok girls. There have been hearings and events in the U.S. Capitol led by Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Frederica Wilson (D-FL), among others.
Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) on April 11 introduced a bipartisan resolution recognizing the fifth anniversary, and calling on the Nigerian government to prioritize the recovery of women and girls Boko Haram abducted and enslaved and the governments of the United States and Nigeria to swiftly implement measures to defeat Boko Haram.
“But his administration has failed to defeat the decade-long insurgency, who have been waging attacks since 2009, with an uptick in attacks on military bases and strategic towns ahead of February elections, in which Buhari secured a second term,” Reuters reported.
“Efforts are being intensified to secure the release of all hostages, not just the Chibok girls,” presidential spokesman Garba Shehu, said.
“The operations are ongoing, and the aim is for comprehensive engagement and settlement,” Shehu said.
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