march on a street during a silent protest calling on the government to
rescue the kidnapped girls of the government secondary school in Chibok,
who were kidnapped a year ago. Photo / AP
A year ago today, Jonah Bulama took his 13-year-old daughter Amina to
her boarding school as he did every Monday. Unbeknown to him that
fateful day – 14 April 2014 – would be his last sight of her.
later, Boko Haram jihadists stormed the school, loaded his daughter and
more than 200 classmates on to buses and drove them into the bush. Some
50 escaped on the night of the attack, but other than a brief
appearance in a propaganda film, most of them have not been seen since.
day we look at a photo of Amina and are bitter that we’re alive but
can’t do anything to help our daughter,” Mr Bulama told The Independent.
“We can’t do anything but hope.”
His pain is exacerbated by the
haunting words of the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, who later
vowed that the girls would be married to fighters or sold as slaves.
“God instructed me to sell them, they are his properties and I will
carry out his instructions,” he said in a chilling message, adding that
anyone who hoped for their release was “daydreaming”.
This grim sequence of events will be remembered across Nigeria
today and has taken a heavy toll on the parents of the missing Chibok
girls and the psyche of Nigeria at large.
Seventeen parents of
the victims have died since the abduction a year ago, while Boko Haram’s
attacks upon surrounding schools have forced many to withdraw their
children from education altogether. That has proved a particularly
effective fear tactic by a group whose name translates as “Western
education is forbidden”.
The result has been to exacerbate an
already critical situation in a country that already had the highest
number of children not attending school in the world – 10.5 million,
according to a Unesco report from 2012. That number is likely to have
increased substantially over the past year.
People demonstrate calling on the Nigerian
government to rescue girls taken from a secondary school in Chibok
region, in the city of Abuja, Nigeria. Photo / AP
Unicef estimates that Nigeria has an illiteracy rate above
51 per cent – significantly higher in the north – stunting economic
progress in one of West Africa’s poorest regions. Nigeria’s National
Bureau of Statistics indicates that more than 76 per cent of people live
in poverty in the north-east.
The plight of the girls remains
widely debated. Even with the help of Western military spy planes and
hostage negotiation experts, finding them appears to remain well beyond
the capability of the Nigerian authorities.
Yesterday a woman
claimed to the BBC that she had seen 50 of the missing girls alive three
weeks ago, in the north-eastern town of Gwoza, shortly before Boko
Haram fighters were defeated and driven out.
Raad Zeid al
Hussein, the current United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, fears
they may have been slaughtered by the terrorists before they fled from
Bama, in Borno State, hours before the Nigerian army retook the
“The recent recovery of territories in north-eastern
Nigeria has brought to light macabre scenes of mass graves and more
obvious signs of killings by Boko Haram,” he said in Nigeria. “These
reports include the murder of the wives of combatants, women and girls
held in slavery.”
Their plight drew an international response
last year, thanks in part to the BringBackOurGirls social media campaign
endorsed by Michelle Obama and numerous celebrities. It was started
when President Goodluck Jonathan failed to acknowledge the girls
abduction publicly for three weeks, causing outrage across Nigeria. “We
have a government that has been irresponsibly silent over this issue,”
said Bukola Shonibare, a spokesperson for the campaign.
protests have repeatedly been broken up by police but one of the
campaign’s founders said she was determined to continue its activism.
“We understand that no matter what situation we find ourselves in, for
as long as… the girls are not rescued we have to keep the hope for the
families alive,” said Hadiza Bala Usman. “We have to sustain the voice
of 219 girls that have been in captivity for a year now.”
Nigerians hope that their new President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, due to
take office on 29 May after defeating President Jonathan at the polls
last month, will accelerate the search for the girls. Advisers said he
intends to boost the army’s capabilities and resume military training
contracts with Britain and the US.
“Since independence, I do not
think we have been reduced to such a position as a nation as the
disappearance of 220 girls between the ages 14 and 18, for almost a
year, and the government could not do anything about it,” Mr Buhari, a
former general who ruled Nigeria as a dictator in the 1980s, said on the
campaign trail. In his first post-election address he declared: “We
should spare no effort in tackling the insurgency – we have a tough and
urgent job to do.”
Meanwhile, Mr Bulama was making his way to
commemorative protests in Abuja today. “If it was up to the parents we
would already have got our daughters back,” he said. “But it is the
responsibility of the security forces to do this.” Asked what he would
like to see of the new government, his response is likely to reflect the
sentiment of more than 200 parents who were dealt such a cruel blow a
year ago: “I only want my daughter.”