Two weeks ago, more than 200 girls were kidnapped from a school in Nigeria. On Wednesday, women from around Nigeria gathered in the capital to demand answers as to just why the full force of the government has not been brought to bear in finding their missing daughters, nieces, and sisters.
They were there to finally take a physics exam long-delayed by violence in the region when armed men stormed the building and carted them away for the crime of gaining an education. Whisked away from Government Girls Secondary School in the town of Chibok, located in Nigeria’s northeast, the number of girls missing varied extensively as the early reports trickled in. Most eventually agreed that more than 200 girls were still missing from the Apr. 14 kidnapping, though some did manage to escape from their captors.
The seeming lack of effort on the part of President Goodluck Jonathan and the rest of the Nigerian government to find the missing girls has angered Nigerians and international observers alike. On Wednesday, women from Borno state, home of the secondary school, joined with women from across Nigeria in the capital city, Abuja, to press the government to do more. Photos from the march speak to the emotion at the event, even if it did not reach the million women that Women for Peace and Justice had called for. “May God curse every one of those who has failed to free our girls,” Enoch Mark, whose daughter and two nieces were among the kidnapped, told the Guardian.
Just who spirited the girls away in the middle of the night remains uncertain. Most observers have pointed to Boko Haram — whose name roughly translates to mean “western education is sinful” and has referred to itself as the “Nigerian Taliban” — as the most likely culprits. The terrorist group has been on something of a spree lately, launching numerous attacks against mosques, churches, government facilities, and schools in recent weeks, racking up hundreds of deaths in the process. But Boko Haram isn’t exactly media shy, and no group has yet stepped forward to officially claim credit.
Whoever it was, according to one girl who managed to escape, showed up to the boarding school in the night, dressed in military uniforms and promising the girls they’d remain safe. It was only once they men began shouting into the air and screaming “Allahu akbar,” Deborah Sanya told the New Yorker, that they realized the danger they were in. Sanya managed to flee from the militant’s camp — at least 180 of them have yet to be so lucky.
Early on in the crisis, it appeared as though the Nigerian Army might be successful in finding the kidnapped teens, as Nigerian media reported only a day after the kidnapping that the military had freed a majority of the students missing. The military was quickly forced to retract that announcement, however, and there have been no further indications that they are close to retreiving the girls. “The operation is going on and we will continue to deploy more troops,” Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade told the Associated Press. That was last Tuesday.
Just where the girls are now is uncertain at best. Local leaders in Chibok have told Nigerian press that the girls had been taken to the borders of Chad and Cameroon, where they say many were “married” off to their captors for a price of 2,000 Nigerian naira — or $12 USD. “The dowry was paid to their captors, the very people who abducted them from their school,” Dr. Pogu Chibok, leader of the Chibok Elders Forum, told the Daily Trust. “One of them who married one of the girls took her to a border town close to Cameroon where villagers saw her.”
There may be a chance that the girls can still be recovered. Nigeria’s Channel 4 News on Tuesday reported that a hostage negotiator has been in contact with the kidnappers and “the girls, we believe, are alive but they have been moved from the location to which they were originally taken,” the negotiator said. “It would not be hard to engineer a deal. It looks like they want to release them.” The same negotiator cautioned though that “kidnappers have warned, however, that attempts by the military to launch a rescue attempt ‘may result in the deaths of many of the captives.'”
In a reversal from normal cases in international outrage, interest in the case of the missing schoolgirls has only increased as the weeks of gone on, at least online. Activists and observers have taken to Twitter to press the Nigerian government on the matter, using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls to demand that they move faster to recover the teenagers. Thousands of tweets later, and one march, it remains to be seen whether the Jonathan government — which has struggled to contain Boko Haram, despite large scale military operations against the group — will be able to actually bring the missing girls home.
CREDIT: AP Photo/ Gbemiga Olamikan
CREDIT: AP Photo/ Gbemiga Olamikan