195 Chibok schoolgirls remain in Boko Haram custody, 1000 days after they were abducted. The chants for their rescue couldn't have been louder
Their abductors were Boko Haram terrorists who shot their way through an unmanned school gate, picked the girls from their dark dormitory, before herding them into the back of a truck.
The girls were thereafter driven to the heart of a vast Sambisa Forest--until recently, Boko Haram's stronghold.
The date: April 14, 2014.
Weeks later, the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) group began the advocacy for their release.
"Bring Back Our Girls" became a rallying global cry with United States First Lady Michelle Obama, former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, A-list Hollywood actors and TV personalities like Christiane Amanpour and Ellen DeGeneres holding aloft #BringBackOurGirls placards.
The abductions sparked global outrage and marches were held across major cities of the world.
In April of 2016, CNN released its 'proof of life video' which showed that some of the abducted girls were still alive. Some parents who identified their daughters in the video, devolved into a mixed bag of emotions.
And hope made a return to Chibok and elsewhere.
In the video, the girls were made to speak and sing. They were clad in Hijabs.
In May, 2016, one of the missing girls, 19-year-old Amina Nkeki, was found by an army backed vigilante group in the Sambisa Forest. She was carrying a baby.
In October, 2016, 21 of the Chibok Girls were released after negotiations between the Nigerian government and the terrorists.
In January of 2017, another abducted girl, Rakiya Abubakar was found as troops profiled captured Boko Haram terrorists after dislodging the insurgents from Sambisa and seizing the 60,000sq/km swathe of forest.
BBOG convener, Madam Obiageli Ezekwesili told Pulse in an exclusive chat that the advocacy to rescue the girls won't stop until all the girls return home.
It is believed that 195 of the abducted girls are still in Boko Haram custody even though Sambisa Forest where they were believed to have been hidden, has been recaptured by Nigerian troops.
"The negotiated release of our 21 Chibok girls in October demonstrated what our movement always believed the Federal Government was capable of. We want to see more of this type of decisive action that will bring back the remaining 196 Chibok girls who have been left with their abductors for far too long. The fact is that our Chibok Girls could long have been rescued had the two successive governments acted with absolute focus on attaining results speedily", Ezekwesili said.
In the course of the advocacy, Ezekwesili and the BBOG movement have come under attacks from Police and government hirelings.
However, the former Vice President of the World Bank for Africa and former Nigeria Minister, says the attacks have only served to keep the group focused.
Said Ezekwesili: "I think Winston Churchill put it best when he said that “you will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks”. Abusing me, assaulting me, denigrating me, accusing me and maligning me is the ministry that such people have chosen in life and so I wish them well.
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"They have to fulfill their own ministry. As for me, I can never be distracted from living my values. I have my courage of conviction that standing for our Chibok Girls is an expression of my values and one thing people know of me is that I never negotiate my values. I can negotiate my views...... but never my values. And so, for our Girls, I shall stand to the end.
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"I was not born with silver spoons in my mouth. I can relate with the circumstances of the families of our ChibokGirls. The value they placed on education is reason their own children-- girls- were in school even in a dangerous zone. My parents similarly gave up everything in order to give my siblings and I education. They always said it would pave the path to greatness for us. I believe in justice.
"If education brought me thus far in life, then my responsibility as a human being must be to ensure that others would never be deprived their opportunity. Imagine the children of poor people in rural Chibok being ignored in their tragedy by the rest of us simply because they are not considered as "high and mighty". Poverty must never be a reason for Nigeria to not respect the dignity of life of any of our citizens.
"Another important point is that as citizens in a democracy, we cannot sit by and do nothing while the political elite wage bets against Nigeria’s future. We always say that “the fight for the Chibok girls is the fight for the soul of Nigeria”. We must remind our governments of their social contracts with citizens.
"When the Danish Foreign minister visited our movement during one of our daily sit-outs at Unity Fountain, he added that it is also a fight for the soul of the world. It’s our collective soul and our humanity that threatens to be eroded if we don’t do our part".
President Muhammadu Buhari has said in the past that the war against Boko Haram would not be said to have been won until all the abducted girls and all other Boko Haram captives, return home to their families.
In his message on the 1000th day of the abduction of the schoolgirls, the President expressed similar sentiment.
“We are grateful to God that on this landmark day, we are not completely in the depths of despair, but buoyed with hope that our daughters will yet rejoin their families and loved ones. Three of them have been recovered by our diligent military, while the freedom of 21 others was secured through engagement with their captors. We are hopeful that many more will still return as soon as practicable,” Buhari said.
The President added that: “I salute the fortitude of the distraught parents. As a parent also, I identify with their plight. Days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months, months turned to years, and today, it is 1,000 days. The tears never dry, the ache is in our hearts. But hope remains constant, eternal, and we believe our pains will be assuaged. Our hopes will not be shattered, and our hearts will leap for joy, as more and more of our daughters return. It is a goal we remain steadfastly committed to.
"Someday soon, we will all rejoice together. Our intelligence and security forces are unrelenting, and whatever it takes, we remain resolute. Chibok community, Nigeria, and, indeed, the world, will yet rise in brotherhood, to welcome our remaining girls back home. We trust God for that eventuality.”
Amnesty International has asked the Nigerian government to redouble efforts toward the rescue of the remaining girls still in captivity.
"One thousand days after the chilling abduction of 276 school girls in Chibok, the Nigerian government must redouble its efforts to ensure the release of the girls, and all other victims of mass abduction,” said the organisation in a statement signed by Mr. Makmid Kamara, Acting Country Director for Amnesty International, Nigeria.
“This terrible anniversary is a chilling reminder not just of the tragic disappearance of the Chibok school girls, but also all other individuals – many of whom are also children – who remain captive in Boko Haram’s hideouts across the country. These abductions and other attacks on civilians, many of which constitute war crimes, must stop.
“While the Nigerian government is making considerable efforts to recover the 195 Chibok girls still in Boko Haram’s custody, we are concerned that victims of less well publicised mass abductions have not benefited from comparable efforts to secure their release.”
“The Nigerian government should also dramatically step up its efforts to ensure the safe release of abductees and provide proper psychological and medical support to those who have already been rescued, released or have escaped captivity,” Kamara added.
The BBOG group says its daily sit-ins and marches to the Presidential palace in Abuja, will continue.
"We therefore go ahead with our #Day1000 activities with recommitted zeal. Activities have been confirmed to hold in New York (4 events on the same day 8 January), Washington DC, Paris, Lagos, and Abuja. Kindly join any close to you or organise one in your location”, the BBOG group charged in a statement signed by its spokesperson, Sesuh Akume.