Two years later, Chibok girls still captive
Nigeria | Advocates in Congress hold onto hope for the return of more than 200 Nigerian girls abducted by Boko Haram
by Evan Wilt
Posted 4/14/16, 05:20 pm
WASHINGTON—On the two-year anniversary of Boko Haram’s heinous abduction of 276 school girls in Nigeria, advocates remain hopeful each will return home safely—even with few bread crumbs to follow.
“I believe they are still alive and Boko Haram is holding these girls with the express purpose of bribery,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla. “We will never give up until we bring back our girls.”
Just before midnight on April 14, 2014, armed men surged the Chibok Government Secondary School in northeast Nigeria. They grabbed girls, between 11 and 17 years old, dressed only in their nightgowns, loaded them into trucks, and vanished. Several dozen girls escaped while in transit—leaping off moving trucks in the dead of night. Now, two years later, advocates in Washington, D.C., believe it is only a matter of time until the remaining girls are found, and they believe the United States government has a role to play.
But there’s little the U.S. government can do, without military intervention, to stop a terror group operating in another country. The U.S. military did send a team of advisers to help the Nigerian government locate the girls not long after their abduction, but the advisers soon returned home with nothing to show for their effort. Drones operated by U.S. and British forces spotted a group of about 80 girls believed to be part of the Chibok hostages, but the Nigerian government didn’t act on the intelligence.
Still, Wilson and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, have remained vocal on Capitol Hill, urging their congressional colleagues to help raise awareness of the missing girls. Each Wednesday while Congress is in session, Wilson and Jackson Lee round up others to wear red in solidarity for the girls. And they each are active on social media, spreading the message #BringBackOurGirls.
To commemorate the two-year anniversary of the kidnappings, Wilson hosted morning events with a panel of experts and an afternoon press conference featuring some of the Chibok girls who escaped from Boko Haram’s grasp.
On Wednesday, CNN obtained video of 15 captives from the Chibok abductions, the first footage of the girls since May 2014. According to the Nigerian government, the video is an effort to open negotiations for the girls’ release. Boko Haram reportedly wants millions of dollars in exchange for their freedom.
One of the girls who escaped told reporters at the press conference the video gave her hope that her friends will soon return safely.
“The moment I saw them in the video, I was overcome with joy,” said Saa, a pseudonym she uses for protection. Tears ran down her cheeks behind dark sunglasses as she spoke: “Seeing them gives me the courage to tell the world today that we should not lose hope.”
The few girls fortunate enough to escape lived in fear. They anticipated Boko Haram would soon come back to find them, and they had no one to protect them in rural Nigeria.
Nubwa Gadzama, a student at the University of Michigan, was in Nigeria visiting family when she met Saa and some of the other Chibok girls. With the help of her brother, Gadzama spent her summer break filing paperwork to bring the girls to the United States. By the end of the summer, Gadzama obtained visas for the girls and was able to find homes for them to stay in while enrolling them in American schools.
Saa was recently accepted into an American university, and she expressed gratitude to the American advocates who helped her and the other Chibok girls.
Wilson celebrated the girls who arrived safely on U.S. soil at the press conference and praised Gadzama for providing a path for them to get here. But she and other representatives stressed the need to do more about the eminent threat of Boko Haram.
Since 2013, Boko Haram, an Islamist terror group, has displaced more than 2.3 million persons and murdered thousands. After rising to power in the region, the militants dispersed throughout an area the size of Florida. The Nigerian military drove Boko Haram out of many of the large metropolitan areas, but now the terror group has footholds in Chad, Niger, and Cameroon. As an insurgency group, Boko Haram blends in with populations and only shows arms when it is ready to attack, making members difficult to weed out.
The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund released a report this week that shows Boko Haram is increasingly using young girls and boys as suicide bombers. In the last year, the terror group used 44 child suicide bombers, compared to four in 2014. The youngest bomber so far was purported to be just 8 years old.
Evan is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Washington, D.C.