- Two hundred and seventy-six girls were kidnapped. Among them, over 100 are still missing. But, also, well over a hundred either escaped or were released by their captors. How are they faring?
Over the course of two days, nine girls converge in a tiny hotel room in Yola. As a group, they are some of Nigeria’s most popular young women. Their names and faces have appeared on large billboards, in newspapers, and on international news channels. Their cause has been championed by the world’s upper crust. Several books have been written about them. There’s even an advocacy group dedicated exclusively to ensuring their safety and wellbeing. But, right here in the tiny hotel room, with most of them wearing dull-coloured ankara dresses and slippers, the nine girls from Chibok could not appear more ordinary.
The conversation takes on different forms. Awkward silence. Reluctant complaints. Laughter. Cautious appeals. Awkward silence. Dreadful flashbacks. Bold pronouncements. Gratitude. Expressions of doubt. Expressions of hope. Awkward silence.
The girls, who are in Adamawa, Northeast Nigeria, are miles away from home. They had taken a break from schoolwork at the American University of Nigeria (AUN) to reflect on what life has been like since regaining freedom five years ago.
Their story is one that’s been told and retold countless times. On the night of April 14, 2014, 276 students of the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, southern Borno State, were seized from their dormitories and taken prisoner by terrorists. It was not a planned abduction. Mustapha Chad, the Boko Haram commander who orchestrated it, had unsuccessfully tried to lead an attack on the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) base in Yola and had taken the girls on the way back merely as an afterthought.
The news soon went viral. It broke the internet and broke the heart of the international community. It also launched the terror group into the limelight, the late leader Abubakar Shekau milking the opportunity as much as he could. “Just because we kidnapped these young girls, you are making noise?” Shekau had asked in one of several statements, where he’d also threatened to sell them as slaves. Those who refused to marry his followers were truly used as slaves to break stones, fell trees, build thatch houses, do laundry, and engaged in other hard labour. Anyone who tried to run was whipped, tied up, and denied food.
Over 50 of the girls escaped soon after the abduction by jumping from the trucks. About four others escaped later in the year of the attack. In May 2016, one girl slipped away with a child and a member of the insurgent group whom she called ‘husband’. The following October, 21 were released after negotiations with the Nigerian government. Then, in 2017, the group released 82 more girls after receiving a hefty ransom and some previously imprisoned associates.
The nine girls in the tiny hotel room are part of the batch of 82.
After their release in the wee hours of May 7, 2017, they spent eight months in Abuja for a rehabilitation programme that saw them learning vocational skills and receiving medical care. Subsequently, the government enrolled them at the American University of Nigeria, a private institution in Yola, for a pre-degree programme. This took nearly four years. In 2021, many of them finally became undergraduates at the same school.
The Nigerian government said it placed 106 of the girls on scholarships at AUN. Some who escaped in 2014 received sponsorship from the university itself. HumAngle understands that about 10 Chibok girls are also studying in the United States, including three who are in postgraduate school.
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