Four years ago, Nigerian activists issued a simple demand: Bring Back Our Girls. They demanded the Nigerian government rescue 276 school girls taken in the night by Boko Haram from their dormitories in the northeastern town of Chibok. As another anniversary of the mass kidnapping looms, activists say Nigeria’s government must do better.
Since their abduction in 2014, some Chibok girls have escaped Boko Haram. Others have been freed through negotiations. But 112 kidnapped girls are still missing.
Esther Yakubu’s daughter, Dorcas, is among them.
“Even though our baby is not back, you know we have a lot of girls that are back now,” she said. “We appreciate it.”
Esther has been an outspoken activist, but on this four-year anniversary of her daughter’s kidnapping, she has nothing more to say to the Nigerian government.
“No message,” she said. “Only prayers.”
The Chibok girls were still Boko Haram’s largest single kidnapping, but they represent a pattern of violence in the now-nine-year conflict.
On Friday, the U.N. children’s fund released new findings, reporting that Boko Haram has abducted more than 1,000 school-aged children since 2013. UNICEF said more than 2,000 teachers have been killed and 1,400 schools destroyed. UNICEF said there are “few safe spaces left for children in the northeast.”
Bring Back Our Girls activist Evon Benson-Idahosa, said “bsolutely nothing has changed since the abduction of the Chibok girls.”
“The fact that innocent children still remain vulnerable to being kidnapped and abducted and trafficked at will I think is indicative of the fact that the Bring Back Our Girls movement cannot step back or be less demanding for the security of all our children,” she said.
The brazen abduction in February of more than 100 female students from another government high school in another northeastern town, Dapchi, contradicted the Nigerian government’s repeated claim that Boko Haram has been defeated.
Amnesty International noted similarities in the abductions of the Dapchi Girls in 2018 and the Chibok Girls in 2014. Amnesty said Nigerian security forces ignored warnings of the Dapchi attack.
VOA spoke with Samira Daoud from Amnesty International’s West and Central Africa regional office. She said this “will never end.”
“The Nigerian government seems not to have learned any lesson from what happened and haven’t taken any kind of measure to ensure that this would never happen again,” she said. “And if it can happen exactly the same way four years after, that means that the government is not listening.”
But the Nigerian government disputes that criticism.
President Muhammadu Buhari has repeatedly touted his administration’s efforts to return the Chibok girls. Nearly all of the Dapchi girls were returned, a month after their abduction, though the circumstances of their release remain unclear.
Bashir Talbari, the special assistant to the governor of Borno State, where Chibok is located, said citizens should do less criticizing and more collaborating with the government.
“At the initial stage when the girls that were abducted, it was the efforts of the Borno State government for names to be placed on the faces of the girls,” he said. “You see, sometimes, security is a collective responsibility. The citizens themselves have to also take part in ensuring the safety of their environment.”
For the people of Chibok, the government has largely failed. The girls’ school where the abduction happened has still not re-opened. High school students have to use the primary school to continue their educations.
Allen Manasseh, a Chibok native whose niece is among the missing girls hopes to take his advocacy to the Nigeria’s parliament. He is running for a seat in the House of Representatives.
“Government actions must translate into touching directly the lives of the people, not just talking,” he said. “We are doing everything possible, we are doing everything possible, day in, day out, you are doing your best and your best cannot translate into something.”
Mannasseh plans to attend the four-year commemoration activities in Abuja this weekend. Other events are being planned around the world. Organizers say they expect the crowds to be significantly smaller. But they will forge ahead anyway.