They were all between the ages of 15 and 18. They were eager to get a good education and to make something of their lives. 90 per cent of them were Christians who believed passionately that their God would always protect them and make a way for them in the predominantly Muslim Borno state where they resided in north-eastern Nigeria.
They left home on the morning of April 13th confidently, eagerly and happily and went to school to do an exam. The Federal Government of Nigeria, headed by a Christian President by the name of Mr. Goodluck Jonathan, had earlier reminded the local authorities that the school had been closed for a considerable period of time for security reasons and warned that it should not be re-opened for the exams to take place at Chibok because of the activities of the deadly islamist terrorist sect known as Boko Haram in that area. However the Muslim Governor of Borno state, Mr. Kashim Shettima, ignored these warnings and assured the Federal Government that he would provide the necessary security. He also assured the parents of the safety of the young girls.
He said that he would open the school specifically for the purpose of the exams and he encouraged the girls to not only come and do those exams but also to spend one night at the school after finishing them. Convinced by his assurances and moved by his conviction and confidence, the parents of the girls allowed their wards to proceed to the school for the exam and they encouraged them to spend the night there. The curious twist to the tale is the fact that a few of the girls that went to take that exam were the children of those that taught at the school yet after the exams were concluded not one of them stayed in the school or opted to spend the night.
It was almost as if they had a premonition of what was going to happen or, perhaps, someone on the inside had warned them about the horrors that lay ahead. The Governor of the state did not honor his word to provide security at the school. As a matter of fact as the girls prepared to sleep that night not one adult was in the school premises to watch over them apart from an old man who was the school gatekeeper and who slept at the gate. No teacher, supervisor or school official stayed with them that night and neither did the school matron, headmaster or principal.
Not one person in authority was with them let alone an armed man or woman to protect them from the obvious dangers. They were on their own. Worse still there was no electricity that night and no lights were on because there was no power flowing from the national grid and neither was the school generator working. The girls were not only on their own but they were also in total and complete darkness. They said their prayers, sang a few hymns, asked for God’s protection and went to bed. Then, at approximately 3.00 a.m. in the morning, Boko Haram stormed the premises. The girls were subjected to the most unspeakable forms of abuse: they were raped, brutalised, traumatised and finally they were abducted.
The terrorists not only took the girls but they also ransacked the school, stole all the food in the premises, burnt a number of school buildings and made away with whatever they could lay their hands on. They bundled the 276 young girls into their lorries and sped in the dead of the night into the deadly clutches and dark groves of their hideout- the notorious Sambisa Forest. A few days later the leader of Boko Haram, Mr. Ibrahim Shekau, released a video of himself telling the world about his intention to convert the girls to Islam, sell them into slavery ”in markets” and marry them off in foreign lands.
He said that Islam permitted him to do so. He also said that he would never release them. He claimed that they had become slaves of Boko Haram and that they would remain slaves forever. Two weeks later a video was released of some girls covered in Muslim shawls and garb reciting the Koran. It was clear that Mr. Shekau had kept his word. These girls had been forcefully converted to Islam and they were now slaves.
Thankfully 55 of them managed to escape whilst they were being abducted from the school on their way to Sambisa forest. They did so by jumping off the moving lorries that their captors had herded them into. Two more escaped a few days after arriving in Sambisa forest. They have since recounted some of the horrors that they were subjected to and that they faced whilst in captivity.
This includes multiple rapes on a daily basis from several men, group sex, beatings, killings, torture, enslavement, maimings and forced renunciations of their christian faith and conversion to Islam. Clearly the 219 girls that are still in captivity are literally in hell. Stories are told of how some of them have been sold off ”in marriage” to wealthy Arabs in north Africa and the Middle East and how others have become sex slaves in bordering African nations like Chad, the Sudan and Niger Republic. Up till today the Nigerian Federal Government has no idea where they actually are and have not been able to rescue any of them.
A world-wide ”Bring Back Our Girls” campaign has been launched and this has created more awareness about their horrendous plight and kept hope alive for their safe return. However when a former President of Nigeria, Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo, said that the world would soon have to come to terms with the fact that ”we may never see those girls again” and that ”by now some of them will be dead whilst others will be pregnant” it did not give much cause for hope or cheer. Perhaps the utter despair that Mr. Obasanjo’s words reflected added to the anxiety, trauma and heartache that resulted in the sudden deaths of no less than 7 of the parents of the abducted girls.
The truth is that the girls are not just the victims of the most vicious Islamist terrorist organisation on the African continent today, an organisation whose sheer cruelty and barbarity is at par with that of ISIL, but they are also the victims of an uncaring and insensitive ruling political elite in Nigeria who would prefer that the whole matter is just swept under the carpet and forgotten simply because they do not have the capability, the guts or the political will to take on Boko Haram in any meaningful way and rescue the girls.
The reality, as unpleasant as it may sound, is as follows. When the question is asked ”where are our girls?”, the answer is that they are somewhere in hell, hoping and praying that the Nigerian authorities and the international community never forgets them and manages to muster the resolve, know-how and courage to rescue them. We owe them that much: after all they are our children.
Yet all hope is not lost. On 25th September 2014 one of the girls was released by Boko Haram. Sadly she was not only pregnant but she had also lost her mind as a consequence of the trauma that she had suffered from her ordeal. The good news is that she is at least alive and safely back home with her family where she belongs. This gives us hope for the others. May God bring home our girls and may we never forget them.