The 15th of April marks three years to the day since 276 Chibok schoolgirls were abducted by the Boko Haram terrorist organisation in Nigeria. It was an event that shocked and outraged not only Nigeria but the world and sparked the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. The #BringBackOurGirls hashtag was used 1 million times in less than three weeks by people all over the world from the families of the girls to the First Lady of the United States at the time, Michelle Obama. From what was a hugely influential social media movement, with significant media coverage the conversation on the Chibok girls abduction has now faded.
Since 2014, fifty-seven of the girls have managed to escape their captors, four were found by local people and twenty-one were released in a deal reached by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Swiss government and the Nigerian government. However, the whereabouts of 195 girls remain unknown, as hope dwindles for their freedom.
Whilst global attention to the abduction has increased over time. For the families of the missing Chibok girls, their absence is a daily reality. A representative for the #BringBackOurGirls movement told the BBC this week that “The rest of the world that seems to have moved on cannot move on. We’re all in captivity for as long as schoolgirls who went in quest of knowledge in order to further our civilization were taken away by those who are haters of our civilization.” Family members hold daily and weekly sit-outs in Abuja, Lagos, Osogba and Ejigba to “keep the Chibok girls issue on the front burner”. The #BringBackOurGirls movement organised a program of activities and talks over the weekend to mark the three year anniversary of the abduction. In addition, two of the girls who are now free, attended a press conference in the US with the aim of highlighting the fact that 195 girls are still missing. On April 12th the Nigerian government stated that they are continuing negotiations with Boko Haram for release of the girls and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo commented that the government “has gone quite far with negotiations”. For the families of the 195 missing girls, the efforts of negotiation have not gone far enough and the slow government response to the abduction is blamed for why so many girls are still missing.
Three years on, the #BringBackOurGirls movement still tirelessly advocates for the girls release and lobby for further negotiations with Boko Haram. The #BringBackOurGirls central demand remains that the girls are rescued by the Nigerian government. But they are also concerned with how to improve the government’s accountability to Nigerians on security issues, particularly in the Northeast areas where Boko Haram operate. They argue that this can be achieved through a number of measures.
These are: improved communications on Nigerian security happenings with daily briefings on the rescue of the abducted girls; the creation of communication channels that help inform the public on safety measures being taken to protect Nigerian citizens; the provision of rehabilitation services, such as counseling and healthcare, as well as witness protection, to all abducted girls who have escaped or been rescued; measures to ensure the protection of children of school age to curb future abductions and sexual violence and the passage of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill (VAPP BIll) that protects girls to ensure prosecution of those responsible for sexual violence once captured. As of yet, the Nigerian government has had little engagement with the #BringBackOurGirls movement and their goals. However, Britain’s top diplomat to Nigeria informed the BBC that negotiations similar to those carried out jointly with the International Red Cross and the Swiss government which led to the release of 21 girls are occurring again now, and Nigerian officials have now met with militants several times to discuss the issue. Time will tell if these negotiations are successful. We can only hope they can reach a stage where all girls are returned to their families.