What The Release of The Chibok Girls Means For West Africa

On the May 6, 2017, 82 schoolgirls, who were kidnapped from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, were released. The abduction took place over three years ago in April 2014 by Boko Haram fighters. These fighters stormed the Chibok high school as the students were preparing for exams and abducted 276 girls. Immediately following the abduction, 57 girls managed to escape, however, 219 remained in captivity.

Abubaker Shekau, the leader of Boko Harem at the time, initially stated that God had instructed him to sell the girls into slavery and that he would gratefully carry out these wishes. Although this never eventuated, it prompted international media coverage of the kidnapping. For example, Michelle Obama, along with other well-known celebrities raised awareness of the Chibok girls, which caused #bringbackourgirls to begin trending on Twitter and other social media platforms.

Boko Haram was founded in 2002, gained traction in 2008, and has since been involved in an 8 year war against West Africa. Its name translates loosely to ‘Western influence is a sin’ or ‘Westernization is sacrilege.’ As such, Boko Haram rejects all western ideology, including Christianity. In Nigeria, as of May 2015, the Catholic diocese of Maiduguri have approximated that that at least “5,000 Nigerian Catholics…[had been]…killed” by the terror organization.

Since 2012, many states, such as the United Kingdom, United States of America, Canada, and the United Arab Emirates have declared Boko Haram as being a terrorist organization. For instance, in addition to the capture of the Chibok girls, Boko Haram have abducted and killed thousands. In November 2014, around 500 people were kidnapped from Damasak, 300 of which were children, and many of these people are still missing. “Amnesty International has documented at least 41 other cases of mass abductions” that have been carried out by the organization since the beginning of 2014.

In addition to killing and abducting citizens, the United Nations have reported that over 1,500 children have been recruited by the organization. While some of these children joined Boko Haram by choice for personal reasons, others were forced to join by means of kidnapping. To add insult, the Civilian Joint Task Force, which was established by Nigerian citizens in response to Boko Haram’s attacks, have also recruited at least 228 children. It is in this regard that it seems as if the Civilian Joint Task Force has sunk to the same low as the very organization it was formed to fight against, which demonstrates the impact that organizations, such as Boko Haram can have on a community.

When seen in perspective, the release of the 82 Chibok schoolgirls is a comparatively small victory against Boko Haram. This shows the terror that these organizations hold over us, when a small victory can establish such a large amount of hope in the community. While there is no turning away from the miraculous recovery that the girls have been returned fit and healthy following three years in captivity, there are hundreds more adults and children that have been captured by Boko Haram and similar terror organizations that need to be freed.

Despite this, there is potential that this release has prompted a domino effect. The Nigerian Presidency stated that “the President has repeatedly expressed his total commitment towards ensuring the safe return of the Chibok girls, and other Boko Haram captives.” While the release of the Chibok girls is a small accomplishment, the media attention and global awareness it has created will hopefully lead to the release of more abductees, and eventually triumph over Boko Haram.

Letitia Smith