It’s been two weeks since 234 girls (ages 12-17) were abducted in the middle of the night from their boarding school in north-eastern Nigeria. It’s been two weeks since the Nigerian government, who first claimed to have recovered all but eight of the missing, has offered grieving families any definitive information regarding their daughters. And it’s been an agonizing two weeks for mothers and fathers, pooling their own resources to search for the missing, as they sit by and watch President Goodluck Jonathan and his administration’s lukewarm response to the crisis.
What happened that night and in the days that followed remains a murky narrative, but it is clear that the young girls were kidnapped by militants who whisked them off into the Sambisa Forest where terrorist group Boko Haram are believed to have set up camps, and possibly, married them off for the price of $12 each.
Nigerian media has covered the story around the clock, and although western news outlets have been slow to commandeer the story, social media campaigns, including #BringBackOurGirls, are working to raise awareness about the missing.
On Wednesday, protestors organized a “million-woman march” in the Nigerian capital to denounce the government’s failure to protect its students and its citizens in the wake of Boko Haram’s terrorism.
Mothers Of Abducted School Girls Storm National Assembly In Tears…. pic.twitter.com/lYeW47JY4H
— Genevieve Magazine (@GenevieveMag) April 30, 2014
But still, nothing has brought the girls back. And what is known about their whereabouts has not been enough to stage an effective intervention.
Here’s what we do know about the missing girls.
Where Did It Happen?
On April 14th, militants stormed the Government Girls Secondary School in north-eastern Chibok (in the state of Borno).
While most schools in the area were closed due to attacks from Boko Haram, an Islamic militant group, local education officials decided to open the boarding school for exams. At nightfall, militants reportedly dressed in Nigerian military uniforms stormed the school and told the girls they would take them to safety. Deborah Sanya, one of the 50 young women who escaped, describes what happened that night to the New Yorker:
They said, ‘Don’t worry. Nothing will happen to you,’ ” Sanya said. The men took food and other supplies from the school and then set the building on fire. They herded the girls into trucks and onto motorcycles. At first, the girls, while alarmed and nervous, believed that they were in safe hands. When the men started shooting their guns into the air and shouting “Allahu Akbar,” Sanya told me, she realized that the men were not who they said they were. She started begging God for help; she watched several girls jump out of the truck that they were in.
It was noon when her group reached the terrorists’ camp. She had been taken not far from Chibok, a couple of remote villages away in the bush. The militants forced her classmates to cook; Sanya couldn’t eat. Two hours later, she pulled two friends close and told them that they should run. One of them hesitated, and said that they should wait to escape at night. Sanya insisted, and they fled behind some trees. The guards spotted them and called out for them to return, but the girls kept running. They reached a village late at night, slept at a friendly stranger’s home, and, the next day, called their families.
Who Did It?
Though they haven’t come forward to address the allegations, it is likely militants of Boko Haram abducted the girls. The mass kidnapping came hours after a massive explosion in Abuja, the capital in the center of the country, which killed at least 75 people and wounded 141. The group was also responsible for the recent massacre of fifty-nine schoolboys in the neighboring Yobe state. And just this year alone, an estimated 1,500 people were killed in violent uprisings and subsequent security crackdowns involving Boko Haram.
What Is The Government Doing?
Just a day after the abduction, the Nigerian military claimed to have rescued all but eight of the missing students. But the next day they were forced to retract that statement — they had not, in fact, rescued any of the girls.
The missteps didn’t end there. The military claimed that the missing amounted to just over a hundred, while school officials and parents counted 234. And military forces are complaining to media that they do not have the resources necessary to effectively search for the girls.
“We are in a difficult situation. We are underequipped we do not have the required weapons,” a soldier deployed to Borno State told the BBC last month. This problem is not from us at the front line but from our superiors. We, the soldiers, have the courage to confront Boko Haram but we do not have sufficient weapons. You cannot confront someone with more sophisticated weapons than you. It is not our superiors doing the fighting – we are the ones at the front line,” he said. “So we have to consider our families our parents and when we go there and get killed, what becomes of our families?”
Meanwhile, presidential advisor Reuben Abati is calling the situation “unfortunate, embarrassing and evil.”
“The fact that some of them have been rescued raises our hope that with more effort, the objective of bringing them to safety and to their parents will be achieved,” he said.
But frustrated families are quick to point out that the girls who escaped were not rescued. Just last week, however, military spokesman Brigadier-General Chris Olukolade said only that the search for the girls had “intensified.” But with the dissemination of misinformation, the Human Rights Agenda Network is asking for his resignation.
Where Are The Girls?
On Wednesday, it was reported that the girls were being sold as brides to Islamist militants for 2,000 naira, or $12.
The news of the mass marriage come from a group of fathers, uncles, cousins, and nephews who gather every morning to pool their resources, buy fuel, and journey unarmed to forests and border towns in search of the missing girls. They learned this week, they said, that mass wedding ceremonies had occurred on Saturday and Sunday. The insurgents reportedly shot their guns into the air after taking their new brides, and split them into three groups. They were then reportedly moved out by truckload.
Nigeria’s Channel 4 News is also reporting that a hostage negotiator has been in contact with the kidnappers:
“The girls, we believe, are alive but they have been moved from the location to which they were originally taken,” the negotiator said. “It would not be hard to engineer a deal. It looks like they want to release them.” The same negotiator cautioned though that “kidnappers have warned, however, that attempts by the military to launch a rescue attempt ‘may result in the deaths of many of the captives.’”
News of the negotiation, however, has not been confirmed.
We’ll keep you updated with the latest in this tragic situation. To follow along with search efforts, or to start a conversation about the missing girls, remember to use the hashtags #BringBackOurGirls, #Bringbackourdaughters or #HelpTheGirls.