from EMEKA OKONKWO in Abuja, Nigeria
ABUJA, (CAJ News) – AS Christians around the world took time to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus last weekend, Christian parents in the devastated Chibok town northeast Nigeria agonizingly remembered the 200 schoolgirls who remain missing after abduction by the Islamic militant Boko Haram exactly three years ago.
On the night of April 14-15 in 2014, armed militants stormed the government secondary school and kidnapped 276 girls.
Nearly 50 escaped on the night of the abduction.
Last year, 21 had been freed by Boko Haram after negotiations between the group and the Nigerian government, brokered by International Committee of the Red Cross and the Swiss government.
The military has rescued a handful others alongside scores of other kidnap victims but over 200 remain unaccounted for amid hope they are held hostage.
Parents whose children are yet to be liberated are still struggling to come to terms with their loss.
“We feel deceived by the government. Promises are made publicly but nothing is done to make this promise a reality,” said a parent on condition of anonymity.
The handling of the kidnapping by the administration of Goodluck Jonathan is among the factors that led to its demise in the 2015 general elections. Funds running to over US$2 billion, meant to buy weapons for the military were allegedly looted by Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
There was so much hope placed on the government of the All Progressives Congress (APC), led by President Muhammadu Buhari but hopes among parents are fading.
“We are subjected to sleepless nights and pain at heart that is on the increase by the day. We look up to God who is able to come to our rescue,” said another parent.
Christian rights groups such as Open Doors have maintained solidarity with the brokenhearted parents in Chibok.
“We have encouraged them through phone calls and have visited them,” Lisa Pearce, chief executive officer of Open Doors said.
“We have raised awareness of their plight and delivered thousands of encouragement letters from supporters.”
The kidnapping of the schoolchildren is part of a bloody campaign by the Boko Haram to carve an Islamic state in Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, estimated at 190 million people and equally divided between Christian and Muslims.
As three years to the abduction of the Chibok girls was marked, there was international outrage at the incident and other kidnappings, some that go unreported daily. It is estimated 8 000 civilians are held captive during the insurgency that has claimed the lives of over 20 000 civilians and displaced more than two million.
Amnesty International noted Boko Haram continued to abduct women, girls and young men who were often then subjected to horrific abuses, including rape, beatings and being forced into suicide bombing missions.
“Sadly, many abductions go unnoticed and unreported by the media. This has left many parents and relatives without any hope of being reunited with their loved ones,” said Nigeria director for Amnesty, Makmid Kamara.
United Nations human rights experts also made a fresh appeal to Nigeria to rescue the schoolgirls and thousands others held captive.
“It is deeply shocking that three years after this deplorable and devastating act of violence, the majority of the girls remain missing,” the UN special rapporteurs jointly stated said.
The experts pointed out as “more time passes there was a risk that the fate of the remaining girls would be forgotten.
“We cannot allow this to happen. There must be more that the Government of Nigeria, with the support of the international community, can do to locate and rescue them.”
Meanwhile, girls escaping Boko Haram are rejected by their families or communities.
While most remain in captivity, hundreds have escaped or have been rescued.
Girls escaping often report physical, emotional and sexual abuse, and forced marriage at the hands of Boko Haram, and are typically traumatised.
Peace building charity, International Alert, said escapees’ families and communities fear the girls might have been radicalised in captivity, which made it difficult for returnees to rebuild their lives.
Kimairis Toogood, peace building advisor for International Alert in Nigeria, said, “Tragically, communities, families and husbands don’t always welcome returning women and girls with open arms, for a fear they may have been radicalised in captivity.”
Toogood said this problem was fuelled by a culture of stigma around sexual violence – especially if the girls returned with a baby.
“These girls may struggle to integrate back into their communities, and face a life of isolation and poverty.”
Addressing media at the state house in Abuja, vice president Yemi Osinbajo disclosed the government was negotiating for the release of the Chibok girls, while the military had stepped up operations against the terrorists northeast of the country.
“There is a lot of negotiating going on,” he said.
Osinbajo reiterated government’s commitment to the liberation of the captives.
“It is a matter of conscience and it’s a matter that concerns everyone.”
– CAJ News