One year ago, Boko Haram militants kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from their dormitory in the northeastern Nigerian town of Chibok. The kidnapping came as a shock to people around the world. But it was just part of Boko Haram’s violent campaign against the Nigerian government.
Militant attacks against civilians have been on the rise. Thousands of people have died in the unrest. More than one million people have been forced from their homes. And most of the Chibok girls are still missing.
Rights activists who investigated say the attackers took the girls because they could. At least 56 girls have escaped from their kidnappers.
One of those girls remembers, "They took us outside and burnt down the whole school. They herded us into their vehicles while the rest of us were made to trek."
The mother of one kidnapped girl spoke with VOA. She said, "The very Monday the kidnapping happened, we thought soldiers were going to be sent to go after our daughters. Had soldiers been deployed, quite sure, no doubt our daughters would have returned, but it did not happen.”
Nigerians started demonstrating after they learned what happened. A campaign was launched on the social media website Twitter. The twitter hashtag campaign was called #BringBackOurGirls.
In October of last year, the Nigerian government said it was negotiating an agreement with Boko Haram for the return of the girls. However, no agreement was ever reached.
Nigerians recently elected Muhammadu Buhari as the country’s new president. Mr. Buhari says he will do things "differently," but offers no false hope. He says he does not know where the girls are or if they can be rescued. He says his government will "do everything in its power."
The Chibok girls were not the first or the last young women Boko Haram kidnapped. Steve Cockburn is an official with the rights group Amnesty International.
"Over 2,000 women and girls have been abducted by Boko Haram since the beginning of 2014. They've been forced to either marry Boko Haram militants, they've been forced to provide services or clean. Some have even, according to what we've seen, have been forced to train and take part in attacks on their own villages."
But some activists believe Boko Haram holds the Chibok girls in groups. They say the girls could have value as protection against military air attacks or as bargaining chips. Recently, Boko Haram announced plans to join with the Islamic State, another militant group that has kidnapped women.
Nigeria and other countries declared "total war" on Boko Haram after the Chibok kidnapping. But serious military operations began in February. Troops from Nigeria and neighboring countries have been searching towns across the area. There is hope among many Nigerians that the Chibok girls will be found soon.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
VOA’s Anne Look reported on this story from Dakar, Senegal. Jonathan Evans wrote it for Learning English. George Grow edited it.
Words in This Story
bargaining chip – n. something that can be used to gain an advantage when you are trying to make a deal or an agreement
dormitory – n. a large room with many beds where people can sleep; housing
kidnap – v. to seize and take away by force