Today, is the one year anniversary of the abduction of 360 women and girls from their boarding school in Chibok, Borno State, Nigeria, April 14, 2014, by the militant group called Boko Haram. Of the 360, 172 were from EYN (Church of the Brethren in Nigeria). Soon after the kidnapping, fifty of them escaped, of which 29 were from the EYN. Then in late December, 2014, Boko Haram raided Chibok again and kidnapped some older women and a young man.
These abductions weren’t isolated incidents of violence for the mostly Christian town of Chibok. As early as November 2012 and as late as December 2014, Boko Haram fighters carried out periodic attacks there, including burning police headquarters, homes, and EYN congregations, and killing church members.
Some of those 29, who had escaped the April 2014 kidnapping, are still living in Chibok, and with the assistance of the Interfaith Adamawa Peace Initiative, were able to prepare for and take their examinations that were interrupted by the kidnapping. Some have been sponsored to go to the U.S. for schooling. In spite of the outcry of horror from people here and around the world concerning what happened, and the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign, the whereabouts of the majority of those young women remain unknown.
In the past several days, I asked Several EYN members what they know or understand about the situation of the kidnapped girls. One EYN leader told me, “We know from some who have escaped, that there were many who refused to cooperate with Boko Haram and convert to Islam, and so were killed. Others were given to soldiers as wives, or possibly sold on the human trafficking market. They would now be scattered, taken to other areas of Nigeria or to neighboring countries, so would be very difficult to find.”
A pastor who had fled his home in the city of Maiduguri after several years of attacks and harassment there by Boko Haram, showed me a DVD from a Nigerian TV documentary called, “The Menace of Boko Haram.” This showed footage that Boko Haram took of their fighters doing horrific violent acts, which I assume the militant group released to spread and heighten fear, so people would not resist, but flee when they heard they were coming. Some of the footage showed Boko Haram soldiers stoning to death one of the Chibok schoolgirls who refused to convert to Islam.
“Of course the kidnapping a year ago was very traumatizing for the girls’ families,” a young woman member of EYN told me, when I asked her perspective. “So much time has passed since then, which makes it almost impossible to find them. I’m sure that those, who are still alive, have been so violated and are so traumatized or brainwashed, that they are not the same as before. They would have a hard time returning to their families and former lives. We all grieve for them and their families,” she added, with tears coming to her eyes.
One recent and more hopeful news I heard from an EYN leader, originally from Chibok, was that a woman and her child who had been kidnapped last year has recently escaped from a camp in the forest not too far from Gwoza, the former headquarters of Boko Haram. She said that there are other young women, still alive and kept together there in the forest.
With all the anguish and uncertainties stemming from this tragic event last year, people here continue to care and pray for the missing women and their families. As they continue on with their lives, as normally as possible, they resist the heightened fear that Boko Haram is attempting to spread through such horrific actions.