A year ago today, Jonah Bulama took his 13-year-old daughter Amina to her boarding school as he did every Monday. Unbeknown to him that fateful day – 14 April 2014 – would be his last sight of her.
Hours later, Boko Haram jihadists stormed the school, loaded his daughter and more than 200 classmates on to buses and drove them into the bush. Some 50 escaped on the night of the attack, but other than a brief appearance in a propaganda film, most of them have not been seen since.
“Every day we look at a photo of Amina and are bitter that we’re alive but can’t do anything to help our daughter,” Mr Bulama told The Independent. “We can’t do anything but hope.”
His pain is exacerbated by the haunting words of the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, who later vowed that the girls would be married to fighters or sold as slaves. “God instructed me to sell them, they are his properties and I will carry out his instructions,” he said in a chilling message, adding that anyone who hoped for their release was “daydreaming”.
In pictures: Nigeria kidnapped schoolgirls
In pictures: Nigeria kidnapped schoolgirls
A total of 276 girls were abducted from the northeastern town of Chibok, in Borno state, which has a sizeable Christian community. Some 223 are still missing
One of the kidnapped girls looks into a camera
One of the missing girls talking to the camera
The missing Nigerian schoolgirls, wearing the full-length hijab and praying in an undisclosed rural location. Boko Haram alleging they had converted them to Islam
Girls wearing the full-length hijab holding a flag reading "There is no god, but Allah" and "Mohammed is Allah's prophet"
A man claiming to be the leader of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram Abubakar Shekau
Abubakar Shekau speaks on the video
Girls, wearing the full-length hijab and praying are filmed by an unidentified man (R) in an undisclosed rural location
People carry signs as they attend a protest demanding the release of abducted secondary school girls in the remote village of Chibok in Lagos
A protester demonstrates against the kidnapping of school girls in Nigeria, outside the Nigerian Embassy in London
Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour and Prime Minister David Cameron appearing on the BBC1 current affairs programme
People participate in a "Bring Back Our Girls" campaign demonstration and candlelight vigil in Los Angeles
Girls holding heart shaped banners in a "Bring Back Our Girls" campaign demonstration and candlelight vigil in Los Angeles
14/19 South Africa
South Africans protest in solidarity against the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria by the Muslim extremist group Boko Haram and what protesters said was the failure of the Nigerian government and international community to rescue them, during a march to the Nigerian Consulate in Johannesburg
Karilyn Coates (10) joins others in a candlelight vigil for the more than 300 girls abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria, at All Souls Unitarian Church in Colorado Springs
Mothers of the missing Chibok school girls abducted by Boko Haram Islamists gather to receive informations from officials. Nigeria's president said that Boko Haram's mass abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls would mark a turning point in the battle against the Islamists, as world powers joined the search to rescue the hostages
Former Nigerian Education Minister and Vice-President of the World Bank's Africa division (3rd L) Obiageli Ezekwesilieze speaks as she leads a march of Nigeria women and mothers of the kidnapped girls of Chibok, calling for their freedom in Abuja
18/19 Bring Back Our Girls
Kelly Hoppen tweeted: 'Please make sure you do this, we must stand together and not forget them'
19/19 Bring Back Our Girls
E.L. Rock Star tweeted: 'Join The Movement'
This grim sequence of events will be remembered across Nigeria today and has taken a heavy toll on the parents of the missing Chibok girls and the psyche of Nigeria at large. Seventeen parents of the victims have died since the abduction a year ago, while Boko Haram’s attacks upon surrounding schools have forced many to withdraw their children from education altogether. That has proved a particularly effective fear tactic by a group whose name translates as “Western education is forbidden”.
The result has been to exacerbate an already critical situation in a country that already had the highest number of children not attending school in the world – 10.5 million, according to a Unesco report from 2012. That number is likely to have increased substantially over the past year. Unicef estimates that Nigeria has an illiteracy rate above 51 per cent – significantly higher in the north – stunting economic progress in one of West Africa’s poorest regions. Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics indicates that more than 76 per cent of people live in poverty in the north-east.
The plight of the girls remains widely debated. Even with the help of Western military spy planes and hostage negotiation experts, finding them appears to remain well beyond the capability of the Nigerian authorities. Yesterday a woman claimed to the BBC that she had seen 50 of the missing girls alive three weeks ago, in the north-eastern town of Gwoza, shortly before Boko Haram fighters were defeated and driven out.
Raad Zeid al Hussein, the current United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, fears they may have been slaughtered by the terrorists before they fled from Bama, in Borno State, hours before the Nigerian army retook the territory. “The recent recovery of territories in north-eastern Nigeria has brought to light macabre scenes of mass graves and more obvious signs of killings by Boko Haram,” he said in Nigeria. “These reports include the murder of the wives of combatants, women and girls held in slavery.”
Their plight drew an international response last year, thanks in part to the BringBackOurGirls social media campaign endorsed by Michelle Obama and numerous celebrities. It was started when President Goodluck Jonathan failed to acknowledge the girls abduction publicly for three weeks, causing outrage across Nigeria. “We have a government that has been irresponsibly silent over this issue,” said Bukola Shonibare, a spokesperson for the campaign.
Street protests have repeatedly been broken up by police but one of the campaign’s founders said she was determined to continue its activism. “We understand that no matter what situation we find ourselves in, for as long as... the girls are not rescued we have to keep the hope for the families alive,” said Hadiza Bala Usman. “We have to sustain the voice of 219 girls that have been in captivity for a year now.”
Many Nigerians hope that their new President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, due to take office on 29 May after defeating President Jonathan at the polls last month, will accelerate the search for the girls. Advisers said he intends to boost the army’s capabilities and resume military training contracts with Britain and the US.
“Since independence, I do not think we have been reduced to such a position as a nation as the disappearance of 220 girls between the ages 14 and 18, for almost a year, and the government could not do anything about it,” Mr Buhari, a former general who ruled Nigeria as a dictator in the 1980s, said on the campaign trail. In his first post-election address he declared: “We should spare no effort in tackling the insurgency – we have a tough and urgent job to do.”
Meanwhile, Mr Bulama was making his way to commemorative protests in Abuja today. “If it was up to the parents we would already have got our daughters back,” he said. “But it is the responsibility of the security forces to do this.” Asked what he would like to see of the new government, his response is likely to reflect the sentiment of more than 200 parents who were dealt such a cruel blow a year ago: “I only want my daughter.”Reuse content