This April marked the five year anniversary of the abduction of 276 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok, Borno state in northern Nigeria. In 2014, the world watched as these young girls were ripped away from their homes, stripped of their childhoods and hopes for education by Boko Haram militants. While the story of the Chibok girls has slipped into the cracks of the 24-hour news cycle, their trauma and suffering remain. As banners proclaiming #BringBackOurGirls begin to drop, the cries of the Chibok girls go unheard. This gruesome attack on the innocence of black girls fuels the adultification of their bodies and minds. We must constantly remind ourselves to protect all women of color from the forces rallied against our well-being.
Five years ago, I sat in a high school classroom in Abuja, the nation’s capital, and grieved over the fate of my fellow Nigerian schoolgirls. Somber faces were spotted across the room as we thought to ourselves: how was this allowed to happen? I recall this stark feeling of feebleness. All I could do was spectate and empathize. But what would my empathy do? There I was, receiving the same education they were targeted for. I imagined there were girls with similar aspirations to mine, waiting to hold up their diplomas and take the world by storm. Our education opened our minds to many more possibilities than would be presented to us without it. I watched as my journey carried on and theirs came to an end. To this day, my heart continues to ache for the girls that have been gone for five years too long.
But what would my empathy do? There I was, receiving the same education they were targeted for.
Shortly after their abduction from boarding school, 57 girls were able to escape from the trucks in which they were being transported. These girls returned home to their families with the trauma of leaving behind 219 classmates and friends to an unimaginable fate. Along with the rest of their community, the girls that escaped mourned the loss of their peers in captivity who were not nearly as lucky.
Through the course of five years of negotiations between the Nigerian government and the armed group, another 107 girls were able to return home. After facing the horrors of child marriage and sex trafficking, these girls returned to confront severe trauma and the risk of being ostracized. Some came home with the children of their abusers and were met with contempt from members of their community. The fathers of these children have been responsible for the displacement and death of thousands of people in Borno state, the epicenter of Boko Haram insurgencies.
In spite of this bleak reality, there is still a sign of hope. Following their rescue and escape, up to 20 girls have relocated to the United States to continue their education and many more have been enrolled in the American University of Nigeria. The opportunity to further their education opens the door to a future pursued with purpose. Patience Bulus, one of the girls relocated to the United States, currently attends Dickinson College as a student in their special preparatory school. Bulus hopes to become a counselor to aid women battling similar traumatic experiences. For Patience, education allows for “a chance to tell [her] mind, to speak up.”
Accordingly, I am taking this chance to speak up for the 112 Chibok girls that are yet to be returned home to their families. For these girls, the nightmare continues. They are the reason why the #BringBackOurGirls campaign demands the same visibility it did in 2014. The efforts of Obiageli Ezekwesili, the founder of the #BBOG campaign, are to be duly commended. However, the incremental victories of the rescues and escapes of 164 girls should not mask the need for more action, voices, and awareness.
I am taking this chance to speak up for the 112 Chibok girls that are yet to be returned home to their families.
As of today, the realities of the 276 girls kidnapped five years ago are considerably diverse. Whether in continued captivity or returned home, the girls faced and continue to face varying levels of abuse as well as physical and emotional trauma. For those that escaped or were released, the pursuit of education presents an opportunity to depart from the circumstances of a grim past. At the core of this tragedy are a group of girls denied their right to education. Boko Haram’s campaign against the education of the Nigerian girl is one that should elicit attention and action from the Nigerian government and the rest of the world.
This is a call to action for everyone to use their voice to yell at the top of their lungs: “bring back ALL our girls!” I urge the Nigerian government to make increased efforts to not only return the remaining Chibok girls but all the women and young girls that have fallen victim to sex and human trafficking. In addition to their return, we demand that the government provide adequate resources for rehabilitation and trauma treatments. We have not forgotten. For five years, we have called to bring back our girls, and the campaign continues even if the media coverage does not. This attack on the vulnerable populations of Nigeria is indeed the Shame of our Nation. We will not rest until each and every girl is returned home safely.