Written by Dan Wooding
By Nigeria-born Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST Ministries and the ASSIST News Service
CHIBOK, NIGERIA (ANS – April 14, 2015) – It has been a year since the jihadist group, Boko Haram, carried out the cowardly crime of kidnapping nearly 300 schoolgirls, all between 16 and 18 years old.
The girls were abducted on the night of April 14-15, 2014, in the town of Chibok, in northeastern Nigeria, about a two-hour drive from the border with Cameroon.
According to CNN, the Government Girls Secondary School had been closed for a month because of the danger posed by Boko Haram militants, who are opposed to Western education, particularly for girls. But students from several schools had been called in to take a final exam in physics.
“The militants stormed the school, arriving in a convoy of trucks and buses and engaging in a gun battle with school security guards,” said CNN. “Then they forced the girls from their dormitories, loaded them into trucks and drove them into the forest.
Most have never been seen since, except in a photograph in which they sat on the ground in a semi-circle, clad in Islamic dress.”
Police said the militants kidnapped 276 girls in all. About 50 managed to escape soon after they were abducted. Those who did not, it is feared, may have been raped, brutalized, enslaved, and forced to convert to Islam.
And now, an agonizing year on, there's a growing recognition that the girls may never be brought back. Can you imagine the incredible heartbreak for these girls, who will never recover their childhood, and their parents who are facing the fact that they may never see their loved-ones again.
“This crime has rightly caused outrage both in Nigeria and across the world,” the country’s President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, said today (Tuesday, April 14, 2015) in marking the anniversary. “Today is a time to reflect on the pain and suffering of the victims, their friends and families. Our thoughts and prayers, and that of the whole Nigerian nation, are with you today.”
Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani Nobel laureate and teenage education campaigner who herself was a victim of Islamic terror, also issued a statement on Tuesday offering “solidarity, love and hope” to the kidnapped schoolgirls of Chibok. She referred to her own suffering at the hands of Islamist militants.
"Like you,” she said, “I was a target of militants who did not want girls to go to school. Gunmen shot me and two of my friends on a school bus. All three of us survived and are back in school. Now we speak out on behalf of all girls about the right to get a proper education. Our campaign will continue until you and all girls and boys around the world are able to access a free, safe, and quality secondary education.”
CNN, in a separate story, said that the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls a year ago this week captured global attention and inspired the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, but the horrors for Nigeria's children are widespread.
“Around 800,000 children have been forced to flee their homes as a result of the conflict in northeast Nigeria between Boko Haram, military forces and civilian self-defense groups,” UNICEF said Monday.
The “number of children running for their lives within Nigeria, or crossing over the border to Chad, Niger and Cameroon, has more than doubled in just less than a year.”
More than 1.5 million people have fled their homes due to the violence, UNICEF said. About 1.2 million are displaced internally, while others have crossed into Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
“The vast majority of the displaced -- more than 880,000 -- are staying with host communities with little access to humanitarian support, putting additional strains on already stretched health, education, and social services,” it said.
The April 14, 2014, kidnappings of the Chibok schoolgirls “is only one of endless tragedies being replicated on an epic scale across Nigeria and the region,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF regional director for West and Central Africa.
“Scores of girls and boys have gone missing in Nigeria -- abducted, recruited by armed groups, attacked, used as weapons, or forced to flee violence. They have the right to get their childhoods back.”
Kids are being used by Boko Haram as combatants, cooks, and lookouts, UNICEF said. “Young women and girls are being subjected to forced marriage, forced labor and rape,” it said.
At least 196 teachers and 314 schoolchildren were killed in 2014, and more than 300 schools were damaged or destroyed.
A personal note from Dan Wooding: My heart breaks for the land of my birth as Boko Haram continues to wreak havoc with their never-ending onslaught on the innocents of Nigeria, particularly the children. We can only hope and pray that they will be defeated, the girls, the many other children also kidnapped, will return home, and Nigeria could finally be returned to a semblance of peace and harmony. Will you join me in that prayer?
Photo captions: 1) A photo purporting to be the missing schoolgirls clad in Islamic dress. 2) Boko Haram continues to cause havoc in Nigeria with its violent tactics. 3) Malala Yousafzai addressing the United Nations. 4) Young protestors shouting #BringBackOurGirls in Abuja, Nigeria's capital city.