Hundreds Of Nigerian Girls Still Missing A Year After Kidnapping
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
One year ago, almost 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped in northeastern Nigeria. They were taken by the militant group Boko Haram. The abductions inspired a global social media campaign, Bring Back Our Girls. But today, more than 200 remain missing. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: There have been dozens of reported sightings of the missing Nigerian schoolgirls and even statements by the military that they had been rescued at one point. These have raised and dashed the hopes of the girls' brokenhearted families. It's now been a year since the schoolgirls, who were preparing for exams in the remote northeastern town of Chibok, were spirited away in the middle of the night. A few managed to escape as they were loaded onto trucks and driven, it's believed, into the Sambisa Forest. The rest have not been heard from.
(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: When will we stop?
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Not without our daughters.
QUIST-ARCTON: Claiming responsibility for the abductions, Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar Shekau, taunted Nigeria's outgoing government, saying the girls had converted to Islam and been married off to his fighters or that they'd be sold off, like war booty, as slaves in the marketplace. The comment sparked global outrage and gave birth to the Bring Back Our Girls campaign. Obiageli Ezekwesili heads the campaign.
OBIAGELI EZEKWESILI: These were girls who went to get education, so safety should have been priority. The fact that our government shilly-shallied for so many days is a source of great pain for this movement and for many other Nigerians.
QUIST-ARCTON: Each day, wearing their trademark red, Bring Back Our Girls campaigners gather at Unity Fountain in Abuja. They're trying to keep up the momentum in the hopes of finding the missing girls and many others who have been kidnapped before and since the mass abduction in Chibok. Ezekwesili says the Chibok girls have become a symbol.
EZEKWESILI: We want to be positive and to use the track record of the president-in-waiting, Muhammadu Buhari, to take the issue of the Chibok girls at the top of the transition agenda.
QUIST-ARCTON: Nigerians are appalled by the kidnappings, and this appears to have been a factor in President Goodluck Jonathan being voted out of office in elections last month. Jonathan is widely criticized for failing to end the six-year Islamist insurgency. Nigeria's incoming president, former military leader Muhammadu Buhari, is vowing to crush Boko Haram. But will such promises find the girls? Spokesman Garba Shehu told the BBC Buhari will reconnect with governments who are willing to help.
GARBA SHEHU: General Buhari wants to address the issue in a way that is honest, forthright and straightforward. So the first thing he intends to do is when he gets into the office, he wants to listen to the military commanders and to the intelligence community.
QUIST-ARCTON: Back at Unity Park in Abuja, campaigners share their frustrations. Campaigners like Chinwe Madubuike say more must be done to find the girls, but she says Bring Back Our Girls has united many Nigerians.
CHINWE MADUBUIKE: This is my little brother. He's Muslim and Christian. It's the girls that can pull Nigerians together.
QUIST-ARCTON: Men, like Mohammed Sabukeyana (ph), standing side-by-side with Madubuike are also very much part of the campaign.
MOHAMMED SABUKEYANA: For me, the girls, they are like sisters to me. It's, like, a duty upon me to come and stand in solidarity with them as men.
(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Solidarity forever.
QUIST-ARCTON: The activists say they're also campaigning for thousands of other girls, boys, women and men who've been abducted by Boko Haram. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.