On the night of April 14, 2014, four years ago today, terrorist group, Boko Haram, invaded the premises of Government Secondary School in the town of Chibok, Borno state, and kidnapped 276 female students from the school hostel.

For the uninitiated, the terrorist group had been on an insurgency campaign that had raged for five years after the extra-judicial killing of its spiritual leader, Mohammed Yusuf.

With a new blood-thirsty leader in Abubakar Shekau, the group went on the rampage, killing tens of thousands of people especially in the northeastern region of the country.

Boko Haram's most prominent doctrine is its objection to the spread of western education and values in the country and prior to the Chibok incident, the group had shown commitment to this as it began to target schools in 2010.

The attacks on schools intensified in 2014, with the most high profile incident happening in Federal Government College of Buni Yadi in Yobe state where 59 male students were killed in February 2014. Some died from gunshots or knife stabs, while others were burned to death.

The abduction of the 276 Chibok girls happened just a few weeks later.


Just before the Chibok incident, Boko Haram had been rumoured to be taking to the trend of abducting schoolgirls whom they used as cooks, sex slaves and porters.

According to reports about the abduction, when the terrorists attacked the school, they were pretending to be guards.

There were 530 students from multiple villages registered for the Senior Secondary Certificate Examination at the school which had been closed for four weeks prior to the attack due to the deteriorating security situation in the region, but students had been called in to take final exams.

The girls were loaded into trucks during the night raid with 276 of them believed to have been taken away from the premises of the school.

According to an account by Naomi Adamu, one of the schoolgirls who was released in 2017, the terrorists had not planned to kidnap the girls during the invasion.

In a diary she kept with four other captives while with the terrorists, she noted that they had attacked with the intention of stealing an "engine block" on the school premises which they reportedly failed to find.

Kidnapping the girls was a decision reached on the spot by the militants to appease Shekau, their leader who wasn't part of the operation.

Adamu's diary read, "They started argument in their midst. So one small boy said that they should burn us all and they said, 'No let us take them with us to Sambisa.' Another person said, 'No let's not do that. Let's lead them...to their parent homes.' As they were in argument, then one of them said, 'No, I can't come with empty car and go back with empty car... If we take them to (Abubakar) Shekau (Boko Haram's leader), he will know what to do."

Escapes, rescues and backroom deals

In the initial hours of the abduction when 276 of the girls were being transported from Chibok to the terrorists' Sambisa Forest stronghold, 57 of them escaped by jumping off the trucks and running into the bushes before their captors caught on.

Two of them, Debbie and Grace, reportedly escaped as soon as they got to Sambisa Forest and made a tiring week-long journey back home. In the end, a total of 219 girls made it to Boko Haram's nest.

Amid waves of public criticism of the federal government's lukewarm reaction to the abduction, former Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili spearheaded the viral #BringBackOurGirls campaign on social media that became an advocacy group pressuring the government for the return of the girls.

The campaign reached far and wide into the corners of the world, all the way into the White House of the United States of America when then-First Lady, Michelle Obama, held up a sign to demand the girls' return.

The BBOG campaign kept the government more on its toes, but the rescue of the girls became more elusive especially after Shekau displayed them in a video and threatened to sell them off.

"Allah instructed me to sell them, they are his properties and I will carry out his instructions," he said.

It took two years before another Chibok girl regained her freedom.

Amina Ali Nkeki was found by a patrol group in May 2016 by the Civilian Joint Task Force along with her 4-month-old child named Safiya and an alleged Boko Haram member, Mohammed Hayatu, who described himself as her husband.

Another four months passed before the first mass release of the girls happened after Boko Haram reached an agreement with the federal government. 21 girls were released in October 2016 before a further 82 regained their freedom in May 2017.

The deal cost the government the release of five Boko Haram commanders who were in the military's custody. According to a report by the Wall Street Journal in December 2017, President Buhari also paid the group €3 million to push the deal through despite his reluctance.

Troops of the Nigerian Army rescued Maryam Ali Maiyanga with her 10-month-old son near Pulka in Gwoza local government area of Borno state in November 2016; while another girl, Rakiya Abubakar, was rescued with her 6-month-old baby in January 2017. The last Chibok girl to have escaped to date is Salomi Pogu who was found by troops in Gwoza in January 2018 after she escaped.

The girls returned with sad tales of having to endure long periods of hunger in captivity as they were made to work as servants for the militants who also reportedly raped them especially if they refused marriage proposals.

With Pogu's escape, there are 112 girls that remain in Boko Haram's custody, but there have been disturbing reports that indicate some may never return home to their parents.

How many have died?

A week after the abduction, a team of vigilantes claimed that four of the girls were killed and hastily buried for being 'stubborn and uncooperative' while they were camped in a scrubland near the village of Ba'ale, an hour's drive from Chibok.

This report was never officially acknowledged but when the first girl, Amina Ali, returned, she disclosed that six of the girls were already dead.

In a video released by Boko Haram in August 2016, a masked terrorist claimed that some girls died in air strikes launched by the Nigeria Air Force (NAF) in its bid to hurt the militants. He disclosed that some of the girls had been wounded and had life-threatening injuries and that 40 had been married off to militants.

This bears some similarity with a December 2017 report by the Wall Street Journal which disclosed that 13 of the schoolgirls had died from a range of causes during the time spent in captivity.

"Some were felled by malaria, hunger or a snake bite. The majority died in airstrikes. Among those forcibly married to fighters, at least two died in childbirth," a source said.

In a confidential report that Reuters reported to be the debrief of the 21 girls released in 2016, they indicated that 61 had married Boko Haram militants, eight had died in NAF airstrikes, three during childbirth, and one of an unknown cause.

When a 12-year-old female suicide bomber was intercepted in Cameroon in March 2016, she claimed to be one of the abducted Chibok girls, but it was later discovered that she had been abducted in Bama, another scene of Boko Haram's carnage in Borno state.

Despite that her story turned out false, there are worries that suicide bombing might have been the fate of a number of Chibok girls as Boko Haram used a record 244 female suicide bombers between April 2011 and June 2017.

However, there is nothing to prove this has ever happened as the group has  abducted more than 1,000 children in Nigeria since 2013, according to a report by the United Nations Children's Agency (UNICEF).

What hope is there for the return of others?

While the government continues to fill the Chibok parents with hope that their children will return home from captivity eventually, their prolonged absence becomes worrying with each passing day.

Naomi Adamu disclosed that one of the girls that contributed to her diary while in captivity, Sarah Samuel,  succumbed to intense pressure and married a Boko Haram fighter. Such is the fate of some of the girls as many of them that have married have not returned.

In a video released by Boko Haram in January 2018, some of the Chibok girls said they were never going to return home to their parents. In the 20-minute video, where at least 14 of the girls were filmed, the one that spoke also revealed that they have all been married off to fighters.

She said, "We are the Chibok girls that you cry for us to return to you. By the grace of Allah, we will not return to you.

"Poor souls, we pity our other Chibok girls who chose to return to Nigeria. Allah blessed you and brought you to the caliphate for you to worship your creator. But instead, you chose to return to unbelief."

When 82 girls were released in May 2017, the government had negotiated for the release of 83. One of them had turned down the chance to return because she was "happily married".

President Buhari's spokesperson, Garba Shehu, said, "Those who brokered their release told us 83 girls would be on their way. And when 82 out of the expected 83 turned up, the brokers said one of them said she was happily married and didn't want to come back."

What has become of freed girls?

Some of the girls from the group of 57 who first managed to escape abduction were sponsored to continue their education in the United States.

10 of them were sponsored to school in the US by Education Must Continue (EMC), a non-governmental organisation, with the help of a US-based human rights lawyer, Emmanuel Ogebe. They were granted admission with full scholarships upon their arrival.

Two of them, Joy Bishara and Lydia Pogu, even met US president, Donald Trump, in the Oval Office in June 2017 after graduating from Canyonville Christian Academy.

In May 2016, the parents of some of the girls signed declaration forms authorizing the federal government to take over guardianship of their daughters after allegations that Ogebe and the NGO were parading the girls in media circles to relive their trauma to raise money.

According to Somiari Demm, a psychologist who provided counselling to the girls, they were subjected to constant media appearances and appeared to have been encouraged to exaggerate their abduction stories to elicit pity and more donations. These appearances were said to affect their academic performances.

"My conclusion is that the support provided to them has been tainted and their worth reduced to iPhones and iPads and a few dollars here and there," Demm said.

Some of the girls were eventually removed from Ogebe's guardianship in May 2016 and moved to another NGO called Murtala Muhammed Foundation with the authority of the Ministry of Women Affairs and the Nigerian embassy in Washington DC.

In June 2017, Ogebe disclosed that three of the girls that were left in the EMC's care were in its US college program while two had also graduated high school.

In a report by the BBC in October 2016, another 24 girls out of the original 57 that escaped were flourishing in a New Foundation School (NFS) programme designed specially to address their academic, psychological, social, and emotional challenges at the American University of Nigeria in Yola, Adamawa state.

By their third year of enrollment in August 2017, eight of them had graduated from the NFS and enrolled in the university with three in the AUN's pre-med program, Natural and Environmental Sciences, and two in Accounting. The rest enrolled to study Law, Computer Science and Journalism.

The NFS initiative started in 2014 to cater specially for the kidnapped Chibok girls and when the government secured the release of the 103 and the other four that had been found, AUN administrators offered to incorporate them into the program to prepare them for college life, according to a report by the New York Times.

Only one of the released girls turned down the chance to continue her education with AUN as she returned home to Chibok to be with her husband whom she had married before the fateful abduction.

In November 2017, President Buhari approved the payment of N164,763,759 for the second-semester tuition of the 106 girls who had been enrolled at the AUN.

Since they are still considered high-profile targets, the girls are closely monitored on the AUN campus so much they are not allowed to leave campus without an escort.

Upon their return, before they were enrolled in AUN, the girls had previously undergone months of comprehensive rehabilitation and therapy in the custody of the government where they were tended to by psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers with some of them reported to be suffering from PTSD, nightmares, and insomnia.

While most of the returned girls have enjoyed a good turn in their fortunes, there are some that are still feeling a little unhappy and abandoned.

According to a report by AFP, when the initial 57 escaped in 2014, the Borno state government pledged to spend N1.5 million on each of them every year until they finished university. Christian students were sent to study in Plateau state while Muslim students were sent to Katsina state.

However, despite the government's pledge of support, 17 girls have since dropped out because their parents could not afford to cover auxiliary costs such as travel and food.

The chairman of the Chibok girls parents association, Yakubu Nkeki, lamented that some of the students who qualified to continue their education in the university were denied because their impoverished parents were left to substantially pay for their daughters' upkeep. Some of them have been forced to stay back with their parents in Chibok due to a lack of options.

One of them, Saraya Amos, told AFP, "We deserve equal treatment and opportunity. Those rescued are now studying at the university while we have been forgotten. We feel extremely bad and abandoned, our future is hanging in the balance because the chance of furthering our education is bleak."

20-year-old Hadiza Fali, who wants to become an agricultural engineer, said it is frustrating that she cannot continue her education uninterrupted like the rest of her friends.

"I don't envy my colleagues who are in school, I only feel let down and treated like a second-class citizen. I so much want to continue with my education if given the chance. We are not in school, we have been idling away at home for the past one year doing nothing, apart from helping out parents on the farm," she said.

Three of the girls sent to Katsina dropped out of school because their parents could not raise the N12,000 transport fare for the 450-mile trip back to school at the end of holidays. One of them is married now with the other two planning their weddings.

Chibok parents

After just three months of the abduction of the girls, seven fathers were killed in an attack by Boko Haram on Kautakari, a village close to Chibok, while at least four more parents died of heart failure or trauma related to the abduction of their children. Nine more had died by November 2017.

The past four years have not been kind to the parents, especially those whose children remain in captivity.

Dr Allen Manasseh, spokesperson of Kibaku Area Development Association (KADA), an umbrella body of members of the Chibok community, told Pulse Nigeria that the parents can do nothing but wait and keep their spirits high expecting that something positive will happen.

Dr Manasseh, whose niece is one of the girls still in captivity, said it's hard to describe how the parents feel.

"It has not been easy; it's something that no one can describe having a child missing for four years. It's just best described as traumatic," he said.

He also noted that the parents have been able to sustain hope from the return of some of the girls over the years.

"They're hopeful especially when few started escaping after three years and then larger number was negotiated for at some point. With that, it's adding to their hope that one day, they also will gain their freedom.

"The fact that the advocacy group has been calling the attention of the government and the global community on it is something that they also hold on to that."

Dapchi copycat abduction

On the night of February 19, 2018, an attack that was a copycat of Chibok happened when Boko Haram militants invaded Government Girls Science and Technical Secondary School in Dapchi, Bursari local government area of Yobe state and kidnapped 111 schoolgirls and another two students, a boy and a girl, making 113.

After a month of intense scrutiny of the government's efforts to get the hostages back, 107 of them were returned by the terrorists on March 21, 2018. Even though the government claimed no ransom was paid for their return, it has been criticised for allowing the incident happen despite the lessons supposedly learnt from Chibok.

Much like Chibok, six of the abducted girls remain unaccounted for with reliable reports from the freed hostages indicating that five already died while one, Leah Sharibu, remains in captivity for refusing to renounce her Christian faith and convert to Islam.

Forced conversion was one of the many troubles Chibok girls also faced as many of them were coerced into converting, even though the two set of girls were kidnapped by separate Boko Haram factions.

Don't lose hope - Buhari

As the fate of 112 Chibok girls continues to hang in the balance, expectant parents keep looking to the federal government to bring their girls home.

While receiving the released Dapchi girls last month, President Buhari told the Chibok parents not to lose hope.

"While parents of the Dapchi girls rejoice because of the reunion with their children, I want to appeal to the Chibok community never to lose hope or to despair. We are determined as never before, to bring back our remaining Chibok daughters. And this, we must accomplish. And that will be soon, by God's grace." he said.

Despite the president's confident words, Dr Manasseh believes the government is not doing enough to put the mind of troubled parents at more ease.

He said, "It can never be enough in as much as we have one person still abducted. If the government was doing enough, we would have been getting daily updates especially with a large number (that is still missing). The government should be reaching out to the families and giving them situation reports every now and then.

"The government has not been keeping in touch with the parents. We talked to the government and have written and placed courtesy calls to the president, vice president, and the minister of women affairs to correct this issue but they have not. The government is supposed to create a medium where they can talk directly to the parents.

"At least if they're talking to these parents on a continuous basis, they'll know the efforts the government is doing. Nobody is asking that you must disclose the security details or anything that'll jeopardise the negotiation process; but then, there are certain levels of information you need to give the parents to keep them sustaining the hope that their daughters will be found."

While the return of the Dapchi girls may have renewed the hopes of grief-stricken Chibok parents, four years is a long time to be brutally torn from your loved ones without certainty of ever reconnecting.

To commemorate four years of the Chibok abduction today, parents of the girls will assemble on the premises of the school where they were torn away from them and have interdenominational prayers.

It is important that we never forget them, or the other hundreds of hostages that Boko Haram is exploiting in its unfortunate reign of terror.