As he spoke his voice trembled and his eyes fill with tears. “We are very worried about these girls. We are desperate to find them, that is why we sit here every day. I can’t imagine that this wickedness is happening to us. Chibok will never be the same again”.
The face of Mr Tsambido Hosea, the chairman of the Chibok community in Abuja, was lined with worry as he told me of the desperate hope, fear and sorrow that the parents of the kidnapped girls were experiencing. “Chibok people are shaken right now. Our people are running to the bush; they hide there with their children for days without food because they are afraid Boko Haram will attack them. Since Boko Haram kidnapped our children everything has changed in Chibok. We are seriously looking forward to the rescue of these girls and we hope it will be very soon.”
My conversation with Mr. Tsambido last year occurred as we approached the commemoration of the 100th day of the kidnap of the Chibok girls. Back then people were horrified the girls were still missing. Now it’s one year on, 365 days, and still the girls aren’t home. There are fears some have been forced to marry their abusers or worse, forced to become suicide bombers.
I took part in sit-out sessions for the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, which has been taking place every day in Abuja since the tragedy happened, where men, women and children from Chibok community and supporters from across the nation sit by a central fountain to protest and express how the kidnapping affected them and their family members, and state their resolve to continue to demand for the release of the girls.After each speaker, the sit-out group, in unison, chanted in a call and response manner:
“What are we saying?- Bring back our girls now and alive!
When do we stop? - Until our girls are back and alive.
What do we want? - The truth, nothing but the truth!!”
The intensity of emotion in their united voices drove chills down my spine and brought tears to my eyes.
It was there that we met a man whose niece and nephew had just escaped from Chibok because of Boko Haram. They had been hiding in the bush for days before making it to their Uncle’s house in Abuja. Their sister was among the schoolgirls who were kidnapped. He took us to meet them.
Shaku, 16, cried a lot as we spoke. His 20-year-old sister, Rhoda said she’s been having nightmares and finds it difficult to sleep since her sister was kidnapped. “My sister is very intelligent,” she said. “She loves going to school and she helps us with our school work. It is difficult for me to continue without my sister. I want her back with us now.”
Shaku actually drove his sister to school on their father’s motor bike that fateful day when the girls were kidnapped. His uncle confided to me this has left him with severe feelings of guilt and that he’s very emotionally disturbed because of this.
“When I heard that some girls were kidnapped from the secondary school in Chibok I knew it was my sister’s school, my heart started beating so fast and since then I have been ill all the time”, said Rhoda.
Shaku said, “I love my sister very much. Sometimes she would sit and read with me and teach me things. When I remember these things I can’t sleep and I start to cry”.
Sadly in Nigeria today there has been a growing discussion on twitter and social media dismissing the kidnapping as a political stunt and suggesting it never really happened.
The first time I saw one of these posts on Facebook, I was truly shocked. But surely it was a rarity? Surely only a tiny handful of Nigerians would be so callous and ignorant to tweet that the kidnapping of 219 Chibok girls by Boko Haram was a political gimmick. However, as the one year anniversary of the day edged ever closer, and did so in the face of the Nigerian elections, such tweets and Facebook posts became more and more common.
It is a shameful insult of grave proportions that the sorrow and appeals for justice by Shaku, Rhoda and thousands of other relatives of the kidnapped girls are being trampled upon on social media and dismissed as a political gimmick.
We cannot let such comments destabilize or demoralize the movement for the return of the Chibok girls. Now more than ever we must all join our voices with theirs and demand that the Nigerian government bring back our girls - now and alive!
Written by Onyinyechi Okechukwu