One year after it was perpetrated, the kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls by a jihadist group in Nigeria remains a crime almost too horrifying to comprehend: Hundreds of teenaged girls, just finishing school, destined perhaps for significant achievement—kidnapped, never to be seen again.
“This crime has rightly caused outrage both in Nigeria and across the world,” the country’s President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, said Tuesday 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.”
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.
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. 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.
They were between 16 and 18 years old.
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.
Their parents were stricken with grief. The world was appalled. On Twitter, a hashtag began trending and spread around the world: #BringBackOurGirls.
On Tuesday, Malala Yousafzai, the 17-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the face for speaking out in favor of girls’ education, sent a message to the kidnapped girls.
“I am one of the millions of people around the world who keep you and your families foremost in our thoughts and prayers,” she wrote. “We cannot imagine the full extent of the horrors you have endured. But please know this: We will never forget you.”
One year later, a few things have changed. Each of the missing girls has had a birthday in captivity. Each is now a year older.
Nigeria’s current president, Goodluck Jonathan, was defeated in his campaign for re-election, in part, it is thought, because he failed to effectively combat Boko Haram. Buhari, the incoming president, has pledged an aggressive effort to wipe out the group.
Boko Haram still on rampage
But much remains unchanged, as well.
Boko Haram still controls swathes of northeastern Nigeria. According to UNICEF, 800,000 children have been forced to flee their homes because of the conflict between the Nigerian military, civilian self-defense groups, and Boko Haram.
Amnesty International says women and children continue to be abducted. And it says Boko Haram continues to kill in large numbers.
Beyond that, more than 200 schoolgirls who had gathered one year ago to take their science exam are still missing. Their families are still bereft.
And Tuesday on Twitter, a hashtag was still trending: #BringBackOurGirls.