This week is the ninth anniversary of the 265 girls – now women – being taken from their school in Chibok, Nigeria. Around 100 of them remain in captivity, whilst several who were released last year have yet to be allowed home by the government. Meanwhile, the parents continue to suffer unbearable pain and uncertainty.
Mary with a picture of her daughter, Bilki, who remains in captivity after being taken nine years ago
Ishaya only has only one picture of his daughter, Hauwa, but looking at it only brings anguish. “It is still hard for me to look at her picture,” he says. “These thoughts in my head, they make me suffer. No day goes by without thinking of her.”
Hauwa is one of the 275 girls taken from their school in Chibok on 14 April 2014. They had gathered for exams when Boko Haram militants arrived, pretending to be government security officials who had come to protect them. They coaxed the girls from their dorms onto trucks and headed for the Sambisa Forest. Before, during and shortly after the attack, 47 of the girls managed to escape.
Since then, the students have been released in batches, including several last year. Around 100 are believed to still be in captivity. For the parents, the agonising pain and uncertainty has been unbearable. Many have died because of sorrow-induced health issues.
“We lost 38 parents in the first three years of this kidnapping,” says Yakubu Nkeki, the chairman of the Chibok Girls’ Parents’ Association. “The slightest illness can take their life due to high blood pressure. They are in so much pain, because they think too much”.
Earlier this year, Open Doors local partners visited some of the parents. Ishaya was one of them, who added, “Even if our girls have died, we want somebody to inform us. Because then we can finally give up hope.”
“It was on a Tuesday evening around 6.30pm, when we heard about the kidnapping,” shares Mary Abdullahi, another parent. “We rushed to the school. The building was still burning. I saw fathers and mothers rolling on the ground, crying. From that day, I started struggling with high blood pressure. I am still suffering from high blood pressure and stomach aches. Even today I am in pain. I endure thanks to painkillers. It is all caused by fretting over my daughter’s abduction. I always used to be such a strong woman.”
“We have not heard any news until today,” adds Mary. “Are they dead? Are they alive? As a mother, I refuse to accept that my daughter is dead or alive, until I have heard reliable news.”
“It is exactly because of the suffering of these waiting parents over all these years that Open Doors has advocated for the appointment of a family liaison in Nigeria for the sole purpose of keeping an open line of communication with the parents,” explains Jo Newhouse*, Open Doors spokesperson for work in sub-Saharan Africa.
“While kidnapping negotiations may be too sensitive to discuss in the open domain, each parent and family member, hoping and praying for the day they may be reunited, deserves to know regular status updates. We continue to call upon the government to do all in their power to secure the release of the remaining Chibok women and Leah Sharibu [who was kidnapped in a separate incident in 2018], and to care for their loved ones by transparent communication with them.”
There is also grave concern over the wellbeing of 14 girls who escaped a few months ago. During captivity, they were forcibly married to Boko Haram fighters and had children by them. The government has refused to allow them to return to their parents and they are currently being held alongside surrendered and captured Boko Haram members.
"We have so much hope that, with continued prayer, one day we will see the remaining girls" Yakubu
“They are still together with repentant Boko Haram members in the same compound,” says Yakubu. “They can’t differentiate their time with Boko Haram in the bush and now in the government house. The parents are very worried. Their daughters have phones, so the girls and their parents communicate often. They also call me as I am the leader of the group. They inform me that staying there is difficult for them.”
“We acknowledge that this is a complex matter that requires extraordinary discernment,” adds Jo Newhouse. “And while the government has an obligation to Nigerian civilians to ensure that these women have not been radicalised in their ordeal, they have an equal obligation to protect these women against any further trauma and exploitation. We call on the government to immediately move the women that have expressed a desire to leave the so-called marriages they had been forced into as they undergo treatment and assessment.”
Mary Abdullahi asked to share a message for her daughter, Bilki: “I never knew this would happen to you. If you are still alive, in the name of Jesus, I know how much you are committed in serving God. May God help you, my daughter, and bring you back home to your other sisters. If you are not alive, then that is what God wanted for you. May He give you eternal rest. Oh, my Bilki, what a painful experience you are going through.”
“We are still hopeful as parents of these girls,” adds Yakubu. “We haven’t lost hope at all. We have so much hope that, with continued prayer, one day we will see the remaining girls, just as we received the girls that have returned. We will receive them with joy.”
Thank you for your prayers for those affected by the kidnapping nine years ago. Please continue to pray for the women and their parents, and for the many other Christians in Nigeria who remain in captivity. Kidnapping is on the rise in the country, with many incidents involving Islamic extremists who deliberately want to destabilise Christian communities by bringing shame, financial hardship and fear.
Find out more about persecution in Nigeria, and rising violence facing Christians across sub-Saharan Africa, in our Top 50 booklet. It features country overviews, trend articles, stories and prayer requests to equip you in your prayers and support for our persecuted family.
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