Daughters of Chibok… The searing pains that won’t go away
We cry every night, it is hard to move on, says Yana Galang
April 14, 2014 is a day that will live in infamy in Nigeria’s history. On April 14, 2020, it would be six years since the abduction of 276 female students from an all-girl secondary school in the town of Chibok, Borno State. That kidnap by Boko Haram jolted the world to the dreadful activities of the terrorist group operating now for over 10 years in the northeast of the country.
The outrage caused around the world has since faded from the headlines. Even the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) daily sit-out at the Unity Fountain, Abuja, has now become a distant memory with the headliners like Oby Ezekwesili, Hadiza Bala-Usman and Bukky Shonibare, going on to pursue other interests.
A waning outrage
In April 2018, when the BBOG group assembled to mark the fourth year anniversary of the abduction, policemen dispersed the campaigners with teargas as they approached the Unity Fountain. That marked the end of the vibrant sit-out at the seat of power that rallied global attention and interest to the Chibok abduction, as subsequent campaigns of the BBOG, including the fifth anniversary and the 2,000th day remembrance on October 5, 2019 were all marked in Lagos.
It would be recalled that in the first frantic minutes of the kidnap, 57 girls managed to jump from the trucks in which they were transported, and escaped. The remaining 219 were taken away by the fighters. Not long after, a social media campaign with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls went viral and celebrities, leaders and activists across the world joined the campaign to free the kidnapped schoolgirls.
Five years and nine months after, a total of 107 girls have been found or released as part of a deal between the Federal Government and the insurgents but sadly, 112 girls are still missing on Day 2,095 of the Chibok abduction. A child born on the day of the abduction in 2014 would be gaily dressed today to resume school for the second term of Basic I class.
For parents of the remaining 112 missing girls, it is a double assault on their misery – the pain of a beloved child not yet found coupled with the realization that the government, Nigerians, Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) campaigners and indeed the entire world have since moved on.
At this time of the year when the rest of the world are positive of a new beginning after coming out from a long year-end festivities, they are left to brood and muse like the American singer and civil rights activist, Eunice Kathleen Waymon, known professionally as Nina Simone, who sang ‘Blackbird’.
In their moments of deep despondency, some mothers of the remaining Chibok girls may be heard humming a dirge that could replace the feeling of the song ‘Blackbird’: ‘So why you want to fly Blackbird, you ain’t ever gonna fly. You ain’t got no one to hold you, you ain’t got no one to care. If you’d only understand dear, nobody wants you anywhere. So why you want to fly Blackbird, you ain’t ever gonna fly.’
Nina Simone was using the song to speak to the struggles and pain of black women, as black birds, who were at the time facing a triple jeopardy of race, class, and gender oppression.
A mother’s unending grief
Some of the Chibok girls’ parents have died of heart attacks and grief-related ailments while waiting for their daughters to return. They have undergone all human emotions, from sadness, to hope, and then dejection. At least, 20 of the girls who returned have since moved to the United States to continue their education. The majority of the girls, after being freed, are continuing their education and therapy at a special school designed for them at the American University of Nigeria (AUN), Adamawa State.
The changed fortunes of many of the freed Chibok girls inspire some hope in the minds of the parents of those left behind. But when they see videos of Boko Haram/ISWAP fighters executing their captives, most especially security agents, it is like a searing hot iron touching their hearts. They are jolted back to reality as they imagine the fate of their innocent kids at the hands of the insurgents. Each video and report of Boko Haram attacks sends a chilling sensation of what their daughters are going through.
One of such women is Yana Galang, who, despite the good fortune of being featured in a documentary, Daughters of Chibok, made last year by a Nigerian filmmaker, Joel Kachi Benson, the pain still endures. “We won’t give up. Even in a hundred years, we will keep believing that our daughters will return home. Until we all die, we won’t stop believing that our daughters will come back,” she said.
The short film was shot in virtual reality and premiered at the Venice Film Festival, the oldest and one of the biggest film festivals in the world. The movie, which tells the story of Galang, also won the best virtual reality story at the festival’s closing in September 2019.
Few weeks later, Benson and Galang were in New York, United States for the United Nations General Assembly with one mission in mind: To remind the world that five years on, the Chibok girls have still not been brought home. “We are begging you, the leaders of the world, to join hands with the Nigerian government to please bring our girls for us. They are our blood and we still miss them,” Galang said on the floor of the UN assembly last year.
Back home and in a chat with The Guardian, she recalls her last memory of her daughter, Rifkatu, who was 18 when she was abducted in 2014. Every month, Galang washes the clothes of her abducted daughter so they will be fresh for her when she returns home.
She said: “She is my daughter, I can’t forget anything about her even after many years. Despite the fact that I have three other daughters with me, she is just different and special because she is very hardworking and neat. She always plaits my hair and we go to the farm together when she is on holiday. We, the parents of the 112 girls remaining, feel so bad that the Chibok girls are being forgotten.
“I recall the last time I saw her. She sacrificed her holiday and told me ‘mummy, I want to go to school so I can read with my mates together to prepare for WAEC. She returned to school on the morning the abduction happened. She went to meet her daddy who gave her N1,000 to buy the things she will need in school. She bought a few provisions and brought N250 balance, which her daddy said she should keep as pocket money.
“When she was leaving, her daddy told her to wait that he would take her on his motorcycle to school when ready but she said she would go and meet her classmates and from there leave for school. That was the last moment I remember about her. Our minds are still with her. We are thinking about her always and I believe that she is still alive and one day, I will see her again.
“I want the Federal Government to please do anything to bring back our daughters and many others in the bush. They may have forgotten but we parents cannot forget and we are daily in pains thinking about it. It is not easy. Some mothers of the missing girls would just take their hoe, go the farm, sit under a tree and start crying. After a long time agonizing, they will return home without doing anything in the farm.
“Even me, I have been doing this many times, especially during the raining season when we should be working. We will start imagining things, where are the girls, what are they doing, and how they are coping with these beasts. At that moment, we just can’t hold back the tears. When the first batch was released, our hopes were raised that it would soon be the turn of 112 mothers to smile, but it is more than two years since then and nothing has happened.
“It is with great pains that we are even struggling to keep our lives together and train the other children because it is difficult to move on. We simply can’t. You can’t understand what we are going through. Even though we have other children, my mind is still with my girl and will always be.
“We have lost 33 parents since the abduction of these girls. Some of us are strong, others are not. I lost a close friend whose daughter was also abducted. Shortly before her death one night, she told me ‘I will not see my daughter Margaret’. She was her only daughter and last born though she had six other boys. She told me if and when these girls return, please adopt Margaret as your daughter because I know I can no longer wait to see my daughter. I tried my best to encourage her. Then we were in one of the IDP camps in Bauchi State. Not long after, she fell ill and died.”
A filmmaker’s passion reopens the day of infamy
For Benson the filmmaker, beyond the grief of the abduction, which is obvious in Chibok community till date, one thing that struck him was the hardship the women had to endure even while keeping hope alive and waiting for their girls.
“When I met Galang, she was going to her farm. I followed her but all I saw was a woman hacking into a dry ground. The first thing that struck me was the use of crude method in farming, a backbreaking work that didn’t yield much result. For instance, her average annual yield of beans is 10 bags. This year, I think it is currently N16,000 per bag. So, if she does 10 bags, that’s about N150,000 for the year. That is like N12,000 for a month.
“So I ask her, has anybody come around to support you women? Have you received any aid of any sort? And the answer was no. That then became the mission of my film, to use the film to draw attention to what these women are going through. There are a lot of groups who are involved with the Bring Back Our Girls, which is great. But while we are waiting for the girls to return, we shouldn’t forget their parents. So they just don’t come back and meet absent parents.”
Galang says the world has forgotten about Chibok girls. Benson believes so too. “The most important thing that has happened with the film is that people have been reminded about Chibok. We need to accept the fact that a lot of people have moved on. But because of the reminder, we are now hearing things like oh, what can we do, how can we help? That is the film achieving its purpose.
“The film is part of a campaign to do something for the parents of Chibok. We can’t bring back their girls but we can do something to make their lives a little easier. If we focus on that, it will help to lessen the pain of the loss of their children. Yohanna went to New York. That in itself is a big deal, from Chibok to New York and meeting with world leaders,” he said.
A community still under throes of Boko Haram attacks
Despite the global attention the abduction has attracted to Chibok community, it is still a Boko Haram terrorists’ place of interest where they visit regularly, leaving trails of tears and blood. At the weekend, Boko Haram attacked again and killed three men in a village in Chibok area. Residents told newsmen that armed men walked into Bila-Amboldar village at about 10:00p.m. last Friday when residents were asleep and set houses on fire.
The attackers reportedly shot at fleeing men in the pandemonium, killing two brothers, James and Mutah Kwakwi as well as a third man, Yusuf Yakubu, who just returned from Lagos to be with his wife.A resident, who identified herself as Mana Bila, said the attackers walked into the village after keeping their motorcycles at a nearby village, Makalama, which had been deserted following multiple attacks. She added that the insurgents carted away more than 20 motorcycles and other valuables from houses during the night attack.
This is coming days after a similar attack on Christmas Eve when Boko Haram fighters attacked Kwaranglum village and killed six persons, while abducting two women. Kwaranglum is about a kilometre to Chibok town, headquarters of Chibok Local Government Area of Borno State.
The state Commissioner for Poverty Alleviation, Mr. Nuhu Clark, an indigene of the area, told newsmen that the Boko Haram insurgents invaded the village at sunset prayer time (around 6:00p.m.), and started shooting sporadically. He said the insurgents burnt down a primary school and a large quantity of foodstuff was packed from a church premises, among others.
Leader of Chibok Girls’ Parents Association, Yakubu Nkenki, has said the town was in mourning mood when he visited to commiserate with the community after Friday’s attack and has called on the Federal Government to do more to protect soft targets.
“The situation is pathetic, the village has been thrown into mourning after losing three able bodied men. They told me that the gunmen looted 24 motorcycles from the village and abducted two women who were later released. “While we call on the public to cooperate with the military, we are also appealing to the government for improved security in our villages because the more villages are being attacked, the more bigger towns are exposed,” he said.