Two Years After the Nigerian Girls Were Taken

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Media Outlet: the New Yorker

Alexis Okeowo wrote for the New Yorker about the Nigerian girls abducted by Boko Haram:

Late last month, amid a spate of suicide bombings planned by the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria and across the border in the far north of Cameroon, something strange happened. A vigilante force in a Cameroonian town called Limani stopped a twelve-year-old girl and a thirty-five-year-old woman who were carrying explosives, and subsequently handed them over to authorities. While they were being questioned in custody, the girl said she had been sent by Boko Haram to detonate herself, which wasn’t in itself unusual—one of every five suicide bombings that the group has staged or inspired over the past two years has been executed by children, usually young girls. But the girl also said that she had ended up with the Islamist group after it kidnapped her and more than two hundred schoolgirls in the Nigerian town of Chibok, in a mass abduction that began on the evening of April 14, 2014, two years ago this Thursday.
As the Nigerian government prepared to send two parents of abducted girls from Chibok to Cameroon to determine whether the girl was, indeed, one of the kidnapped students, Nigerians speculated about her identity, and fretted at the slow release of news from the government. That one of the Chibok girls, of whom there has been no news since 2014, would have turned up as a forced suicide bomber seemed tragic but, in some ways, unsurprising. Rumors about the girls floated around the northeast: they were scattered around the scrubland of Cameroon, Chad, and Niger; they were sex slaves to fighters; they were trained as fighters; they were dead. But it soon emerged that the twelve-year-old girl was not from Chibok—she is from the nearby city of Maiduguri, and Boko Haram took her from another nearby town, Bama, a year ago—and the woman she was travelling with is a mother of two. With the second anniversary of the Chibok kidnapping approaching, the false identification of the almost-bomber had an extra sting. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari claims that he “technically” defeated Boko Haram in December, but attacks on towns and refugee camps continue. And most of the girls remain missing.

Author:

Alexis Okeowo was a Class of 2016 & 2017 New America Fellow. She is the author of A Moonless, Starless Sky: Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa and a staff writer for the New Yorker.