Boko Haram Still Holds Many Girls Kidnapped 3 Years Ago
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Three years ago today, nearly 300 boarding school girls were abducted in northeast Nigeria by the extremist group Boko Haram. The mass kidnapping of the Chibok girls was a global sensation. Remember the hashtag #bringbackourgirls campaign, which former first lady Michelle Obama joined, among others. Apart from the students who escaped as they were being driven off, about 25 girls have since been found, rescued or released. About 200, though, are still missing, not to speak of the hundreds of other girls, boys and adults abducted by the group before and since the schoolgirls were taken captive. NPR West Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton joins us now. Ofeibea, good morning.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings.
GREENE: So yesterday, the Nigerian government said negotiations are continuing to try to get the remaining schoolgirls released. So what exactly is happening? Is there still hope here?
QUIST-ARCTON: Indeed. The government came out yesterday - the president came out with a statement to say they're still in constant touch through negotiations, through local intelligence and to ensure the secure release of the remaining girls and other abducted persons in Nigeria. So I guess for the families there is still hope, but they want to know why, since October, when 21 girls were released, there has been virtually nothing. There was a lot of fanfare. The government made a lot of it. The girls eventually saw their families. But since then, nothing.
GREENE: OK, so hope coming from these statements, but they actually want to see more movement. And, you know, you - as you mentioned, the girls are not the only captives that Boko Haram has. There are many others.
QUIST-ARCTON: Indeed. Thousands, it's thought - and Amnesty International saying today that there have been more than 40 mass abductions of girls, boys, women and men in Nigeria since these 300 schoolgirls were abducted en masse. And, you know, I've been talking to Nigeria's chief humanitarian coordinator, Dr. Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, and she says this should not be forgotten. Have a listen.
AYOADE OLATUNBOSUN-ALAKIJA: I've met with about 76 girls who had been abducted two years before the Chibok girls. They'd been in some piece of forest for two years. When you talk about the humanitarian crisis in the northeast of Nigeria, people think, oh, well, it's just a couple of hundred girls. No, hundreds of thousands of women, children. We have to realize that the situation is so much bigger.
QUIST-ARCTON: So there you go, David. Everyone's saying don't forget, yes, there are 200 missing Chibok girls, but so many other Nigerians that are still missing because they have been kidnapped and forced to do all sorts of jobs, including sex slavery, by Boko Haram.
GREENE: Yeah, those girls are becoming really the face of a much larger crisis. Ofeibea, Boko Haram - I mean, they no longer hold territory, but they're still remaining active. I mean, suicide bombings, as you said. I mean, they're often using children, especially girls. But what are they trying to do?
QUIST-ARCTON: That is what everyone is asking. Now that the army has been able to push them out of the territory they held and this caliphate that Boko Haram said it wanted to set up, they seem to have resorted to these tactics. The United Nations Children's Fund this week saying that just this year alone, more than 20 suicide attacks using children who are often drugged and forced to do this - so they should not be seen as perpetrators. They should be seen as victims. And everybody should work together to make sure that children are not being used by Boko Haram in its insurgency.
GREENE: OK. Again, three years ago today, nearly 300 boarding school girls abducted in northeast Nigeria by the extremist group Boko Haram, a story that our colleague, NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, has been covering. Ofeibea, thanks very much.
QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure, thank you.
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