Exactly a year today, a hitherto unknown town in Borno state came to national and international attention when Boko Haram militants went to a secondary school and kidnapped over two hundred girls.
The first few days after the incident were shrouded in confusion. First, there were rumours that no girls had been kidnapped. Then the number of girls kidnapped became a point of contention. It took 19 days for the government to acknowledge the missing girls and after that, the confusion continued. The president only deigned to meet the families of the kidnapped girls after Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai extracted a promise from him.
The number of girls was finally put at 276, out of which 57 escaped.
Within three months of the girls being kidnapped, 11 parents died from stress related illness, a number which would rise to 20 before the year was out.
In September, spokesperson for the defence headquarters, Chris Olukolade, stated that the girls had been freed, only to retract the statement the same day.
In October, the army announced a ceasefire with Boko Haram; one of the terms was that the Chibok girls be released. The ceasefire later proved to be a hoax as Boko Haram released a video denying it and proceeded to bomb locations in the North east.
Meanwhile in Abuja, the #BringBackOurGirls group which was birthed when the Chibok girls were first kidnapped held daily sit-outs to make sure attention remained on the plight of the girls.
This is a story that has been told and retold over the past 365 days while 219 girls have remained missing.
Reports of sightings have been received, the most recent being from a woman who lived under Boko Haram’s rule in Gwoza and who told the BBC she saw the girls in Islamic attire, being escorted by the militants.
“They said they were Chibok girls kept in a big house,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals. “We just happened to be on the same road with them,” she added.
Three other women also told the BBC they had seen the girls in Gwoza.
Boko Haram is believed to have turned Gwoza into its headquarters after it captured the town in August 2014 but Nigeria’s military, backed by troops from neighbouring countries, recaptured the town last month and the militants fled.
Yet no girls were found.
One year later, as Nigerians remember; with marches in various parts of the country, with a new hashtag on social media, #NeverToBeForgotten, the questions is do we still believe the 219 Chibok girls are alive? Are we to mourn or hope?
Excerpts from BBC
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