CEO Murtala Muhammed Foundation Aisha Oyebode

Author of book on Chibok Girls visits the distraught parents two years on

The author of a book on the Chibok Girls speaks of the parents’ distress two years after losing their children to Boko Haram, unsure if they are alive or how they are and after a viewing new video of the girls, said to be filmed last December.

LAGOS, NIGERIA (APRIL 14, 2016) (REUTERS) – The daughter of an assassinated Nigerian leader, Aisha Muhammed-Oyebode, was at home in Lagos on Thursday (April 14) putting finishing touches to her book on the Chibok girls, kidnapped two years ago from their secondary school in northern Nigeria.

The kidnapping of the girls, 57 who escaped and 219 still missing, has become a political issue in Nigeria with the government and military criticised for their handling of the incident and failing to track down the girls.

A group of Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by the Islamist group Boko Haram exactly two years ago have been identified in a new video, raising hopes that they are all alive and renewing global calls for efforts to find them.

The video was shown to three mothers of girls abducted two years ago from Chibok in northeast Nigeria in the first possible sighting of the girls since a video of them in captivity was released in May 2014.

The three mothers Rifkatu Ayuba, Mary Ishaya and Yana Galang, were invited to the viewing by the chairman of Chibok local government area, Bana Lawan, who confirmed that he had paid their travel costs to Maiduguri, the state capital.

Rifkatu Ayuba and Mary Ishaya said they recognised their daughters, Saratu and Hauwa, in the video, while Yana Galang, identified five of the missing girls.

Aisha spoke to Yana during her visit to Chibok earlier this week. She said the mothers were told the video had been filmed in December 2015.

“I could hear the… you know when a person has cried herself hoarse, I could hear the tears in Yana’s voice. And I said to her what happened and she told me she said they had viewed the videos. And in fact she was the first person to recognise the first girl so she said to one of the mothers, this is your daughter and then she looked closer and she said yes it’s true and then of course you know they broke down crying and then the other mother recognised hers but I think what was painful which she didn’t say to me until much later was that her daughter was not in the video. So, the I don’t know it’s so difficult you know to speak about the emotions that you know I’ve seen those mothers go through in the last year or so. So she was happy that the others had the opportunity, at least seen their daughters and the fact that also it gave them a sense of renewed hope that their girls were alive at least as far back as when the video was recorded which was in 2015, that’s what we were told in December and so that gave them renewed hope but there was also that agony that why was her own daughter not one of them,” said Aisha Muhammed Oyebode, chief executive officer, Murtala Muhammed Foundation.

Aisha said she wanted the women in Chibok to start thinking about re-opening the school to show defiance to Boko Haram but also to find a way to build their own mental and emotional strength.

“There’s no resolution, there’s no closure, there’s no, you don’t even know what to think, what to expect, what to imagine. Are they fine? Are they not fine? Are they alive? Even if they are alive, what conditions are they in? I mean the one thing they assure me and it’s true for most of them is that they don’t mind what state they’re daughters are brought back in, they just want their children back. In fact when I was talking to them when I was in Chibok at the beginning of the week, we were talking about the school, and I said to them you know it’s tough but one of the things I know about terrorism is that part of it is to instil fear in you and to break you mentally and one way to also cope is to find little ways of being able to show that you are resilient and that you’re strong even in the face of the adversity and I said let’s rebuild that school. Let’s make sure that Government Girls Secondary School is rebuilt,” Aisha said.

Muhammed-Oyebode said she wanted greater recognition worldwide for the plight of the girls. She has therefore led a project since mid-2015 which has involved talking to the parents of the missing girls and taking photos for the book to be published later this year.

This has involved sending a team of interviewers, a photographer and videographer to Chibok where they have interviewed the parents of about 201 of the girls and taken photos of their lives, such as family portraits and personal items.

Muhammed-Oyebode said she hoped the project would put a human face to tragedy of the the missing girls. It includes snapshots of their lives before the abduction and talks about the way the parents have tried to cope after their disappearance.

Aisha says documenting their stories was a way of acknowledging their pain.

“It allows us to really understand you know the nature of that kidnap, how it’s devastated those families, how it has devastated those communities. I know we feel their pain and that was one of the things they told me when I was in Chibok on Monday, they sent through me gratitude to all of those people out there in the world who have cried for them, who have cried for their daughters but you know we also, it would be wonderful for us to even get a sense of who those daughters were,” she said.

Amnesty International estimates about 2,000 girls and boys have been abducted by the Boko Haram since 2014, with many used as sex slaves, fighters and even suicide bombers.

This week a report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said Boko Haram child suicide bombings have surged 11-fold in West Africa over the last year, to 44, with children as young as 8, mostly girls, used to bomb schools and markets.

Boko Haram’s six-year campaign to set up an Islamic emirate in northeastern Nigeria has killed some 15,000 people, according to the U.S. military.