One year after Islamic extremists kidnapped hundreds of young girls from a northeastern Nigerian town, the world still wonders what happened to the 219 girls that are still missing.
The event sparked global outrage, and that was fanned by the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. On the one-year anniversary of the kidnapping, some are asking whether social media activism has had any positive impact on the search for the girls.
Since the April 14 – 15 kidnapping, the location of the Chibok girls has mostly remained a mystery. While being transported to the Sambisa Forest, a few dozen of the girls managed to escape their captors. Others have reportedly seen groups of the victims from time to time, raising the possibility that the girls were separated and taken across the border to neighboring Chad and Cameroon. At this time, 219 girls are still missing.
Boko Haram, the Islamic militant group responsible for the kidnapping, has abducted at least 2,000 women and girls since 2014, according to Amnesty International. In November, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a video saying the group did not intend to bring the original group of schoolgirls back to their families, claiming the girls converted to Islam.
“The issue of the girls is long forgotten because I have long ago married them off,” he said, reported the Associated Press. “In this war, there is no going back.”
But families have not given up hope. Around the world, activists are marking the anniversary with ceremonies and tributes. Some have changed the popular slogan “Bring Back Our Girls” to “Never to be Forgotten,” highlighting the desire for continued efforts to locate the youth. The trending #BringBackOurGirls hashtag has returned to social media, also showing worldwide interest in finding the girls.
Hauwa Biu, a woman’s rights activist and professor in Maiduguri, Nigeria, said that the hashtag represents the positive aspect of spreading awareness, but unfortunately fails to achieve peace or action in the area. Women are still being abducted by Boko Haram.
“The Chibok girls were just one group of many, many others who have been kidnapped since last year,” Biu told NBC News. “I cannot say that the #BringBackOurGirls campaign has made women and young girls in the northeast feel any safer.”
Jumoke Balogun, a Nigerian-American and co-founder and co-editor of CompareAfrique.com, writes that social activism can actually do more harm than good. She said that ultimately Nigeria is the only government who can address and fix the situation. In pushing foreign governments to involve themselves, people using #BringBackOurGirls only succeed in damaging a country, in spite of good intentions. Balogun wrote:
[W]hen you pressure Western powers, particularly the American government to get involved in African affairs and when you champion military intervention, you become part of a much larger problem . . . It was Nigerians who took their good for nothing President [Goodluck Jonathan] to task and challenged him to address the plight of the missing girls. It is in their hands to seek justice for these girls and to ensure that the Nigerian government is held accountable.
Marissa Jackson, a law clerk at the US Court of Appeals, argued that social activism does produce progress. Responding to Balogun in an article published in The Guardian, she writes that #BringBackOurGirls allowed activists, policymakers, artists, scholars, dignitaries, and everyday citizens to support Nigeria in a way that would not otherwise be possible. The hashtag was a sign of “grassroots international cooperation.” Ms. Jackson writes:
“And we have been successful. Let’s be honest: if it had not been for us . . . we would not be experiencing the very necessary virtual Nigerian spring that we are experiencing today . . . Our media outlets would never have rushed to catch up with the efforts we were already making.”
She continued: “Legally and politically, the burden of protecting Nigerians does lie with the Nigerian government. However, it is a well-recognised human rights principle that when a state completely fails to protect its people as the Nigerian government has, the world community has a moral obligation to step in.”
President-elect Muhammadu Buhari said that he hopes the girls can still be found. Following former President Goodluck Jonathan, who received much criticism for how he handled the situation and the acts of Boko Haram in general, Buhari said his new approach must “begin with honesty.”
“We do not know if the Chibok girls can be rescued. Their whereabouts remain unknown . . . As much as I wish to I cannot promise that we can find them," Mr. Buhari said. "But I say to every parent, family member and friend of the children that my government will do everything in its power to bring them home.”
This article contains reporting from the Associated Press.