Hannatu Dauda’s daughter Saratu, one of the kidnapped Chibok girls

It has been five years since the horror-night of April 14th, 2014 when live changed for good for the people of the dusty village of Chibok, Borno State, northern Nigeria. 275 girls, most of them Christians, had reported to the state secondary school a day or say before, at a time when most schools in the state had been shut for fear of Boko Haram attacks. Everyone’s worst nightmare became reality as the militants struck in the middle of the night and drove off with around 230 girls on the backs of trucks as the school went up in flames.

A handful – 47 to be exact – escaped during and shortly after the kidnapping. Afterwards each of them had their own tale of dread and trauma to relay. And perhaps feelings of guilt to battle for having been spared the horrors of days, weeks, months and years spent in the hands of unredeemed men who believe they serve Allah through rape, maiming and murder.

After a few individuals escaped (see timeline) and Boko Haram released 21 girls in Oct 2016 and another 82 in May 2017, the chairman of the Chibok Parents’ Association, Yakubu Nkeki Maina, say 112 Christian girls have yet to be freed. No one knows how many of them are still alive. 

Fresh wounds are always painful

Yana Gana, a mother we have visited often since the kidnapping, recently confessed to Open Doors workers, “It has been a rough journey for me. There is a Hausa proverb that says fresh wounds are always very painful.” For her, the kidnapping of daughter Rifkatu feels like a fresh wound, even though it will soon be 1,825 days old. “Any time I speak about Rifkatu, I feel so much pain in my heart.”

The second of three children, Rifkatu is missed for her extraordinary character. “Rifkatu was never bothered if her sisters didn’t help with the house work. She always woke up, cleaned the house and prepared breakfast before we all got up. While growing up, young girls usually get into make-up and fashion, but Rifkatu never payed attention to those things. None of the young girls in my community go to church, but Rifkatu did. As a family we go to the EYN (Brethren), but she attended Deeper Life. ‘She loved the prayer life there,’ her mother told us. An older woman there called her ‘sister’ – which is unusual – because of the way Rifkatu conducted herself.”

It is a heavy burden to carry. “When she was kidnapped, laughter ceased in my house. Everybody was filled with pain, most especially me, because I gave birth to her…But Rifkatu’s immediate younger sister has been more traumatized than I have been. They were so close. They wore the same clothes, the same shoes…even tied their headscarves the same way. I have never seen people who loved each other as much as they do. When Rifkatu was kidnapped, I felt pity for her younger sister. Her aunties told me the trauma will be too much, and we might end up losing her. So, we sent her to school in Yola.”

But the despair goes still further, beyond the parameters of these families, to the wider community. “Rifkatu was very good at braiding hair. No one was as skilled as she was in this community. One of the older women who came to Rifkatu to have her hair braided, took two years after the kidnapping before she could face me. Sometimes she would send her children to come and check up on me. They would come over and spend some time with me. She just couldn’t. When she finally came, she wept bitterly.”

Yana tries to exercise self-comfort. “In everything that happens in life you must be patient. You can’t change what has happened. We have tried to exercise patience…waiting to see what God would do for us.”

There is no giving up hope of Rifkatu’s return. “Even after 10 years I will never lose hope because she was kidnapped alive. If they have killed her and show me her body, then I will stop hoping for her return. Until then, we will wait for her to come back. No matter how long it takes. I believe that God will perform a miracle and the girls will be released. Because this battle is not against flesh, only God can fight it. He alone can make a way where there is no way for her to return.”

“I want to give everyone who has been praying for us a word of thanksgiving. I don’t know if there is a greater word than thank you. If there were, that would be the word I would say to the believers for sharing our pain with us. There has been crying and praying all over the world for these girls, and we can’t forget that.

I feel Saratu is here with me

Another mother, agrees. “Christians, and everybody around the world: I am honestly grateful for your prayer and support. The whole world knows about our story.

“Because of the condition we found ourselves in, we didn’t have anywhere to turn, except to God… We have cried and prayed. We pray for our daughters when we walk outside; when we sit inside; when we sleep. We never cease praying…I have hope that this year God will bring them out…”

“I usually tell my other children, ‘Even if I die today, don’t lose hope that Saratu will come back. And if she happens to be released, hold her, embrace her well. Even if the world will hate or disregard her, hold my daughter dear to your hearts.”

Holding a photo of Saratu, Hannatu declares, “Anytime I hold this picture I feel as if she is here with me. I have so much hope that if she is alive, God will bring her back to me. God willing, one day my tears will be wiped away.”

Free, but not really

The Chibok girls that have been released have been moved to a private American university in Yola, Adamawa State.

Compared to other Boko Haram returnees who usually spend months in horrible conditions following their ‘freedom’, these girls live in ease, being lavished with care.

What has happened to them have placed them in a very unique position, that requires and unique response. They have a dedicated principle, a dedicated psychologist and a dedicated pastor.

“They’ve seen hell together,” their psychologist says. Testimony after their release speak of periods of hunger, slavery, rape, lashing and battle injuries – shrapnel lodged under the skin, even a part of one girl’s leg amputated. They had seen people, including many children, die.

Physically they are doing well. They are trying to catch up on their studies and recover from their trauma as a group.

But since they arrived here in Sep 2017, their environment has remained tightly controlled. To protect their safety and preventing exploitation, they cannot leave campus without an escort and cannot receive visitors without special permission. They have rarely seen their families and visit Chibok, a four-hour drive away, only twice a year.

So, although their freedom – from captivity, hunger, violence, slavery – is celebrated, no one would be blamed for asking, “But are they really?”.

Prayer

  1. Thank the Lord for preserving the faith of the Chibok girls and their parents. Pray that He will continue to do that for all of them.
  2. Continue to pray for the release of those Chibok girls who remain in captivity. Pray that the Lord will fulfil His purposes in their lives and glorify Himself in their circumstances.
  3. Pray for due diligence on the side of the government in keeping up negotiations for the release of the remaining captives.
  4. Pray for the released Chibok girls as they seek to take up their lives again. Pray that they will experience the Lord’s healing, comfort and encouragement.
  5. Pray for the many thousands of nameless others who remain in Boko Haram captivity. Pray for the Lord to bring freedom to them all. Until He does, pray that He may sustain them and be at work in their lives.

Timeline Chibok Girls Releases/Rescues

  • On May 18, 2016 Nigerian soldiers discovered Amina Ali Darsha Nkeki (19) near Damboa, south of Maiduguri with a four-month-old baby and her “husband” in the Sambisa Forest.
  • Then on November 5, 2016 soldiers found Mary Ali Maiyanga who had escaped with a ten-month-old baby in Pulka, Gwoza.
  • On Oct 13, 2016 the Boko Haram released 21 girls.
  • On May 6, 2017 another 82 girls were released.
  • On Jan 5, 2018 one more girl was rescued.

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STAND WITH YOUR CHURCH FAMILY

Nigeria ranks number 12 on the 2019 World Watch List. Open Doors has been journeying with the Chibok parents through emergency relief in the form of food and medicine, and spiritually through presence ministry, prayer and trauma care. We implore people to not give up in praying for these parents.

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