Missing Nigerian girls appear in video shown to Chibok parents

Girls state their names and urge government to help reunite them with families in video released by Boko Haram

Originally published in The Guardian

Missing girls
Members of the Bring Back Our Girls movement in Lagos on Wednesday. (PHOTO: Pius Utomi Ekpei)

A video apparently showing a group of Nigerian girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram two years ago has been shown to distraught parents in the town of Chibok.

Fifteen girls, who are among more than 200 still missing, appear on the video, which was made almost four months ago and has been obtained by CNN. In response to off-camera questions, they calmly say their names and where they are from. The girls, who are Christian, are wearing black hijabs.

Towards the end of the two-minute clip, one of the girls, Naomi Zakaria, urges the Nigerian authorities to help reunite the girls with their families. “I am speaking on December 25 2015, on behalf of the all the Chibok girls and we are all well,” she says, stressing the word “all”.

It is the first footage of the girls since a video released a month after they were kidnapped on 14 April 2014. Their abduction triggered a global campaign for their release under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. The campaign was supported by Michelle Obama and dozens of celebrities.

The video was provided by Boko Haram as a show of good faith, at the request of negotiators trying to secure the release of the girls. Parents saw it for the first time this week.

Hundreds of parents of the Chibok girls were due to hold a march in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, on Thursday to demand the government step up efforts to free the girls. Other parents were planning a prayer vigil at the Government Girls secondary school in Chibok from where the girls were taken.

Criticism for slow response
The previous government, under the former president Goodluck Jonathan, was criticised for its slow response to the abductions. He was ejected from office in an election a year ago, and the new president, Muhammadu Buhari, pledged to step up efforts to find and free the girls.

Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s information minister, has declined to comment directly on talks with Boko Haram, which has previously said it would release the girls only in exchange for captured fighters in Nigerian prisons.

“There are ongoing talks. We cannot ignore leads but of course many of these investigations cannot be disclosed openly because it could also endanger the negotiations,” the minister told CNN.

Mothers of the girls who were shown the video this week at a screening organised by local officials in Maiduguri, capital of Borno state, identified those appearing on screen.

Rifkatu Ayuba and Mary Ishay said they recognised their daughters, and another mother, Yana Galang, identified five of the missing girls. “They were definitely our daughters … all we want is for the government to bring back our girls,” said Galang.

A classmate of the girls, who was at home on the day of abduction, identified all 15 of those in the video.

2 000 children abducted since 2014
About 2 000 children have been abducted by Boko Haram since 2014, according to Amnesty International. Many are used as sex slaves, fighters and – increasingly – suicide bombers.

In the past year, the Nigerian army has retaken towns and villages in the north-east of the country controlled by Boko Haram, and has freed hundreds of women and children held captive.

However, many face rejection or are stigmatised when they are returned to their families or are settled in refugee camps.

Sarah Carson, ActionAid UK women’s right’s campaign manager, said: “On the second anniversary of the kidnapping of the 276 Nigerian schoolgirls, we woke to the news that a new video has just been released that appears to show 15 of the girls in captivity. It’s the first footage we’ve seen of the girls since 2014 and a haunting reminder that 214 young girls are still missing.

“The Nigerian government has made promises to do all it can to rescue these girls, and ActionAid is calling on the government to fulfil its promise as a matter of urgency. It must also make sure that all schools across the country are safe so that all girls are able to fulfil their right to go to school without fear of violence.

“In the meantime, until every single one of the 214 girls are brought home safely, we must continue to raise our voices, and call on the Nigerian government to do all that it can to bring back our girls.”

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