Two years after the abduction of 276 girls from their school in Chibok by Boko Haram, 219 of them are still missing. The loss has left the parents traumatized.
"Father, we thank you for counting us amongst the living. We thank you for bringing us to Chibok without any problem." These are the prayers of the group of people gathered together on the outskirts of the north Nigerian village of Chibok. They mark the start of a historic and sad event. For the first time in two years, nearly all the parents of the 219 girls have returned to the scene of the kidnappings.
On the night of the 14th to the 15th of April, 2014, heavily armed Boko Haram gunmen stormed school's dormitories. Most of the girls who were abducted that night were aged between 16 to 18 years. Two years later, there is still no trace of 219 kidnapped victims.
Saraya Stover was one of the girls they took. Her mother Monica doubts that she is still alive. "When I heard about the abduction, I lost hope," she said. Her voice sounds tired. Her eyes are dry and empty. "I cannot imagine seeing my daughter again," she says.
An old photograph
Monica Stover takes a small faded photo out of her handbag. One can barely make out the facial features of a teenage girl with a white headdress - her daughter Saraya. It's one of the only photos she still has.
It is, however, not only the loss of her daughter, but also the government's inaction, that has made her life so unbearable. "No one has talked to us. We only hear stories in the news. But for us parents who live in Chibok, there is nothing," she says.
More than emotional support
The Murtala Muhammad Foundation is one of the few organizations that continues to support the parents. They organized this meeting in Chibok. The foundation is named after General Murtala Muhammed, the military leader who ruled Nigeria from 1975 until his assassination in 1976. The organization is run by his daughter Aisha Muhammed-Oyebode and works to promote good governance and better education for girls.
Muhammed-Oyebode has supported the Chibok parents since the Boko Haram kidnappings two years ago. She meets some of them regularly in Lagos and Abuja, but the gathering in Chibok was difficult to organize. The government only gave its approval at the last moment.
For the journey to Chibok the group needed a military escort. Every trip to the region is a reminder of just how fast people can disappear in northern Nigeria.
As the parents assemble in Chibok, Muhammed-Oyebode is deeply moved. She embraces one of the mothers and later several women walk up to her to thank her for her efforts. Yet Muhammed-Oyebode wants to give more than just emotional support. "We are going to work hard to see how we can continue to put pressure [on the government]," she told DW. Additionally she hopes to work on re-opening the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok. "Rebuilding this school is an important symbol," she adds.
No protection for Chibok
She turns around and looks at the school. The roof is missing only the walls are standing. This is where the kidnappings took place. But there have been many similar incidents. Over the past few years, Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands of girls, boys and women. If the government finds and frees any victims, it is largely a matter of luck.
According to Yakubu Nkeki, the representative of the parents' group, the attack on Chibok was no coincidence. He says the authorities had ordered the closure of schools in Borno State for security reasons. Two weeks later, they were reopened, but there was no extra security in place. "These girls they were here and there was not a single security guard. They were living and learning here without any security," he says. At the time, he adds, only 15 soldiers were stationed in Chibok itself. The girls were easy prey for a terrorist attack.
Back to everyday life
For Muhammed-Oyebode it's time to leave Chibok. The drive back to Yola, the capital of the neighboring Adamawa State, takes six hours if there are no delays.
Monica Stover puts her photo back in her handbag. For her, the end of the commemoration means going back to everyday life, where she has to deal with her sorrow alone. “"A commemoration like this doesn't mean much to us," she says shrugging her shoulders. "Such ceremonies don't bring back our daughters. That's what we really want."