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#BringBackOurGirls one year on

Adrian Kriesch in Yola / cmApril 13, 2015

One year ago, more than 200 schoolgirls from Chibok were kidnapped by Boko Haram militants. Parents of the missing girls told DW's correspondent in Nigeria, Adrian Kriesch, that they remain optimistic.

Image: picture alliance/AP Photo

Lawal Emos clenches his fist and kneads his fingers. He had firmly resolved not to cry when he talks about Comfort. She is a lovely girl, Emos says, always helpful and determined. Comfort is his 17-year-old daughter. A year ago she was abducted by Boko Haram from their school in the village of Chibok, northeastern Nigeria.

Like other tens of thousands, Emos, his wife and their five remaining children fled to Yola, a city located 270 kilometers (167 miles) from Chibok. He has gotten thinner in recent months as his family survives on irregular donations from friends and the Red Cross. Formerly a farmer in his home town, Emos has been unable to get land in Yola.

"Do you have a photo of Comfort?" I ask. And immediately the father of six breaks down in tears. Emos admits that he can't control his emotions whenever he sees his daughter's picture. He left all of them in Chibok.

Opening wounds

This is the third time I am in Yola since the kidnapping of the Chibok girls on the night of April 14 -15, 2014. It is also the third time while covering for DW the plight of the girls still in Boko Haram captivity. As emotional wounds of the parents are ripped open once again, tears flow, I film, and I get this bad feeling.

Lawal Emos says he knows of twelve fellow parents who have died following the kidnapping. "The constant crying and thinking of their daughters killed them." Emos and his wife Hauwa sometimes find themselves thinking that it would be easier for them if they knew their daughter was dead. "I have lost my hope in politicians because they are not doing anything," Hauwa says. "Only God can still help us to find them - dead or alive. But our government, forget it."

Three weeks after the abduction, the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram claimed responsibility. For six years, the Islamic sect has carried out a deadly insurgency especially in northeastern Nigeria. Initially, Boko Haram said it was fighting against the corrupt Nigerian government, but with time its objectives have become increasingly unclear.

A parent of one of the missing Chibok girls breaks down in tears
Lawal Emos, father of one of the kidnapped Chibok girls, says they hope to find their daughterImage: DW/A. Kriesch

Thousands of Christians and Muslims have been killed in raids and attacks by the militants. As for the kidnapped girls, Boko Haram's leader Abubakar Shekau said in one of his bizarre speeches, they had been sold off as slaves.

Government's inconsistency

An international outcry for the Chibok girls became a phenomenon with the hashtag #bringbackourgirls on Twitter. Nigeria's neighbors declared war on Boko Haram and the US sent military advisers to help locate and free the girls. On May 26, 2014, Alex Badeh, Nigeria's supreme commander of the armed forces, proclaimed that they knew the whereabouts of the girls but a rescue operation would be too dangerous. In mid-October last year, army chief Badeh went before the press again saying an armistice had been signed and that the girls will be freed. It turned out to be another lie.

A family of one of the missing Chibok girls with neighbors
Most families of the missing girls have fled Chibok and now live from handouts.Image: DW/A. Kriesch

It took outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife three months before meeting with the parents of the girls for the first time. "He said, 'Within three weeks, you will all have your daughters back, and within three weeks, we will renovate all destroyed schools in the region,'" recalls Lawal Emos. "Three weeks passed, then several months and nothing happened." Meanwhile Boko Haram continued their attacks on villagers unabated.

Will Chibok girls ever be found?

Shortly before Nigerians went to the polls on March 28, the Nigerian military together with neighboring countries of Chad, Cameroon and Niger began an offensive to drive out Boko Haram from occupied territories. Many Nigerians believe the timing of the offensive in the middle of the election campaign is not entirely coincidental. "The confidence in the military is at its lowest ebb," says journalist Umar Faruq Baba Inna from Yola.

Nigerian political analyst Edgar Amos
Analyst Edgar Amos sees little chance of finding the girls as they once wereImage: DW/A. Kriesch

The outcry on the internet for the release of the Chibok girls has gotten quieter, only a few activists are now seen protesting on Nigerian streets. Many observers believe that senior military officials have no interest in ending the insurgency because of the benefits from the massive security budget. "The incoming administration of Muhammadu Buhari has a lot to do to reassure the citizenry that we can trust government and the armed forces," Baba Inna says.

Buhari's opposition APC party won a resounding victory in the northeast, where the conflict rages. Even Lawal Emos voted for the former general, who has promised to crush Boko Haram in just six months. However, Nigerian political analyst Edgar Amos doubts if Buhari will ever find the Chibok girls. "A whole year has passed and they are in the hands of heartless, brutal terrorists who commit atrocities against the innocent. Realistically, it is hard to claim that we will find all the girls healthy and alive."

"Thank you for reporting about our daughters once again," Lawal Emos says as we come to a close. "It means a lot to us, we must not forget the girls." I am relieved because Emos does not blame me for opening the wounds. Most of all, his eyes shine with optimism, he will probably need it in the coming weeks and months, maybe even years.

Members of Nigeria's Bringbackourgirls campaign
#BringBackOurGirls campaign has lost momentum and support over the last yearImage: DW/K. Gänsler