April 14 marks the one-year anniversary of the kidnapping of more than 200 school girls waiting to take their high school final exams at Chibok in Borno state. Three weeks after the kidnapping Abubakar Shekau, the face of Boko Haram, claimed responsibility. At the time of the kidnapping and subsequently, a handful of the girls escaped. The American University of Nigeria has offered scholarships to the few that escaped.
But, the vast majority of the victims have disappeared. Even though Nigerian, Nigerien, and Chadian forces have reoccupied the towns once occupied by Boko Haram, there is no trace of the girls. Gwoza, once a city of more than a quarter of a million people, is believed to have recently served as Shekau’s headquarters and had been thought by many to be a place of captivity. But, with the city, now in ruins, occupied by the Nigerian army, no trace of the girls has been found.
There is speculation, based in part on Shekau’s videos, that the girls were “married” off to jihadis. Since the kidnapping, there has been media speculation that as Boko Haram was driven out of the villages and towns it once occupied, it murdered the “jihadi wives” to keep them from falling into the hands of “infidels.” However, I have seen no hard evidence that this has been the fate of the Chibok girls. There was a brief press flurry quoting an official of the UN High Commissioner of Refugees, Raad Zeid al-Hussein, as saying that the girls had been slaughtered. However, al-Hussein has subsequently denied having made the statement.
Historically, the northeast is one of the poorest parts of Nigeria with little infrastructure. Over the last few years it has only grown worse. The Boko Haram insurrection, and the security service response, has been an unmitigated tragedy. Northeast Nigeria is essentially a smoking ruin with a huge population of displaced persons. We may never know the fate of the Chibok girls, one group among many kidnapped and/or murdered.