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“Chibok Girls”: Ten Years On and Boko Haram Still Thrives

26 Apr 2024
By Joana Ama Osei-Tutu
Hundreds of people gathered at Union Square in New York City on May 3 to demand the release of some 230 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria. Source: Michael Fleshman /

A decade ago, Abubakar Shekau, the former leader of Boko Haram, released a video boasting “I abducted your girls…I will sell them in the market, by Allah! I will marry off a woman at the age of twelve.” This caused outrage, disbelief, and calls to unite and #bringbackourgirls to their families.

On 14 April 2014, Boko Haram militants kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from their beds at their boarding school in Chibok, Nigeria. Boko Haram in the Hausa language means “Western education is sinful or prohibited.” The group, originally known as Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihād (“Group of the People of Sunnah for Preaching and Jihad”), is a terrorist organisation that operates in the northeastern regions of Nigeria.

The kidnapping of the “Chibok Girls” sparked global condemnation, leading to the creation of the #bringbackourgirls hashtag. This was the first time global media drew massive attention to Boko Haram and its operations in northeastern Nigeria. However, the group has been part of the lives of the region’s inhabitants since 2009 where it has been systematically attacking and burning schools, targeting and killing school-aged boys, forcing school-aged girls to abandon their education for marriage, and abducting women for forced marriage.

The #bringbackougirls campaign was a call that began with women demonstrating for the release of the kidnapped girls and calling for solidarity on social media. This was picked up by Russell Simmons, an American celebrity who posted it on his X account, and it cascaded into a global phenomenon. It brought world leaders, celebrities, global icons, and influencers to first calling out the media for being quiet on reporting the kidnapping event, and then the Nigerian government for its slowness in responding to the situation.

Between January and October 2015, the Nigerian Armed Forces rescued approximately 2,063 women, children, and men from different Boko Haram sites. None of these sites included the kidnapped “Chibok Girls.” But why did the Nigerian government fail to respond earlier to so many people who had been abducted for so long? Why was the government only incentivised to respond when 52 escaped girls recounted the ordeal of the 276 girls that were taken from their school’s beds?

The reality is that the Nigerian government was already aware of Boko Haram and its operations. It passed the Terrorism Prevention Act in 2011 and revised it in 2013, declaring Boko Haram a terrorist organisation that same year. Yet both versions of the Act were silent on the gender-based violence of Boko Haram’s operations, and did not criminalise sexual and gender-based violence as acts of terrorism. Beginning in 2011, Boko Haram strategically used sexual violence to inflict terror and humiliation on communities and the government (through its failure to protect populations).

The first negotiated release of the “Chibok Girls” was not until 2016 when the government announced that 21 girls had been released, with another 83 to be released at a later date. The girls were released in exchange for imprisoned Boko Haram members. This deal, once again, highlighted the gendered nature of the insurgency, and how both the state and insurgents used innocent girls to gain political leverage. Ten years on, some of the “Chibok Girls” remain in Boko Haram’s custody, or have tragically died. The Nigerian military and civilian joint task forces have found a few of the girls in forests. The last two girls to be rescued ocurred in May 2023. It is believed that around a third of the abductees have died in captivity, either during childbirth or through snakebites and government airstrikes, among other tragic circumstances. However, according to Amnesty International, as of 2024, there are at least 82 girls still in captivity.

As the search for the “Chibok Girls” continued in 2018, another tragedy unfolded, this time in Dapchi, in Nigeria’s Yobe state, where 110 school girls were kidnapped from their school dormitory. The captives were released after negotiations, which included the paying of ransom, though the government denies this. Of these 110 kidnapped girls, 104 were released, along with one kidnapped boy. Five were said to have died in captivity, and one girl, Leah Sharibu – who refused to convert to Islam – is still in captivity today.

The kidnapping of school children is to this day ongoing, though now in the northwest, rather than northeast, regions of Nigeria. Here, over 280 school children have been taken. 137 of these were rescued by the military before the group’s ransom deadline, demanding ₦1 billion (US$690,000), expired. It is unclear if any remain in captivity due to discrepancies in the initial numbers reported. The government’s promptness is commendable in rescuing these children, and it could be argued that lessons from Chibok and Dapchi were learned.

Bringing gendered violence to the forefront of the national response

Boko Haram employs terrorism-related sexual and gender-based violence (TR-SGBV) in its operations. TR-SGBV are acts employed by actors of conflict to create fear and terror, and enforce compliance within the population. This fear and terror are further created by capitalizing on the economic, societal, and gender relations in the community, with participants fully aware that there is little or no accountability for their actions. On this basis, it is clear that Nigeria’s counter-terrorism task force must adapt, with a first step being the compliance with United Nations Resolution 68/178, which calls for shaping and reviewing counter-terrorism measures according to the principles of gender equality and non-discrimination.

Adhering to the principles of gender equality and non-discrimination implies the government of Nigeria working to eradicate the elements that enable actors to create fear and terror in communities. The government can enhance the local justice and security system (to eliminate further kidnappings, among others), rebuild schools, and eliminate early marriage (as was being conducted by Boko Haram). These initiatives will create a conducive environment for the returnees and the remaining Chibok and Dapchi Girls. However, even more urgently, there is a need to look at the lessons learned from handling the Boko Haram acts of terrorism. Military counter-terrorism responses alone did not work in the northeast. Part of the solution moving forward, therefore, must include more community-based engagement and a gender-specific and socio-economic lens to stabilise the regions. The hard work undertaken over the past decade that helped to bring many girls home must not be forgotten as Nigeria strives to return all of the remaining kidnappees.

Opinions expressed are solely the author’s and do not in any way reflect associated institutions or the publisher.

Joana Ama Osei-Tutu is a CEVAW PhD candidate at the School of Social and Political Sciences, Faculty of Arts, at Monash University. Contact:

This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence and may be republished with attribution.