Dozens of bereaved families in northern Nigeria marked a somber anniversary today: It’s been 100 days since Islamic militants from the terror group Boko Haram kidnapped nearly 300 schoolgirls from the predominantly Christian village of Chibok.
Though at least 57 students managed to escape shortly after the terrorist raid on their school in April, at least 219 schoolgirls remain missing. Boko Haram militants released a video threatening to sell the girls as slaves, and claimed some had converted from Christianity to Islam.
Now the victims’ families face new woes: Boko Haram is killing more of their loved ones.
A local community leader reported 11 parents of the kidnapped girls have died since the April abductions. Four died from heart failure, high blood pressure, and other illnesses possibly exacerbated by stress. But at least seven fathers died when Boko Haram militants attacked the nearby village of Kautakari earlier this month. A health worker told AP the fathers were among 51 bodies brought to the Chibok hospital after the attack.
Those attacks were just one wave in a torrent of violence Boko Haram has unleashed on the region in the last 100 days. Some fear the militant group may be closing in on Chibok again. As the group has raided nearby villages, attacked churches, and slaughtered hundreds of civilians, many villagers have fled to Chibok for refuge.
Community leader Pogo Bitrus said the town is running out of food and fuel as it struggles to shelter refugees from other villages. “There are families that are putting up four and five other families,” Bitrus told AP. The leader said few were planting crops, and many villagers arrived without livestock or other supplies: “There is a famine looming.”
Though the number of soldiers guarding Chibok has increased since the April abductions, some community members say military are slow to respond to Boko Haram attacks, even when they receive advance warning.
Emmanuel Ogebe—a Washington, D.C.-based attorney from Nigeria—says the lack of protection threatens severe danger for the whole community, including the schoolgirls who escaped their captors in April: “They are still in a very precarious situation.”
Ogebe said as early as last month some of the escaped schoolgirls reported they hadn’t been interviewed by Nigerian police, military, government officials, or U.S. personnel dispatched to the region to aid with the search: “My question is if the United States sent an intelligence team two months ago, why would we have material witnesses who have not been interviewed?”
Meanwhile, the Nigerian government struggles to combat ongoing criticism of its sluggish response to the kidnappings and terror crisis, and it has reached out for help to manage international opinion. A Washington-based public relations firm has obliged. The Levick firm is handling PR for the Nigerian government at home and abroad, and The Los Angeles Times reported the contract may be worth as much as $1.2 million.
That relationship has brought a firestorm of criticism from Nigerians who accuse the firm of profiting from the schoolgirls’ abduction. Levick released a statement saying the group’s mission is to assist the Nigerian government with rescuing the girls and combating terrorism. The firm’s website describes its corporate goals: “Every company is or will be in crisis. Those that answer the call transform a PR crisis into an opportunity. Those that don’t, risk everything.”
For now, families in Chibok are worried about the risk of losing their homes or their lives, as the threat of fresh attacks looms. Still, some girls want to return to school and continue their education, a desire that’s anathema to Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sinful.”
The Jubilee Campaign has launched an online fundraising effort to help provide 10 of the escaped girls an opportunity to return to school in a safe environment. It’s an initiative that comes as international attention on the girls’ plight wanes. Apart from outside help, Ogebe said the girls could face another tragedy: “They have been left to their own fate.”