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The 276 schoolgirls whose kidnap shocked the world

We had to meet Lisu in secret as she says the local Nigerian authorities are trying to prevent her from talking to journalists.

She was one of the 276 girls abducted from their school in the town of Chibok exactly a decade ago – a kidnapping that shocked the world and sparked a global campaign to #BringBackOurGirls, which included former US First Lady Michelle Obama.

More than 180 have either since escaped or been freed, including Lisu, who gave birth to two children while she was a hostage of the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, living in a hideout in the Sambisa forest.

After escaping, Lisu – which is not her real name – went through the government rehabilitation programme, before being placed in group accommodation with other escapees.

“I do regret coming back,” she says, shuffling in her seat.

Not exactly the message the authorities want coming out.

The Borno state government has denied limiting the former captives’ freedom of speech.

Lisu feels the way she is now treated is worse than what she lived through before.

“Sometimes I cry when I remember. I ask myself: ‘Why did I even leave Sambisa to come back to Nigeria, only to come and face such degrading treatment, being insulted almost daily?’ I never experienced such heartache while I was in Sambisa.”

Lisu says she is barely surviving under state care; basic provisions like food and soap are not enough, her movements are closely watched and restricted by security guards and she has been subjected to verbal abuse from staff at the group home.

“They yell at us all the time, I am deeply unhappy,” she says.

“I had more freedom at the Boko Haram camp than I do here.”

This is a characterisation that the Borno state government said it did not recognise. In a statement to the BBC, it said there were no restrictions on the movements of the young women in its care except when there were issues of their personal safety. The authorities said they were also providing enough food and nutrition for the former captives and their children.

Though the experiences of those who fled or were freed are varied, and they are all at different stages of rehabilitation, a theme that promises made to them over the years had been broken emerged from those we spoke to.

In 2016, Amina Ali became the first of the Chibok captives to escape since the immediate aftermath of the kidnapping.

She too is dissatisfied with her treatment.

The last time she saw the sprawling school campus that now stands in front of her, it was on fire – that was the night of 14 April, 2014.

“Wow, this school still exists,” she says softly, gazing at the newly renovated, cream-coloured buildings. “After all that happened to us, it’s still here.”

“We used to sit under that tree,” she continues, pointing at a towering, barren tree in the corner of the compound.

She looks around, noting all the changes.

The grass is overgrown, the tiles on the walkways are new. The rust-coloured main gate has been moved and the dormitories do not exist any more. When the grounds were rebuilt, it reopened as a day school in 2021.

While the cosmetic changes to the school are significant, outside the gates little has changed in Chibok.

Insecurity is still rife. Boko Haram gunmen continue to attack the area, the latest assault late last year.

The poorly maintained roads are dotted with checkpoints and there is a heavy military presence in the town. Mobile communication is patchy, a telecom mast lies on its side next to the road, probably felled by militants, a local colleague says.

Then there are the emotional scars.

Amina spent two years as a hostage in Sambisa.

Like many of the captives, she was forced to “marry” a militant and convert to Islam.

There was a routine to life in the forest; cooking, cleaning, learning the Quran, but Amina never gave up hope that one day she would escape.

“I just thought even if I spend 10 years [as a hostage], one day I will escape,” she says.

And one day she did.

It took weeks of trekking through thick bush in sweltering temperatures, little food and with her two-month-old baby strapped to her back, but she made it.

But more than 90 girls are still missing.

Her friend Helen Nglada is one of them.

Amina and Helen were classmates. They were both singers in the church band that Helen led.

After the kidnap, the two grew close in Sambisa forest, spending as much time as they could together. The last conversation Amina had with Helen was about Chibok and how much they wished they could go back there.

Source: BBC


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