On the night of April 14, 2014, hundreds of schoolgirls at the Chibok boarding school in northeastern Nigeria awoke to the sound of gunfire. They saw men in camouflage approaching and thought soldiers were coming to save them from a militant attack, according to survivors’ accounts.
Instead, more than 270 of the schoolgirls found themselves in the clutches of the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. Their abduction sparked global outrage and a huge campaign calling for their rescue, partly propelled by the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.
Sunday marks five months since the girls were kidnapped. Here’s what has happened since.
Not one student has been rescued
In the first days after the abduction, 57 of the girls managed to escape from their captors. But not one has escaped or been rescued since then.
Even though they were reportedly located months ago
In May, a Nigerian military official claimed he knew where the girls were being held. A month later, U.S. surveillance planes also spotted a group that officials believed to be the girls.
Stephen Davis, an Australian cleric and mediator, said in June that a deal to free the girls had fallen apart three different times in one month. He says that powerful people with “vested interests” are working to sabotage a deal, and he has accused Nigerian politicians of funding Boko Haram. Nigeria’s government has defended its approach to the crisis and warned that a rescue effort might risk the girls’ lives.
Other countries have made little progress
According to the Associated Press, it took more than two weeks for Nigeria to accept offers of international assistance to find the schoolgirls.
When other countries did start to help, they didn’t get very far. The U.S. sent 80 troops in late May to coordinate an aerial search from neighboring Chad. Canada, France, Israel and the U.K. also sent special forces to Nigeria. But six weeks later, the Pentagon press secretary announced that the U.S. mission would be scaled back, saying: “We don’t have any better idea today than we did before about where these girls are.”
The troops are still in Chad and the U.S. has surveillance and reconnaissance flightslooking for the girls each week. U.S. officials have expressed concern about sharing intelligence on Boko Haram given the Nigerian military’s poor human rights record.
Meanwhile, the girls’ hometown is still in danger
Residents in Chibok face the unrelenting threat of an attack by militants. In June, aBoko Haram offensive on nearby villages crept within three miles of the town where the girls were kidnapped.
Tragically, at least 11 parents of the kidnapped girls have been killed by militants or died of illness.
And Boko Haram violence rages on
Since April, Boko Haram claims to have taken over at least five towns in northeastern Nigeria, although the military says it has won some of these back. The militant group has also kidnapped at least three more smaller groups of girls as well as dozens ofboys and young men — some of whom were later rescued.
More than 2,100 people are reported to have been killed by Boko Haram since April 14, according to data from the Council on Foreign Relations. And during a span of 10 days in August, some 10,000 people were displaced by fighting in northeastern Nigeria.
Nigeria’s military has buckled under pressure…
Nigeria’s military appears ill-equipped to deal with the challenge. Complaining of a lack of weapons, at least 40 Nigerian soldiers reportedly refused orders to fight Boko Haram in August. And during recent attacks by Boko Haram in border towns, at least 600 Nigerian soldiers reportedly fled to Cameroon. The army claimed that some of the troops were performing a tactical maneuver.
…And been accused of grave human rights abuses
Nigeria’s security forces and state-sponsored militias have long been accused of horrific abuses, including kidnappings, torture and extrajudicial killings. Following the government’s most recent crackdown on Boko Haram, evidence has emerged that authorities have tortured and killed countless civilians accused of being connected to the militant group.
While the country worries about its image problem
Nigeria’s government paid a Washington public relations firm more than $1.2 million to change the media narrative surrounding the schoolgirls’ abduction, according to a June report by The Hill. The country’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, recently faced severe backlash after a group campaigning for his reelection started using the hashtag #BringBackGoodluck2015, sparking outrage among groups still campaigning for the girls’ return.