On April 14, 2014, close to 300 school girls were kidnapped from Chibok, Nigeria, by the militant group Boko Haram.
In response, Obiageli Ezekwesili, the former Federal Minister of Education and Vice President of the World Bank's Africa division, called out to the world with a powerful plea: "Bring back our daughters."
Inspired by Ezekwesili's call, and hoping for international attention, a Nigerian lawyer named Ibrahim M. Abdullahi tweeted the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, and instantly kicked off a world-wide campaign that energized everyone from Michelle Obama to stars on the red carpet to hold up signs in support.
“The #BringBackOurGirls movement is a global movement,” Ezekwesili told MTV News over the phone. “There’s hardly a city in the world where someone was not holding up a sign or lifting up their voices.”
In a matter of weeks, the story of the missing Nigerian girls was everywhere, and it was impossible to think they'd never be found.
But one year later, with most of the girls still missing and Boko Haram continuing to terrorize innocent people, including killing 59 schoolboys this past February, Ezekwesili, as well as activists and the families of the girls, are still passionately searching for answers.
A Country Full Of Questions
Boko Haram is a militant terrorist group, whose name roughly translates to "Western education is forbidden." According to the New York Times, they are "estimated to have up to 6,000 fighters and at least some level of control over about 20,000 square kilometers, or about 8,000 square miles, of northeastern Nigeria." In March of 2015, it was reported that they pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS).
Soon after they abducted the girls, Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan was put under increased scrutiny for making promises and then failing to find the missing children. While everyone was holding signs and tweeting selfies, actual international intervention began to seem unlikely.
"Governments around the world did offer support to our government,” Ezekwesili explained. “So we’ve had reasons to ask each of these countries, ‘Can you be transparent and tell us exactly what happened to the support you provided to our government?’ They say to us, ‘We have to respect your government and depend on your government to provide you the information you seek from us.’ If there was failure to effectively utilize the global support that came our way, well, the buck would stop at the table of our leader.”
This past winter, question of the girls' whereabouts was on everyone's minds as Nigerians headed to the polls to vote in the country's fifth election since 1999. Goodluck Jonathan, the incumbent, lost to Muhammadu Buhari by 2.5 million votes. It was the first time in the history of Nigeria that an incumbent lost to a newcomer.
“As I have always affirmed, nobody’s ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian," Goodluck Jonathan said in his concession speech on March 31. "The unity, stability and progress of our dear country is more important than anything else."
To Obiageli Ezekwesili, that idea of "unity" was missing when it came to finding the girls. “I think that a key factor was that our government lost time debating whether the girls had actually been abducted," she said. "It was two weeks before our government acknowledged our girls were missing and began the efforts to mobilize resources. A lot of poor management of the process led to the very dismal outcome we have today.”
Sesugh Akume, the media liaison of Nigeria’s #BringBackOurGirls, believes the Nigerian government's disbelief was nothing compared to its disregard.
"Our government didn't take it seriously," Akume told MTV News. "When we called attention to it, we were called names and harassed.”
Silence Is A Waste Of Time
Though politics may have gotten in the way of action, Akume, as well as fellow advocates, and the families of the missing, are still searching for the girls.
They not only believe it is the world's responsibility to find the girls, but that history will judge all of us if we just let them vanish.
“Ask, 'Would I be silent if my daughter went missing?'” Akume expressed to MTV News. “Let's see the big picture that this advocacy for the safe return of our girls is in defense of the sanctity and dignity of human life. Of the girl child, womanhood, liberty, freedom, education. Three hundred years from now, generations will ask, ‘How come we failed them?’”
“I think one thing I want the West to understand is there’s a much deeper issue here that extends beyond education,” Evon Idahosa, a Nigerian-born lawyer, activist and a leader of America’s #BringBackOurGirls advocacy group, told MTV News. “I think it really has to do more with how women are viewed and valued in society. It could be education today, but tomorrow it will be unequal pay. It will be doors slammed in the face of women when they try to enter the doors of politics. It’s this issue that women are chattel and they can be carted off in the middle of the night.”
“Our girls cannot be left in the hands of terrorists,” Ezekwesili reiterated. "...People must not move on until there is a positive closure to the fate of the Chibok girls."
A Solution In Action
On Tuesday, April 14, marches will take place across the globe to remind people of the importance of the Chibok girls and other girls in similar situations. Idahosa suggests that MTV readers check out the U.S.’s #BringBackOurGirls website, or their Facebook or Twitter page to learn how to get involved.
“Over the past year, we’ve conducted various rallies and protests, candlelight vigils,” Idahosa told MTV News. “I’ve organized a group of other organizations, a candlelight vigil and prayer service, which will be followed by a silent march to the Nigerian Embassy from the U.N. Church Center here in New York [City] at 6 P.M. on the 14th of April.”
People are encouraged to step out, wear red, and speak to their elected officials and the U.S. Embassy to Nigeria. The more noise they raise, the more pressure there will be to find the girls.
“I’d like to see the international community take this on,” said Idahosa. "I think there’s been a disconnect from human consciousness that needs to be awakened.”