ABUJA, Nigeria –
The screen saver of Margret Yama’s phone is an image of her cousin, Rifkatu Galang, who remains in the custody of Boko Haram extremists nearly nine years after she and 275 other female students were taken from school. theirs in northeastern Nigeria.
Yama was among those arrested but later released. Dozens of others have been rescued or found, but 94 people, including her cousin, are still missing in one of the most daring attacks by the Islamist group in Nigeria.
“I’ve saved her as my screensaver so that whenever I see her face it reminds me to pray for her back” with others, Yama, 25 , speak. “They are in my prayers every day.”
On April 14, 2014, Boko Haram stormed into the Government Girls High School in the Chibok community in Borno state and kidnapped the girls as they prepared for their science exams. Many of the girls are still missing, sparking the #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign that featured worldwide celebrities, including former US first lady Michelle Obama.
Now, the missing girls are being remembered in new sculptures created by French artist Prune Nourry in collaboration with Obafemi Awolowo University.
Inspired by the ancient Ife terracotta heads of Nigeria, the series titled “The Statues Also Breathe” attempts to recreate the girls’ facial expressions and hairstyles. Nourry hopes the sculptures on display in Nigeria’s Lagos mall will remind the world of a forgotten tragedy.
“These heads personify girls who are absent, still missing, so that we don’t forget them, and raise questions about girls’ right to a safe education on a global scale.” artist told The Associated Press.
This year, about a dozen missing girls have returned amid reports that some have died in custody. The brief hope quickly turned into greater anguish for the families of those still missing.
Zanna Lawan, whose daughter was 16 when she was abducted, said one of the girls who returned this year told him “Aisha has two children with Boko Haram but one of her eldest sons has died”. .
All the girls in captivity are now married, Lawan said. “I’m not satisfied with this. All I’m looking for now is to see my daughter alive.”
The girls who regained their freedom this year did not go home alone. The parents said all had children, 24 in total, from extremists.
For years, freed girls talked about how fighters forced them into marriage. As the years passed, the others who resisted finally gave in.
Yama, who regained her freedom in 2017, said: “If you see anyone getting married, it’s her choice. She’s the one who decided that she had lost hope.” force them to get married.”
Yama recalls life in the militants’ camp: The girls, when not separated to make it difficult for Nigerian security forces to track down, often stayed together, often doing nothing. Access to them is limited except for their husbands.
“We were together like a family,” Yama said.
Her mother died shortly after she was abducted in 2014. At least 30 other parents have died under various circumstances since their daughter was abducted, according to Lawan, one of the union’s leaders. Chibok Parents Association.
“Even if you’re healthy, when you’re traumatized, anything can happen. If you’re sick, it’s going to add up to another disease because of your daughter,” he said.
A year after the girls were abducted, current President Muhammadu Buhari showed good will to come to power after promising to rescue them. Last week, the nation’s national security adviser, Babagana Monguno, said the military remained committed to the cause but said it involved an “intelligence-driven process, which means it would be very difficult.” towel.”
However, many parents are beginning to question the government’s commitment to girls’ freedom. And the Chibok community continues to suffer attacks from Boko Haram and a separatist faction pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group.
“I know the Nigerian army, they can get this job done within 24 hours, but I don’t know what makes it so difficult,” said Yakubu Nkeki, whose niece was among the girls. freed, said.
As the president of the Chibok Girls’ Parents Association, Nkeki does his best to bring hope to families.
“Although mine has regained my freedom, I am not reassured,” he said.
While studying law at American University in Nigeria, Yama continued to try to bring his life back to normal after years of living with extremists.
She said learning can be a challenge because books are one of the luxuries girls never have while in captivity. However, her biggest challenge is always hoping that one day her cousin and all the other girls will return home.