Nigerian film raises awareness about dozens of girls abducted from school in 2014

Not a day goes by without Lawan Zanna remembering his daughter Aisha in prayers. She was among the 276 schoolgirls kidnapped 10 years ago when Islamic extremists broke into their school in northeastern Nigeria’s Chibok village.

“It makes me so angry to talk about it,” said Zanna, 55, whose daughter is among the nearly 100 girls still missing after the 2014 kidnappings that stunned the world and sparked the global #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign.

The Chibok kidnapping was the first major school abduction in the West African nation. Since then, at least 1,400 students have been kidnapped, especially in the conflict-battered northwest and central regions. Most victims were freed only after ransoms were paid or through government-backed deals, but the suspects rarely get arrested.

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This year, to mark the 10th anniversary of a largely forgotten tragedy, members of Borno state’s Chibok community gathered Thursday in Nigeria’s economic hub of Lagos to attend the screening of “Statues Also Breathe,” a collaborative film project produced by French artist Prune Nourry and Nigeria’s Obafemi Awolowo University.

Amina Ali

Amina Ali, one of the Chibok schoolgirls who was kidnapped in 2014 by Islamic extremists and later escaped, attends a 10th anniversary event of the abduction on April 4, 2024, in Lagos, Nigeria. A new film is being screened to remember the nearly 100 schoolgirls who are still in captivity 10 years after they were seized from their school in the country’s northeast. (AP Photo/Mansur Ibrahim)

“This collaboration aims to raise awareness about the plight of the girls who are still missing while highlighting the global struggle for girls’ education,” Nourry said.

The 17-minute film opens with an aerial view of 108 sculptures — the number of girls still missing when the art project began — that try to recreate what the girls look like today using pictures provided by their families, from their facial expressions to hairstyles and visible patterns.

The film captures the artistic process behind the art exhibit, first displayed in November 2022, featuring human head-sized sculptures inspired by ancient Nigerian Ife terracotta heads.

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In the film, one of the freed women talks about the horrors she went through while in captivity. “We suffered, we were beaten up. (But) Allah (God) made me stronger,” she said.

It also conveys a flurry of emotions as heartbroken mothers reminisced about life when their daughters were home.

“When it is time for Ramadan (…) Aisha adorns my hair with henna and all sorts of adornments,” one of the women in the film said of her missing child.

But Aisha has not been home in 10 years.

Another scene shows a woman hesitating when asked to go and see her daughter’s face that was sculpted. “If I go and see it, it will bring sad memories,” she said, her weak voice fading away.

Nigerian authorities have not done enough to free the remaining women and those who have regained their freedom have not been properly taken care of, according to Chioma Agwuegbo, an activist who was part of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign.

“We have normalized the absurd in Nigeria,” Agwuegbo said of the school kidnappings in Nigeria. “10 years on, it is an indictment not just on the government but on our security forces and even on the citizens themselves.”

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Analysts worry that the security lapses that resulted in the Chibok kidnapping remain in place in many schools. A recent survey by the United Nations children’s agency’s Nigeria office found that only 43% of minimum safety standards are met in over 6,000 surveyed schools.

According to Nnamdi Obasi, senior adviser for Nigeria at the International Crisis Group, “the basic security and safety arrangements in schools are weak and sometimes non-existent,” adding that military and police personnel are still “very much inadequate and overstretched.”

Authorities rarely provide updates on efforts to free the Chibok women. However, some of the freed women have said in the past that those still missing have been forcefully married to the extremists, as is often the case with female kidnap victims.

About a dozen of the Chibok women managed to escape captivity since early 2022. They all returned with children.

“I think we shouldn’t even think about them anymore,” said one of the Chibok mothers in the film. “I feel like they are already gone.”

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