In 2014, 276 Nigerian school girls were kidnapped from a school in Chibok in northern Nigeria. Eighty-two were released in 2017. The new HBO documentary "Stolen Daughters: Kidnapped by Boko Haram" looks at what happened to those girls. It airs Monday night.
Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson speaks with the documentary's writer-producer Karen Edwards and producer Sasha Achilli about how the Chibok girls are doing now, as well as the state of Nigeria amid poverty and violence at the hands of Boko Haram.
"It is astonishing," Edwards says about the country. "I think all the focus has been on Syria, and yet, the famine in the northeast of Nigeria is just terrible."
On the Nigerian government not allowing them to ask the Chibok girls about their time in captivity
Karen Edwards: “It was part of the condition of the access. We obviously secured the access with the government's consent — it was the only way to do it — but they were adamant that we shouldn't speak to the girls about what had happened to them during the three years that they were held by Boko Haram.
“The government is keen that they control the narrative. But also, the girls were released in May. We started filming with them in that government safe house in early July. So they had only been out of captivity for about six weeks. So it was quite raw. They were still processing what had happened to them. So that was part of it. It wasn't for us — we're not counselors — to push them into reliving and telling us what had happened, though we tried to give them the platform and the space to if they wished to.
“But equally, any time we were alone with the girls, the government minders and security shut them down quite quickly. So it's twofold. I think the government also wanted to manage how the rest of the world and Nigeria see the girls' time in captivity, because they were held for three years before a negotiation was done and they were released.”
"What we were told by a lot of the girls that we interviewed ... is that you had two options in the forest: either you marry a soldier, or you become a slave."Sasha Achilli
On what we know about the Chibok girls’ time in captivity
KE: “Though they weren't free to speak to us, they did give us their diaries discreetly, and they kind of make it clear that life wasn't good, that they were forced to marry. If not, they would have what they called the full Boko Haram treatment.
“The Chibok girls who were taken were actually just the tip of the iceberg. There were thousands of girls in Nigeria who were taken by Boko Haram, who are free to speak, and they do tell us what the Boko Haram treatment is. So through their testimony, we get a sense of what happened to the Chibok girls as well.”
Sasha Achilli: “What we were told by a lot of the girls that we interviewed, who are not all in the film, is that you had two options in the forest: either you marry a soldier, or you become a slave. And if you're a slave, then, you know, life is much harder. So it's a question of kind of survival. And in a way, even if you end up marrying a soldier, the girls felt like they were raped and were forced to be their wives.”
On the boys and men either killed or forced to become Boko Haram's soldiers
SA: “One of the untold stories is the number of boys and men who have disappeared, who have either been kidnapped or killed during this war. So Boko Haram has been kidnapping children but also older men, and some of them are forced to pick up arms and fight. Then, when the military engage with Boko Haram and they try to take back territory, they will kill and arrest people who look like soldiers. And so a lot of men have been killed in this fight in the process of trying to eradicate Boko Haram.”
"That's where they have to run to, because, Boko Haram, they don't just kidnap, they then burn and destroy villages."Karen Edwards
On the state of Nigeria
KE: “It is astonishing. I think all the focus has been on Syria, and yet, the famine in the northeast of Nigeria is just terrible. It's very widespread and high-level, and they are all running to towns and these ... IDP camps — internally displaced people. And that's where they have to run to, because, Boko Haram, they don't just kidnap, they then burn and destroy villages, and it's just not safe to live up there anymore, even though places like Maiduguri, which is kind of one of the main towns, it's incredibly dangerous, but also, it's safety by numbers, and that's where the food aid is going to, so if you want food and you want to live, that's where you have to run.”
SA: “There are camps, but then a lot of the internally displaced people end up living within the host community. So despite the fact that there is some fear towards people who have escaped Boko Haram, they've also been incredibly welcoming to the number of displaced people who have come to Maiduguri.
“Maiduguri isn't a kind of normal front-line war zone. It's controlled, it's militarized, it's controlled by the Nigerian military, and there are constant infiltrations of suicide bombers who come into the city. So when we were there, like the second to last night, it happened to be the end of Ramadan, there were six suicide attacks in one night. And you just never know who to trust, because Boko Haram uses mostly young women as suicide bombers. They strap them up and send them towards checkpoints, where they managed to make it into bits of the city. And so, there is a lot of fear, because unlike a kind of normal front-line war zone, you just don't know where the threat is coming from and where and when. So there's a lot of mistrust.”
On how the released and escaped Chibok girls are doing now at the American University of Nigeria
KE: “So 276 were kidnapped — 57 of them, during the long journey on the back of trucks to Sambisa Forest kind of jumped off the back — and half of those have gone straight to this university in Yola, and that's where they've been for the last three years, and they feel positive about life.
“They've done a year at this university. We keep in contact with them, and they say they're doing well. Their education is coming on, and I think they realize what a privilege education is. [It's] so precious and rare in Nigeria, and these Chibok girls are getting a really great education, paid for by the Nigerian government. And I think they value it.”
On the Chibok girls who are still in captivity
SA: “Despite the efforts of the Nigerian government to try and defeat Boko Haram, they still keep raiding villages, kidnapping girls, and I don't see an end to it really anytime soon. And now, you know, next year, there's going to be an election, so we'll see what happens with that. But, yeah, I mean, the only hope for a lot of these women is to be able to run away. We know of some of the Chibok girls who are still in captivity, who probably won't come back out, because they've bought into the idea, and they're married, and we know that they don't want to leave, and so some of them don't. Some of them prefer their life with Boko Haram.”
This segment aired on October 22, 2018.