“I can’t feel that it is her. But I think — I think it could be.”
ABUJA, Nigeria — In the end, he just wasn’t sure.
The father from Chibok stood outside the home of his host in Nigeria’s capital, where he has been following the civil society movement and trying, in a city more proximal to power than the village he comes from, to get answers.
His daughter was one of more than 300 kidnapped on April 15 by Boko Haram, an Islamist separatist group, from her secondary school dormitory in Chibok, a village in Nigeria’s unstable northeast. In fact, he lost five daughters that night — his own, and four girls from close family members. In Nigeria, the children who sleep under your roof, whoever bore them, are yours.
He squinted at the photograph on his host’s cell phone. (Names have been withheld for security reasons.) It was a still taken from a video Boko Haram had released Monday morning, claiming to show more than 100 of the 276 girls the group still holds. But it wasn’t clear if the girls in the video were the same girls the group had kidnapped, and the father looked to see if he might recognize his daughter’s friends or classmates. A hundred or more small faces, wrapped tight in gray abayas, stared back at him.
Then he thought the saw his daughter.
His body shook, but his face betrayed little. He stepped inside, and returned with a black plastic bag. Inside was a collection of photographs, and he thumbed through portraits and snapshots to find a passport-style photo of his daughter in her gray-blue school uniform.
He zoomed in on the image from the video, and laid his daughter’s photograph beside it. He stared hard.
But he couldn’t tell. His daughter is a Christian, and he had difficulty deciding if the image of the girl in the video is what his daughter would look like dressed in an abaya.
“I can’t feel that it is her,” he said, his voice crumbling. “But I think — I think it could be.”
It was an earnest, human moment in a day otherwise occupied by revelations from the video, including Boko Haram’s demand to exchange the girls for members being held in Nigerian prisons. In the video, the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, insisted, “We will never release them until after you release our brethren.”
It was a message that didn’t sit well with the fathers and mothers who’ve been gathering in Abuja every day for nearly two weeks to demand more decisive, coordinated action to rescue the girls.
“As a mother, I would say, trade them. Do whatever you have to do to free those girls,” one rally-goer said. “But as an individual, I worry that it sets a pattern, that it might happen again.”
Human rights activist and lawyer Femi Felana came out even more firmly against the idea. “We are not going to succumb to the intimidation of criminals,” he said. “It is illegal, it is immoral, to use innocent children to bargain with the government of Nigeria. … These girls are not prisoners of war. They were illegally abducted. They are not Nigerian soldiers.”
It was unclear just who might negotiate such a swap, or to whom, exactly, the girls would be released.