Bring Back Our Girls: Chibok schoolgirls remembered one year on from Boko Haram kidnapping

'Bring Back Our Girls' campaigners participate in a march. Credit: Reuters

On the night of April 14 last year, as hundreds of girls preparing for their exams in the coming days slept and rested, a group of Islamist extremists from Boko Haram militant group posing as guards broke into the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok in the northern Nigerian state of Borno.

What happened next is still sketchy, but eyewitnesses I spoke to in the following days as the news of the kidnapping spread around the world, told me that almost 300 girls were bundled into trucks and driven off into the thick and huge swathes of the Sambisa Forest.

The eyewitnesses spoke of confused and chaotic hours in the aftermath of the attack with gunfire still ringing around Chibok as the military and police struggled and failed to respond in order the save the girls.

Within days, shock, disbelief and outrage at the kidnapping of the schoolgirls dominated international news headlines, from Australia to the Middle East, Europe, North America and of course throughout Africa.

For Boko Haram, whose name translates as "western education should be banned", the school girls of Chibok represented everything they hate and want to destroy; a school funded by the Nigerian state, to educate young women and prepare them for professional careers, in the impoverished northern and mostly Muslim states of Nigeria.

Protests have taken place on an almost daily basis since the girls were abducted. Credit: Reuters

As they moved through the school looking for girls to kidnap, the militants didn't see them as schoolgirls - but the very embodiment of the principles they want to destroy at all costs.

On this first anniversary of kidnapping, which spawned a global social media campaign under the slogan; Bring Back Our Girls that drew millions of supporters around the world, the parents - who are still enduring a nightmare of not knowing what has become of their daughters - are asking for the world to remember their daughters and give their campaign a renewed voice.

Speaking at a conference in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, Samuel Yanga, father of Sarah Samuel, said "we don't have a link with the government and no one seems to think that we deserve to be talked to. Daily, we nurse our pains, and are inching towards hopelessness.

Communities are desperately awaiting news on their loved ones. Credit: Reuters

Despite pledges of help from western powers such as the USA and the UK, no one; neither the Nigerian government nor other regional allies are any wiser about where the remaining 219 girls in the hands of Boko Haram are; whether they are alive or how they are bearing through their ordeal.

If there is one potential piece of progress since the girls were kidnapped, it is that Nigeria is a very different country to the one it was a year ago.

President Goodluck Jonathan has lost power in a remarkable landmark democratic election which was a real achievement in the face of threats by Boko Haram. The opposition has been swept into power at both the federal and state levels.

Nigerians, Christian and Muslim voted as one overwhelmingly for change and a new start in a way that sends a very clear and obvious message to Boko Haram that their ideology and threats have not created the unbridgeable religious divide in Nigeria.