There was never any cease-fire. War in Nigeria will not end anytime soon and the hundreds of schoolgirls from the northeastern town of Chibok kidnapped back in April will not — not now, maybe not ever — be coming home. So announces the leader of Boko Haram, the militant group that has brought all this havoc to the country, in a video released Oct. 31.
Standing amid scrub and dirt, the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, reads from papers, standing in front of a line of trucks and men, all clad in dull olive-brown. “We have not made a ceasefire with anyone,” he says. “We did not negotiate with anyone.” As for the more than 200 schoolgirls: “We married them off. They are in their marital homes,” Shekau taunts, according to a translation by the Abuja-based newspaper Premium Times. “If the women of Chibok, I mean the mothers of the Chibok schoolgirls and their fathers, if you know the condition your daughters are in today it could lead some to convert to Islam and some to die from grief.”
After weeks of speculation over whether the supposed cease-fire that promised the release of the girls was real, the missive quashed hopes of a suddenly happy ending.
Ever since the girls were first kidnapped and Twitter exploded with hashtag activism (#BringBackOurGirls), the eyes of those who might normally ignore conflicts in faraway African countries have been on Nigeria. Intermittently. And then maybe not for a while, as the story had no new developments and, thus, no striking headlines. People, it seems, lose interest in staying until the end when it doesn’t come quickly enough, activist Gloria Steinem told me in August. But this story was, and remains, clickbait. Something about the confluence of such a brazen act — girls taken from a school that should have been a safe haven — combined with their gender, combined with the sheer number taken, combined with the mystery that surrounds their whereabouts caught media and citizens’ attention.
No wonder the promise that the girls would be released was media and hashtag activism gold. Could it be…good news?