When Dauda Yama retrieved his mobile phone from a neighbour’s house in January this year, he noticed a missed call from his daughter Saratu who had been missing for almost two years.
The last time he spoke with Saratu was on April 14, 2014, when she rang to say men from the Islamist group Boko Haram had loaded her and her classmates from the Government Girls’ Secondary School in Chibok in Borno State onto trucks.
Attempts to reach her again failed and two years on, 219 girls abducted that night remain missing, despite a global campaign #bringbackourgirls involving celebrities and U.S. first lady Michelle Obama calling for them to be found.
The students are among an estimated 2,000 girls and boys abducted by the Boko Haram since the start of 2014, with many of those abducted used as sex slaves, fighters and even suicide bombers, according to an Amnesty International (AI) report.
But when Yama returned the missed call that evening, a man answered. Yama hung up and rushed to the home of Yakubu Nkeki, chairman of the Association of Parents of the Abducted Girls from Chibok.
“He asked me what he should do,” Nkeki, 58, a schoolteacher, whose 17-year-old adopted daughter Maimuna Yakubu Usman is among those missing, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Nkeki took the phone and redialled the number that was again answered by a man who said the phone belonged to his wife.
Reporting the matter to any of the armed personnel around Chibok was out of the question, so instead they informed a campaigner with the Bring Back Our Girls group, which advocates the return of the missing girls “now and alive”.
“We don’t know who to trust,” said Nkeki who has received physical threats for his efforts to keep the abduction of the Chibok girls in the headlines and the government’s sights with the abduction becoming a political issue for Nigerian leaders.
Providing counsel to parents of the missing Chibok girls is part of Nkeki’s role as chairman of the association. He also checks up on the parents to see if they need help at all.
“I check if they have food items or if someone is seriously sick,” he said. “If there is any issue, I call the committee members.”