Ake Festival: Hinshaw, Parkinson, tell Chibok Girls’ story, applaud Naomi Adamu for her resilience -Dafieta Ighohwo

Day 1 of the Ake Arts and Books Festival 2021 kicked off with a book chat on Thursday featuring Drew Hinshaw and Joe Parkinson, two journalists from the Wall Street Journal and co-authors of the book, Bring Back Our Girls.

Moderated by Chike Frankie Edozien, the panel saw the two journalists chronicle the abduction and horrors of the Nigerian Chibok girls in captivity, and took turns to answer questions about the book and their experience writing it. 

During the course of the book chat which held virtually, the name “Naomi” kept recurring as both journalists described the resilient role she played while the girls were kidnapped. She was also instrumental in putting the story together through her “secret diary” and getting other abductees to speak to them.

Hinshaw, who is also a Pulitzer prize finalist, revealed that Naomi kept the diary because she wanted it to go down in history.

“She had kept a diary while she was in captivity because she felt that she wanted to bring the world a record of the injustice she experienced. She felt it was very important to kind of say what Boko Haram had done and put that into the historical record,” he said

Full name Naomi Adamu and aged 24 at the time of the kidnap, Naomi suffered from a kidney problem that prolonged her education, as she was out of school for years. She was therefore the oldest of the girls.

Naomi was described as “tough” which earned her the nicknames “Chief infidel” given to her by Boko Haram while the other girls called her “maman nu” which means “our mother”. She was able to sneak in a Bible and hide her cellphone and those of other girls when they were captured. Apparently, the abducted students were involved in one form of diary writing or the other. It was a collective document, not just a single diary, which Naomi was bold enough to bring out and which could have landed her in a lot of trouble had she been discovered by their captors.

While highlighting Naomi’s health and academic struggles, Parkinson, also a Pulitzer Prize finalist mentioned that Naomi’s steel and sense of rebellion made her a leader from beginning and this made other girls glide towards her as they spent time in the forest. She was seen as a pillar of strength.

Generally, the girls were praised for their preserverance as they endured so much in the three years they were apart from their families. They dealt with bugs and snakes, slept on rocks and faced harsh realities for the young students they were.

The girls certainly had each other’s backs in the forest as Hinshaw narrated how about twenty or twenty-five “rebellious students” who were set apart for release, Naomi inclusive, and well fed ensured their friends were too.

While this set of girls were provided with sufficient food to make them look well upon their release, the other group of girls were being denied food and were asked to either convert or marry their captors to feed well. The “rebellious students” defied all odds to get food to their mates which strengthened their resolve.

Parkinson added that they had a code of communication, basically sounds, which they used to alert themselves but not the guards. It was clear that the girls were in solidarity and somehow managed to save each other.

Not all the girls have made it out. According to Parkinson, out of the 276 abductees, 110 are still missing, while some have died. He is however hopeful that many of the girls will be seen again.

The session turned out to be a very insightful one because it revealed a lot of things about the Chibok girls story including mediators who worked behind the scene for their release, which perhaps, many Nigerians do not even know about.

In April 2014, Boko Haram abducted school girls from Chibok in northeast Nigeria which sparked both local and  international clamour for their release through the #BringBackOurGirls campaign.

The Aké Arts and Book Festival is an annual event centered around literature, arts and culture. Founded in 2013 by Nigerian writer, Lola Shoneyin, this year’s edition is themed “Generational Discordance” and will run from Thursday, 28 October to Saturday, 30th October, 2021, while featuring book chats, panel discussions, art exhibitions, workshops and a host of other activities.


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