Friday 16, April 2021
Naomi ( Hebrew origin: Pleasant) Adamu
By Mayeni Jones
BBC News, Maiduguri
Mass kidnappings of children in Nigeria have been making
global headlines recently and this has been hard to watch for a young woman who
was abducted in an infamous attack on a school in Chibok.
Naomi Adamu is quiet. As she talks she rarely makes eye
contact, keeping her voice low and steady.
Upon meeting her, few would suspect she survived one of the
most harrowing experiences a young woman could go through. But her timid
demeanour belies an extraordinary strength of character.
Naomi, 24 at the time of the attack, was the oldest of more
than 270 students from the Chibok Government Secondary School for Girls
abducted by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram in April 2014.
Her classmates referred to her as Maman Mu, Our Mother. Her
education had been interrupted by health problems as a child.
She is now the main protagonist in a new book on the
so-called "Chibok girls".
'Christmas message to my father'
Bring Back Our Girls by journalists Joe Parkinson and Drew Hinshaw
is based on hundreds of interviews with the abducted students, their families
and others connected to their story.
The book explores the girls' time in captivity in detail,
and shows how the social media campaign that made them famous also made it
harder to secure their release. Their fame had made them precious commodities,
too valuable to let go.
During the three years she spent with Boko Haram, Naomi
refused to bow down to pressure to marry one of their fighters, or convert to
Instead she and another classmate wrote secret diaries in
textbooks they were given to write Islamic verses. She kept them hidden in a
makeshift pouch tied to her leg.
Photo of the diary
Image copyright: Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani
"We decided that we should write down our
stories," she tells me, "so that if one of us got to escape, we could
let people know what happened to us".
She shows me one of the diaries, a lined text book with a
fraying cover. In it is a letter to her dad, written just before Christmas of
the year they were kidnapped.
"Dear my lovely dad, I miss you so much in this moment.
"Dad, I want to see you, I'm so worried about you and
mum and the rest of the people at home.
"I wasn't aware that this could happen to me, none of
us who Boko Haram kidnapped realised that. By the Grace of God dad, I miss you
"I want you to help me in prayer all the time so that I
will defeat the devil each time he comes to torment me. So dad, I will like to
"I miss you so much. Goodbye have a nice day.
"Your lovely daughter, Naomi Adamu. Wish you a merry
Besides being separated from their loved ones and not
knowing how they were doing or if they were even alive, the girls suffered many
They were moved frequently to avoid detection by the myriad
armed forces looking for them, including the Nigerian military, foreign
mercenaries and American drones.
Apart from a brief period in the town of Gwoza, captured by
Boko Haram in late 2014, they spent most of their time in camps in the Sambisa
forest, the group's main hiding place.
"It was a very difficult time for us in Sambisa,"
Naomi explains, "there was no food, no water. We even had to use soil to
clean ourselves up when we were on our periods."
Singing hymns to Boko Haram
Senior Boko Haram militants were constantly trying to get
Naomi to marry one of their fighters. They believed seeing her get married
would help convince the younger girls to follow her lead.
Every time she refused she would be beaten brutally and
threatened with death.
When I ask how she knew she would not be killed for refusing
to obey her captors, Naomi says she was not ready to get married.
Shekau told us that he didn't abduct us to marry us off, but
because he wanted to put pressure on the government to release his men"
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Her insubordination led her and others to be introduced to
the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau. But during the meeting he made a
"Shekau told us that he didn't abduct us to marry us
off, but because he wanted to put pressure on the government to release his men
who were in detention."
The discovery strengthened her resolve and soon there were
When the militants kept her and some of the more stubborn
students apart from their peers, depriving the weaker girls of food in order to
force them to marry, Naomi and her friends smuggled food to them.
They sang hymns in front of their guards, quietly at first,
then more boldly. Most of the kidnapped students were Christians. They wrote
down their favourite Bible verses and prayers in their diaries.
image captionWhen Naomi was freed along with more than 80
others they met President Muhammadu Buhari
She was eventually freed in 2017 along with 81 other girls,
following years of painstaking negotiations between a small team of Nigerian
volunteers and a Swiss diplomat.
At the time she thought Boko Haram was on its last legs.
"I didn't think Boko Haram would still be active today
because when we left there, they were splitting into two groups, so we thought
they were over. Some of them were in Sambisa, whilst some were Kangaroua."
But the social media campaign to free the girls, led by
celebrities including the US first lady at the time, Michelle Obama, had
propelled them to fame and shown Boko Haram how valuable school children were
New kidnappings rekindle memories
Less than a year after she was freed, the militant group
abducted another 100 girls from the town of Dapchi, in Yobe state. A month
later all were freed bar one, Leah Sharibu, a Christian girl who reportedly
refused to give up her faith.
Recently, mass kidnappings of children in Nigeria have once
more been gaining international attention.
There have been four mass abductions from northern Nigerian
schools in the last three months alone and nearly 800 children taken.
These latest kidnappings have taken place in north-west Nigeria,
hundreds of miles from Boko Haram's strongholds in the north-east.
It is not clear who is responsible for this latest wave of
abductions. But the north-west is home to criminal gangs who kidnap for ransom.
Analysts believe some of these groups may have loose connections to Boko Haram,
but is unclear how strong these ties are.
One thing everyone agrees on is that the perpetrators have
been influenced by the kidnapping of the Chibok girls.
In one of the latest incidents, 279 girls were taken from
their dormitories in the town of Jangebe in Zamfara state. For Naomi, the news
of each new abduction brings back terrible memories.
"I could not sleep throughout the night when I heard
about the Zamfara abductions because I didn't want them to go through what we
went through. I still get scared whenever I hear gunshots - even if they're
from the military."
Naomi is rebuilding her life. She is now happily married and
expecting her first child.
More than 100 of the Chibok girls are still missing.
Please intercede for the safe return of the 100 girls that are still missing.
Posted by Ambassador T. Brikins