The Chibok Girls – Book Review

On April 14 of 2014, 276 schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria where taken by the terrorist organisation Boko Haram. The Chibok Girls (2017) by Helon Habila is an account of what happened that night and the backdrop of this horrible event. Habila is a Nigerian author and associate professor of creative writing at George Mason University in the US. His works include “Waiting for an Angel” and “Oil on Water”. The fact that the author is Nigerian, who wrote the book whilst/after travelling Nigeria, made the book more credible in my eyes.   

Michelle Obama
Former First Lady of the United States

This book explains the rise of Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad (The People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad) commonly known as Boko Haram. Boko Haram translates to “Western education is abhorrent”. Nigeria is a vast country with a population of about 200 million. The north of Nigeria is majoritarily Muslim whereas the south is predominantly Christian. One of the aims of Boko Haram is to trigger a war between these two religions in Nigeria, as they believe in Jihad, a holy war. Boko Haram believe they are carrying out Gods will, and they seek to establish a Caliphate in Africa. This is an Islamic state and they advocate for a harsher version of Sharia Law. As, I was surprised to find out that “by 2012, all twelve northern states including Kaduna, Niger, and Gombe, all of which have significant Christian populations had declared Sharia as the official state law… Christians were assured that Sharia was just optional and applied only to Muslims.” Therefore, Boko Haram are Islamic fundamentalists with links to Al-Qaeda and ISIS. They have been known to blow up churches and mosques. For them it is not enough to be Muslim, you must be their version of Muslim to be safe from their persecution.                                                                       

Malala Yousafzai, female education activist

In Boko Haram’s rhetoric, there is an element of religious decoloniality. They believe that “whatever came from the West must have Judeo-Christian provenance and so must be rejected in favour of Sharia.” Sharia is the laws stipulated from the Quran, and it is believed that this is how Allah intends his people to live. Therefore, Boko Haram believe that western education and democracy is sinful and blasphemous. To them, “true Islamic reform would require an overturning and overhauling of all institutions of British inspired government.” They particularly hate, the education of girls. As, it is said; “if you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate a nation”- African Proverb.

Photo by Andre Hunter

Chibok is a Christian town in a Muslim state of Nigeria, many of the school girls kidnapped are Christian but some were Muslim. When interviewing one of the girls who escaped Boko Haram that night, she says “They called us kafirai [infidels] and said we ought to be married.” I found it so interesting that the terrorist organisation called the girls kafirai, which in South African history is the derogatory word white settlers called Africans, Kafir (non-believers). It’s fascinating how people do horrible things in the name of God.

Personally, I don’t think God cares whether you believe in them or not. If you do believe in God, I think that pleases God but if you don’t, I don’t think that offends God. God is Great, all the time, and doesn’t need our human validation to be satisfied. God isn’t rejoicing that more people have been oppressively converted to worship God through a specific religion.

The kidnapping and raping of young girls is never righteous. And real talk, Boko Haram’s insurgency has nothing to do with God. I think the stealing of the Chibok girls was more of a military tactic than a religious proclamation. In order to declare an Islamic state, separate from the Nigerian State but on Nigerian territory, Boko Haram need a population to occupy that land and fight for their cause, long after its current leaders are dead. I can imagine terrorism doesn’t have a long-life expectancy.

Forcibly taking girls as ‘wives’ is not to please God, but rather to have sex slaves that are easy to control because they are young and will unwillingly bare children of Boko Haram fighters. Some girls escaped, they’re even some who where released due to negotiation with the Nigerian Government but as of today 112 girls remain missing. Some of their parents have had funerals and have asked the government to declare their girl child dead. Some parents have “died of stress-related illnesses like heart failure, stomach ulcers and hypertension.” There is a father who lost his mind, and calls out his daughter’s name convinced she can hear him. Boko Haram have caused so much pain in their campaign for power.

When reading The Chibok Girls, I understood why avid readers say their favourite pastime is to be curled up with a good book. If you enjoy history and politics, you will like this work of non-fiction. Although the subject of this book is heart breaking as we’ll never know if these girls will be found. There is a sense of justice as I felt, now I know a part their story and they won’t be forgotten. By writing this book, Habila immortalises the Chibok girls. Hopefully girls in the liberated future free from toxic masculinity, will read of the Chibok Girls story, as a relic of the oppressive past.    

Girl Boss rating: 4/5

Photo by Iiona Virgin