The Chibok Girls The Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria
On the night of April 14, 2014, 276 girls from the Chibok Secondary School in northern Nigeria were kidnapped by the deadly terrorist group Boko Haram.
Fifty-seven of them escaped over the next few months, but most were never heard from again.
Acclaimed novelist Helon Habila, who grew up in northern Nigeria, returned to Chibok and gained intimate access to the families of the kidnapped to offer a devastating account of a tragedy that stunned the world. With compassion and a deep understanding of the historical context, Habila tells the stories of the girls and the anguish of their parents; chronicles the rise of Boko Haram and the Nigerian government’s inept response; and captures the indifference of the media and the international community whose attention has long moved on.
Employing a fiction writer’s sensibility and a journalist's curiosity, The Chibok Girls provides poignant portraits of everyday Nigerians whose lives have been transformed by extremist forces. Habila illuminates the long history of colonialism—and unmasks cultural and religious dynamics—that gave rise to the conflicts that have ravaged the region to this day.
“In rescuing the Chibok tragedy from ‘mythic status,’ Habila’s unusual primer quietly yet powerfully revives the call to take notice.” —The Atlantic
“This is a controlled, lucid and deeply felt account of Boko Haram’s unconscionable kidnappings. This is essential to understanding the tragedy of the Chibok girls.” —Dave Eggers, author of What Is the What and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
“A memorable portrait of individual resilience in a divided, strife-torn nation.” —PD Smith, The Guardian
“Habila offers a short history of Boko Haram, illuminating the regional, religious and ethnic divisions that help explain its rise. But the author is most concerned with the pain the terrorist organization has inflicted on the country.... Perhaps making sense of these horrific kidnappings is just as futile as trying to understand a random, fatal bus crash. The best Habila can offer us is his compelling portrait of a troubled land.” —Jenny Rogers, Washington Post
“In rescuing the Chibok tragedy from ‘mythic status,’ Habila’s unusual primer quietly yet powerfully revives the call to take notice.” —Ann Hulbert, The Atlantic
“The Chibok Girls is a narration that carries us along a torturous path of sheer terror. We share the pains of missing a child and empathize with the parents. The book awakens our consciousness to the gravity of the situation.” —Zaynab Alkali, The Guardian
“Boko Haram’s insurgency had rendered Chibok inaccessible to outsiders but a combination of luck and resolve sees Habila past a string of roadblocks—now ‘extortion points’ where taxes are paid ‘at gunpoint’—allowing him unprecedented access to friends and relatives of the missing girls. Habila’s account is a fascinating portrait of a community stricken by tragedy and ill-served by successive governments in Abuja.” —Patrick Heardman, Financial Times
“Habila, who grew up in northern Nigeria, returned to Chibok, spoke to their families and wrote an account the tragedy, telling the girls’ stories and capturing the indifference of the media and the international community.” —The Leonard Lopate Show
“This engaging book reminds us of how ordinary the horror of war can be.” —Kwame Dawes, Emmy award-winning poet, actor, musician and author of Bob Marley: Lyrical Genius
“Helon Habila tells us a heartbreaking story about lives lost in anguish. His book will spread the pain and sorrow of the vanquished Chibok women, not to keep us crying, but to energize us to be part of a path that leads to the rescue.” —Toyin Falola, Library of Congress’s Kluge Chair of the Countries and Cultures of the South and former president of the African Studies Association
“The story at its core is Habila’s, showing a man removed from his mother country, now returned to see the source of an international horror.... Helon Habila provides a harrowing account of the damage Boko Haram has done to Nigeria.” — Shelf Awareness
“Here’s one of the best books of the year.... There’s nothing more informative about one of Africa’s most troubled states in the past half dozen years than Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls ... a damning picture of Nigeria’s failed leadership, ethnic tensions, and squandered oil wealth, one of the saddest stories of post-colonialism and—in a disturbing way—a warning for other nations (including the United States) to get their act together.” —Charles R. Larson, Counterpunch
“Nigerian-born poet and novelist Habila seeks to remind the global community of the plight of the kidnapped girls.… an informative primer on Nigeria’s history of Islamist conflict and a passionate testimonial on behalf of the 218 Chibok girls still missing.” —Kirkus Reviews
“A dispatch from the front lines…. Habila incorporates vital background knowledge on the situation in Chibok and the surrounding area; as a poet, he adds sensitivity and eloquence, capturing the raw emotion of the wounded town.” —Publishers Weekly
Helon Habila was born in Nigeria and is the author of three novels, Oil on Water, Measuring Time, and Waiting for an Angel. His fiction, poems and short stories have won many honors and awards, including the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Novel (Africa Section), the Virginia Library Foundation’s Fiction Award, and the Windham-Campbell Prize. Habila’s short story, “The Hotel Malogo,” won the Emily Balch Prize. Oil on Water, which deals with environmental pollution in the oil rich Niger Delta, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize (2011), the Orion Book Award (2012), and the PEN/Open Book Award (2012).
He worked in Lagos as a journalist before moving to England in 2002. He co-edited the British Council’s anthology, New Writing 14 and edited The Granta Book of the African Short Story in 2011. He is currently an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at George Mason University and lives in Virginia with his wife and three children. @helonhabila