The April 14 kidnapping in the impoverished town in southern Borno state brought unprecedented global attention to the armed Islamist group’s brutal five-year uprising.
Heads of state and top celebrities joined a viral social media campaign calling for the rescue of the seized, mostly Christian, schoolgirls, 219 of whom are still being held.
Residents fled town after telecom towers were destroyed
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has repeatedly promised to rescue the schoolgirls, including on Tuesday when he launched his bid for a second term in office ahead of February 14 polls.
But the violence in the northeast has intensified since, with Boko Haram reportedly seizing more than two dozen towns and Nigeria’s security forces reportedly absent in many areas.
The military was not immediately available to comment on the developments in Chibok.
Given Chibok’s symbolic significance, its fall raised fresh doubts about the Nigerian government’s whole approach to the abduction — and its ability to handle the Boko Haram threat.
“For Chibok to have fallen, after everything that has happened, it just underscores the mess we are in,” Emman Usman Shehu, a regular on the Bring Back Our Girls protest marches in Abuja, said.
“Chibok is also symbolic for Boko Haram. It should have been obvious to everyone that Boko Haram was going to target Chibok. It shows a lack of compassion, a lack of empathy and a lack of concern.”
“Chibok was taken by Boko Haram. They are in control,” said Enoch Mark, a Christian pastor whose daughter and niece are among the hostages being held.
Mark and the senator for southern Borno, Ali Ndume, said the militants attacked at about 4pm on Thursday, destroying communications masts and forcing residents to flee.
Ndume said he had received calls from fleeing residents about the attack and that the town “was now under their (Boko Haram) control”.
“There is no telephone service now in Chibok, which is why it took time before the reports reached me,” he added.
Mark said the attack on the town appeared to come after Boko Haram overran the towns of Hong and Gombi in neighbouring Adamawa state following the group’s ouster from the commercial hub of Mubi.
Boko Haram invaded the two towns after vigilantes and hunters armed with home-made guns, bows and arrows, machetes, clubs and spears forced them out of Mubi, residents said late on Thursday.
The militants had previously renamed the town Madinatul Islam or “City of Islam” and began administering their strict version of Sharia, including amputations for suspected thieves.
Gombi is 145 kilometres by road from Chibok.
Mark said Chibok residents, many of whom had stayed hoping for their daughters’ return, fled when the shooting started and telecom towers were destroyed by rocket-propelled grenades.