First two Chibok schoolgirls graduate from US colleges 10 years after mass abductions in Nigeria

–          Two survivors of the 2014 abduction of 276 girls by Boko Haram terrorists in Chibok, Nigeria, graduate from US colleges after receiving scholarships from the Murtala Muhammed Foundation (MMF) and Victims Support Fund
–          MMF calls for more support for youths affected by conflict and in urgent need of education and empowerment

Lagos – 20 May 2024- The Murtala Muhammed Foundation (MMF) and Victims Support Fund (VSF) today announced the graduation of Patience Bulus and Mercy Ali Paul, survivors of the 2014 Boko Haram mass abductions in Chibok, a town in Borno State, Nigeria. Patience graduated from Dickinson College, majoring in Gender Studies and Religion and Mercy graduated from Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) with an Associate Degree in Social Science.

Patience and Mercy’s journey to graduation was enabled by a partnership between MMF and VSF, to provide full scholarships and personal growth opportunities to the rescued Chibok girls, enabling them to pursue higher education at renowned universities in the United States. Patience was also inducted as an Honorable Member of the National Society of Leadership and Success at Dickinson College in 2021.

10 years after the Chibok abductions shocked the world, insecurity, and mass kidnapping in Nigeria are increasing, leaving a devastating impact on people across the country and posing a major threat to the economy. Recent kidnappings highlight the ongoing threat faced by young people in conflict zones. Young people affected by conflict need urgent support, including access to education, security, and restoration of livelihoods. Strengthening Nigeria’s education system is crucial for empowering, economic progress and inclusive growth.

With over 200 million people, Nigeria has one of the highest numbers of out-of-school children globally. The country’s literacy rate is c.60%, with significant disparities between urban and rural areas. There is a critical need for Nigeria’s tertiary education system to contribute to the country’s development trajectory – providing skills to young people with aspirations for a better quality of life. |

Speaking at Patience’s graduation in Carlisle Pennsylvania, USA, Aisha Muhammed-Oyebode, Founder and CEO of Murtala Muhammed Foundation, said: “The abduction of 276 schoolgirls 10 years ago from their boarding school signaled the urgency of action to secure education for girls in Nigeria. As an organisation with a vision to advance positive education and social outcomes for women, we celebrate Patience and Mercy’s achievements today as a powerful example of resilience and we celebrate their determination not to be defined by the past but focused on the future. Many more girls in Chibok and other conflict-affected communities deserve this opportunity so today we are calling for immediate action at the local and global levels to enable access to quality education and build self-reliance in conflict-affected communities.”

With 91 girls in captivity, many of the Chibok schoolgirls have returned as mothers. Rape, coercion, and extremism are often weapons of war; the need to protect women and girls must not be ignored. Sexual slavery/reproductive health are at heightened risk in conflict zones.

Sharing their inspirational journey to completing their education,

Mercy Ali Paul said: “Graduating feels like a dream I never thought would come true. Ten years ago, I was just hoping to survive the nightmare of abduction. Each moment I spent with Boko Haram was filled with fear and uncertainty, but my faith kept me strong. I finally escaped, and I became determined after that to reclaim my life. I knew education was the key to rebuilding my future, and now with this diploma, I feel empowered. My journey has been challenging, but the support from my family, friends, and sponsoring organisations from Nigeria made it possible. I hope my story inspires other girls in Nigeria and around the world to never give up, no matter how dark their circumstances may seem.”

Patience Bulus said: “Walking across this stage today is more than just receiving a diploma; it’s a testament to resilience and hope. Ten years ago, Boko Haram tried to take away our futures, but they couldn’t take away our dreams. Escaping their grip was just the first step. Adapting to life in the U.S. and catching up with my education was incredibly challenging, but every struggle was worth it. Today, that I graduate with a degree from a prestigious college, is not just for myself, but for the countless girls who are yet to make it out. This achievement is dedicated to them and to the power of community support. The encouragement and resources provided by sponsors in Nigeria and others here in the U.S. made this possible. I am excited to use my education to advocate for girls’ rights and education worldwide. Today is proof that with perseverance and support, we can overcome even the most harrowing experiences.”

The initiative also gave the girls psychosocial support, immigration support, and essential aid and resources for their academic development.

About Aisha Muhammed-Oyebode

Aisha Muhammed-Oyebode, Founder and CEO of Murtala Muhammed Foundation, is an entrepreneur, development specialist, international non-governmental organisation (NGO) expert, and human rights activist. Specializing in women and girls’ initiatives, Muhammed-Oyebode is a member of the Women’s Leadership Board of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Women and Public Policy Program, and of the Global Development Council of the Centre for   International Development also the Harvard Kennedy School. She is an advisor and country expert to the University of Pennsylvania Law Global Women’s Leadership Project, and an advisor to the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), as a member of its senior working group on Northern Nigeria.

Muhammed-Oyebode is a co-convener of the Bring Back Our Girls Movement, formed after the abduction of over 200 girls from their school premises in the Chibok village of Borno State, Nigeria. She holds a PhD in law from SOAS, University of London, an LLM in Public International Law from King’s College, University of London, and an MBA in Finance from Imperial College, University of London. She is a member of the Nigerian Bar Association and the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.

About Murtala Muhammed Foundation (MMF)

Murtala Muhammed Foundation is one of Nigeria’s largest charitable foundations with operational expertise across the six key geopolitical zones of the Federation and programs that address the most significant economic and social challenges of our time. As a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life of Africans, the Foundation focuses on engendering self-reliance and fulfilment by working tirelessly on policy and advocacy for issues that impact ethics, equity, good governance and economic empowerment, encouraging education, development, and providing disaster relief.

Victims Support Fund (VSF)

The Presidential Committee on Victims Support Fund (PCVSF) was set up in July 2014 at the peak of the Boko Haram insurgency as a non-military response to the terror activities. The PCVSF is made up of individuals drawn from the private sector, humanitarian and development agencies, security agencies, government agencies as well as civil society and religious organisations. The Committee is chaired by General T. Y. Danjuma.

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