The resistance began three months after the young women were taken from the school dormitory by Islamic militants and hid in the depths of a forest. It would end in direct confrontation and disobedience, and a possible victory that saved their lives.
But as Boko Haram extremists took them through the bushes to camps beyond the means of any escape, freedom was years away.
The story of the extraordinary courage of women held for up to three years by Islamic extremists in northeastern Nigeria has never been told, despite the massive global attention focused on their abduction in April 2014.
The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls was posted on Twitter by Michelle Obama, Kim Kardashian, the pope and others, in one of the most striking examples of online activism ever. It brought the engagement of some of the most powerful countries in the world, sending hundreds of troops and billions of dollars of military equipment to West Africa.
But now a book, expected to be published early next month, will reveal the realities of life to more than 200 women from Chibok schools who were held hostage in one of the most notorious mass kidnappings of recent decades.
We wanted to tell the story of how these women survived, but also the story of why it took so long to release them despite, or perhaps because of, the social media campaign, said Joe Parkinson, a co-author of Return Our Girls, which is based on hundreds of interviews with students, family members, ex-militants, officials, spies and others involved in their ordeal.
Among the students was Naomi Adamu. Its ending began when extremists told students to change their school uniforms for a black, flowing outfit, all over the cover. The 24-year-old held her fourth blue dress, and then, risking a beating or worse, started a diary.
The notebooks she eventually brought with her from the forest provided much of the raw material for the book.
Adam wrote in the days when he was safe, after the obligatory lessons in the Qur’an and looking for food for meager rations from the forest.
The small act of rebellion gave her strength. When her Boko Haram guardians told her she would be killed if she did not convert, marry a fighter and give birth to his children, she refused and was beaten with the butt of a rifle. Her captors did not pursue their deadly threat, nor did she or others who refused marriage undergo sexual abuse. But they were doomed to explosive labor as slaves.
By mid-2015, with Boko Haram now in retreat, Adamu and her closest friends had begun to lose their fear of extremists. Inspired by her example, the other hostages began to fight again, risking blows with sticks and wires.
I became the leader of our girls because I was the biggest among them and I was the most stubborn. Boko Haram wanted me to come back as an example because they knew other girls were listening to me they beat me and harassed me and threatened to kill me but I told them even if heaven and earth come together I will not marry , said Adam the authors.
Soon, some of the hostages were openly subdued, refusing orders and being beaten constantly. They began to sing hymns in silence when their guards became distracted. Then the singing became louder.
A small group of the most challenging students split up. Adam, their leader, was called the infidel chief by the furious leaders of Boko Haram.
When they realized that we were not wearing hijab like the other girls, they beat us and said they would cut off our heads. They made us wear hijab and pray, but together we decided to cheat the ceremony. We uttered Christian prayers and told each other the story of Job, Adam said.
Once again the students were told that they would be killed if they did not submit and convert. Again the small group of rebels refused.
At one point we had seen so many bodies that we were not afraid to die, she told the authors.
When Boko Haram tried to starve others for persuasion, Adamu helped organize a clandestine supply of rice to resist fuel. The tactic worked and more and more students began to give up the belief that they said they had adopted it only out of fear.
But beyond the forest, efforts to rescue the students were catching on.
Twitter created outrage, but not current means of freeing anyone, Parkinson said. Nigerian espionage agencies canceled a series of early deals, which would probably have freed all the girls. The President himself suspected that the kidnapping was a hoax, created by political rivals. Top informants near Boko Haram were arrested by the Nigerian army. A British spy plane was sent to search for the women u prish on the way to the country. Mutual mistrust and weak relations with Nigerians hampered the work of the 38 strong US-based interdisciplinary relief team A tight air strike on Boko Haram headquarters left 10 of the girls dead and 30 or more injured, some crippled for life.
But Adam remained determined to resist. Partly I was strong because I was angry. I was angry we were kidnapped before graduation, she said. And I was angry when 30 girls converted to Islam and got married, I felt that some did not fight so hard. He split the group and weakened our resolve. People agreed they would not go home, Adamu said.
Time was running out. The students were close to starvation, their rations were cut again and again. Yet there was hope. Boko Haram was weaker than it had been since its resurrection in 2009 and increasingly broken, with factions split over what to do with their globally-held hostages.
A small team of Nigerian volunteers led by a diplomat from a little-known department of Switzerlands’s foreign ministry, the human security sector, had worked on a deal to free the students. In October 2016, a first group of 21 students was released in exchange for a handful of old Boko Haram militants. Then, seven months later, another 82. But at least 40 have died in the woods. Dozens are still there.
Adam, defiant to the end, glued her secret diaries to her body to lead them to freedom as she emerged through the bushes. Leaving, she and others chanted a Chibok song: Today is a happy day.
Parkinson, a reporter in Africa with The Wall Street Journal, said the student history raised an important question about the treatment of extremists.
The small team that ultimately responded to the global call to rescue the Chibok girls worked in secret for one of the world’s most discreet governments and smallest states. His success was not based on the loud expression of moral judgment, but on its suspension. They tried to reason with Boko Haram instead of denouncing it, he said.
Adamu remains in northern Nigeria with ambitions to have her family and set up some kind of business. But she is still not sure. Since the kidnapping of Chibok students, Boko Haram has abducted more than 10,000 boys as child fighters, as well as a similar number of girls and women, who have been used to make ransom demands on their families or have been forced to marry.
Our main problem is that Chibok is now back in danger If nothing changes, it will only be a while before one of us is kidnapped again, she said.