“Western education is forbidden,”
Since 2009, activities of the Islamic sect, Boko Haram, have affected the lives of millions in various parts of Nigeria as authorities continue to grapple with the daunting security challenges posed by this terrorist group. But their abduction of over 200 secondary school girls have drawn global condemnation and a united call for their safe release.
In the early hours of Monday, 14 April 2014, the sleepy community of Chibok in Borno State, North-Eastern Nigeria was raided by armed members of the Boko Haram sect who stormed the all-girls school hostel and took away 276 girls, of which 57 have so far escaped leaving 219 still being held.
It has remained an incident that has brought about a lot of public outcry in Nigeria and the world over in the form of rallies, protests and media campaigns for the release of these young and innocent girls. Boko Haram, whose name literally translates into “Western education is forbidden,” are consistently carrying out attacks on government buildings, public places and schools ironically using sophisticated weapons and posting videos on the internet, all of which are inventions of Western education. Already, there have been cases of abductions of women in Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and other states in the North-East where they have had a stronghold, but the brazenness of kidnapping more than 200 school girls takes their barbaric acts to a whole new level of inhumanity which has initiated serious concerns from the international community. In his reaction, President Barack Obama called it a “heartbreaking abduction,” and an “event that helps mobilize the entire international community” against the menace perpetrated by this terrorist group.
The United States have shown support in sending an advisory team comprised of experts in counter-terrorism from the Department of Defense and hostage negotiators from the FBI, the British government also sent in a similar team and an international conference on counter-terrorism was held in Paris, where French President Francois Hollande held talks with President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria and his counterparts from neighbouring African countries, as it is believed that the girls might have been moved across the Nigerian border.
As we now approach three months since the girls were taken into captivity, there is yet to be any concrete information from the authorities on progress made in securing their release. Instead, equivocal statements from the government have left much to be desired. At first, it was a trouble in determining the actual number of girls abducted, on April 15 the military issued a statement saying only eight girls were missing as most of them had been freed and some had escaped.
Two days later, Major General Chris Olukola, a military spokesman denied these reports, admitting apologetically that although it was false, it was “not intended to deceive the public.” It was not until late last month that the Chairman of the Presidential Fact-Finding Committee on the abducted girls, Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Sabo (Rtd.), confirmed that a total of 276 girls were abducted of which 57 have escaped leaving 219 still in the militant’s den. Chief of Defense Staff, Air Marshal Alex Bade had also announced to reporters that “we know where they are, but we cannot tell you”, only for his statement to be rebuffed by the Presidency. President Jonathan had also made it clear that he would not accede to the group’s demands of exchanging their imprisoned members for the girls but he now seems to be shifting grounds as pressure mounts form every corner. A minister has stated recently that “all options are on the table.”
Meanwhile, in a video released by the Islamic sect, about 130 of the girls were shown wearing hijabs and reciting the Koran. Most of the girls were Christians, and leader of the sect, Abubakar Shekau, said that they had all converted to Islam and he threatened to sell them as slaves. After spending almost three months in the terrorist’s camp, serving them and being moved from one place to another to evade security forces, one can only imagine the physical and psychological abuse that have been meted on these young girls.
Taken away forcefully from their families, homes and dreams into the wild forest, dwelling with callous, gun-wielding terrorists and being faced with threats of death and slavery, their prayers, much more than ours, is to be re-united with their families and loved ones. One of the girls who made a lucky escape told the media that, “I feel afraid,” as she was still in shock from the haunting experience. Esther Yakubu; mother of 16-year-old Dorcas, who is still being held by the militants, was overcome with emotions while speaking to journalists, “anytime I remember her and what she could be passing through, I really can’t express how I feel.” She said, sobbing bitterly. Esther still hopes to be reunited with her daughter unlike Mary Lalai, a deceased mother of an abducted girl who collapsed and died on hearing the news of her daughter’s kidnap by the Islamic militants.
The government has promised to do all within its powers to bring back the girls, but so far, that is all it has been – promises. With the growing distrust between the people and the government, politics is being played with the whole issue as accusations and counter-accusations are traded between the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition, All Progressive Congress (APC) as the 2015 general elections approaches.
Even in the military, there have been issues of distrust as some high ranking officers are accused of being influenced by powerful politicians, chiefs and public officials who are sympathetic to Boko Haram’s cause. There have even been reported cases of mutiny, at one instance; the Commanding Officer’s vehicle was shot at by displeased soldiers who have seen their efforts on ground being derailed by scheming from those at the top. And the frequency with which high ranking military officers are rotated by the President shows the level of dissatisfaction from the troubled Commander-in-Chief.
Consequently, it has become evident that the long delay in making any progress in bringing back the girls is as a result of a disconnect – a lack in concerted efforts from the political class, the religious leaders and the military.
So on April 23 when an Abuja-based lawyer, Ibrahim Abdullahi, posted the first tweet with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, it caught across the internet like wildfire, becoming a trend and receiving support from global figures like America’s First Lady; Michelle Obama, Pakistani women rights activist; Malala Yousafzai, British Prime Minister; David Cameron, and a host of others. The hashtag has now grown into a movement that involves millions from around the world, but it seems to have lost steam as rescue efforts continue to drag on fortuitously.
Recently, another group of 63 women escaped from the militant’s camp after they had been abducted from an attack that took place on June 18 in the village of Kummabza in Borno State, where the whole community was razed down. They were held at a different location from the missing Chibok school girls.
For now, the over 200 abducted school girls is an issue that keeps bugging the minds of those at the helm of affairs in Nigeria as they cannot just sweep it under the carpet as they are wont to. A huge Bring Back Our Girls campaign is held regularly in Abuja, the country’s capital, as the people continue to demand action from the government and the international community.
At VERTIKAL, we hope that the world does not forget our daughters, our sisters and our friends until they make a safe return.