Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that two years after 276 Chibok schoolgirls were abducted from their school, 219 remain missing, with 17 of their parents losing their lives as a result of the trauma, thus making it a journey of pain, lack of closure and disillusionment not just for the affected families, but also for the Bring Back Our Girls campaign
Closure, they say, often happens when one makes peace or comes to terms with an unpleasant event. While this might be true, the same cannot be said to hold true for the families of the 219 Chibok girls who are still missing after their abduction two years ago by the Boko Haram sect. For them, today, Thursday, April 14, 2016, has been two long years of unfulfilled promises. Two years of pain, uncertainty and disillusionment.
Undoubtedly, it has been a case of unfulfilled promises either from the past administration or the present. Although 297 girls were abducted from Government College, Chibok in Borno State, 57 were able to escape, leaving 219 girls still in captivity.
It’s no gainsaying that prior to April 14, 2014, Chibok Town was just one of the obscure towns in Borno State until the Boko Haram sect struck and brought global focus to it for the wrong reason. The sect had struck at Chibok Government College, Borno State that fateful night and abducted 276 girls in one fell swoop. That began the days of anxiety and anguish for the affected families.
Although the school had been closed for four weeks prior to the attack due to the security situation at that time, the students had been recalled to write their final exams in physics amidst heavy military presence. When the news of the abduction broke, it was first deemed as rumours until the parents of the abducted girls began to speak up. The confirmation of the abduction was further concretised when the Boko Haram sect had claimed responsibility and in a video they released, promised to treat them as slaves. In the video, the girls were draped in hijabs, a Muslim dress style.
Three weeks after they were abducted, the Federal Government had said they were not in the know of where the girls were taken to. When it was finally certified that the girls were indeed abducted, attempts to secure their release proved abortive despite help from global powers like United States, France, Israel and even Britain.
Shocked at the brazen abduction of the girls despite military presence, street protests and online campaigns were held with solidarity for the cause gaining wide acclaim and attracting sympathy beyond Nigeria’s shores.
That was then. Except for the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) group, who has kept faith, the ovation is practically dead.
Still Missing in Action
After the abduction, among the list of abducted girls as released by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), were Deborah Abge Christian, Awa Abge, Hauwa Yirma, Asabe Manu, Mwa Malam Pogu, Patiance Dzakwa, Saraya Mal. Stover, Mary Dauda, Gloria Mainta, Hanatu Ishaku, Gloria Dama and Tabitha Pogu.
Others were Maifa Dama, Ruth Kollo, Esther Usman, Awa James, Anthonia Yahonna, Kume Mutah, Aisha Ezekial, Nguba Buba, Kwanta Simon, Kummai Aboku, Esther Markus, Hana Stephen, Rifkatu Amos, Rebecca Mallum, Blessing Abana, Ladi Wadai, Tabitha Hyelampa and Ruth Ngladar.
Also abducted were Safiya Abdu, Naomi Yahonna, Solomi Titus, Rhoda John, Rebecca Kabu, Christy Yahi, Rebecca Luka, Laraba John, Saratu Markus, Mary Usman, Debora Yahonna, Naomi Zakaria, Hanatu Musa, Hauwa Tella, Juliana Yakubu, Suzana Yakubu, Saraya Paul, Jummai Paul, Mary Sule and Jummai John.
Not left out were Yanke Shittima, Muli Waligam, Fatima Tabji, Eli Joseph, Saratu Emmanuel, Deborah Peter, Rahila Bitrus, Luggwa Sanda, Kauna Lalai, Lydia Emmar, Laraba Maman, Hauwa Isuwa, Comfort Habila, Hauwa Abdu, Hauwa Balti, Yana Joshua, Laraba Paul, Saraya Amos, Glory Yaga and Naomi Bitrus.
Also, Godiya Bitrus, Awa Bitrus, Naomi Luka, Maryamu Lawan, Tabitha Silas, Mary Yahona, Ladi Joel, Rejoice Sanki, Luggwa Samuel, Comfort Amos, Saraya Samuel, Sicker Abdul, Talata Daniel, Rejoice Musa, Deborah Abari, Salomi Pogu, Mary Amor, Ruth Joshua, Esther John, Esther Ayuba, Maryamu Yakubu, Zara Ishaku, Maryamu Wavi, Lydia Habila, Laraba Yahonna, Naomi Bitrus, Rahila Yahanna, Ruth Lawan, Ladi Paul and Mary Paul, were also abducted.
Others include, Esther Joshua, Helen Musa, Margret Watsai, Deborah Jafaru, Filo Dauda, Febi Haruna, Ruth Ishaku, Racheal Nkeki, Rifkatu Soloman, Mairama Yahaya, Saratu Dauda, Jinkai Yama, Margret Shettima, Yana Yidau, Grace Paul, Amina Ali, Palmata Musa, Awagana Musa, Pindar Nuhu and Yana Pogu.
Other girls’ names on the list included: Saraya Musa, Hauwa Joseph, Hauwa Kwakwi, Hauwa Musa, Maryamu Musa, Maimuna Usman, Rebeca Joseph, Liyatu Habitu, Rifkatu Yakubu, Naomi Philimon, Deborah Abbas, Ladi Ibrahim, Asabe Ali, Maryamu Bulama, Ruth Amos, Mary Ali and Abigail Bukar.
Deborah Amos, Saraya Yanga, Kauna Luka, Christiana Bitrus, Yana Bukar, Hauwa Peter, Hadiza Yakubu, Lydia Simon, Ruth Bitrus, Mary Yakubu, Lugwa Mutah, Muwa Daniel, Hanatu Nuhu, Monica Enoch, Margret Yama, Docas Yakubu, Rhoda Peter, Rifkatu Galang, Saratu Ayuba, Naomi Adamu, Hauwa Ishaya, Rahap Ibrahim, Deborah Soloman, Hauwa Mutah, Hauwa Takai and Serah Samuel, were also abducted.
The abducted Muslim schoolgirls were Aishatu Musa, Aishatu Grema, Hauwa Nkeki, Hamsatu Abubakar, Mairama Abubakar, Hauwa Wule, Ihyi Abdu, Hasana Adamu, Rakiya Kwamtah, Halima Gamba, Aisha Lawan, Kabu Malla, Yayi Abana, Falta Lawan and Kwadugu Manu.
So far, from the 276 girls abducted, 57 were said to have escaped from the terrorist’s hideout in Sambisa forest, while 219 of them are still missing despite government promises to find and reunite them with their respective families.
To show solidarity to the group, world leaders and famous celebrities joined the hashtag #BBOG including United States’ First Lady, Michelle Obama and activist, Malala Yousafzai. Countries like the United States, France, United Kingdom, Israel also reached out to Nigeria then.
Also showing their support, about 900 Bangladesh Students last year stood in solidarity with the BBOG group in Nigeria, creating the hashtag #EndChildMarriage. In a picture posted on the twitter handle of @WGLBangladesh, it showed girls with cut-out papers spelling out ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ at the Tillagaon High School, in Kuluara, Mouivibazar, Bangladesh.
In the same vein, Nobel peace laureate, 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai, last year wrote a letter to the Chibok girls, where she lamented that both the Nigerian government and international community failed them. She said, “In my opinion, Nigerian leaders and the international community have not done enough to help you. They must do much more to help secure your release. I am among many people pressuring them to make sure you are freed.
“Nigerian forces are re-gaining territory and protecting more schools. Nigeria’s newly elected president, Muhammadu Buhari, has vowed to make securing your freedom a top priority and promised his government will not tolerate violence against women and girls. I look forward to the day I can hug each one of you, pray with you and celebrate your freedom with your families. Until then, stay strong and never lose hope. You are my heroines.”
A Week of Global Action
Thus, to commemorate two years of the continued disappearance of 219 Chibok girls, after they were abducted from their school in Borno State, the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) group commenced a week of global action. The week themed ‘#HopeEndures’, which began on April 8, 2016 ended today April 14, 2016, coinciding with the exact day the girls were abducted from Chibok Government College in Borno state
The statement from the group, which has been the chief campaigner for the freedom of the Chibok girls, lamented that it would soon be exactly two years since the girls were abducted by Boko Haram terrorists.
The group also said the week was to mark the “Unfortunate incidence and to refocus the world’s attention to the fact that 276 schoolgirls were abducted in their school, 57 escaped, 219 remain missing till date, with 17 of their parents losing their lives as a result of the trauma.
“We urge persons wherever they may be to carry out activities to commemorate this event. There are activities already lined up in many cities of the world, we encourage everyone to participate and/or organise one, however simple.”
The week which began on April 8, started with special prayers at Jumat service and ASR prayers at Unity Fountain, also had talks by Islamic scholars. On April 9, the group had a virtual meeting with an online engagement that was more of a ‘tweet meet’ and the next day, April 10, was the Christian prayers and talks.
On Monday, April 11, the group hosted a workshop on ‘endangered education’ at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja. While the keynote speaker was Hajiya Aisha Alhassan, the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, the opening address was read by BBOG Co-convener, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili.
The workshop which focused on the Nigerian girl-child was a parley for high level discussion on issues affecting the Nigerian girl-child. It also afforded them the opportunity to remember and honour students and teachers killed by Boko Haram and launching of the ‘Initiative for Day of the Nigerian Child’.
Tuesday, April 12, the group visited the United Nation and six embassies including the United States of America, France, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Israel. On Wednesday, April 13, the group had a walkathon, red ribbon day and evening of arts, which was basically an event to remember the girls led by the Chibok Girls Ambassadors.
After the walk to the presidency at Presidential Villa, the group had a world press conference, where they highlighted their struggles and the next line of action. However, beyond the week of global action, a visit to the group’s website revealed their demands to the Federal Government as, “That the 219 Chibok schoolgirls abducted on April 14, 2014 be rescued by the government.
“Improvement of government’s accountability to Nigerians on security issues, particularly in the North-east. How? Through improved communications on Nigerian security happenings with daily briefings on the rescue of the abducted girls. Creating communication channels that help inform the public on safety measures being taken to protect Nigerian citizens.
“Provision of rehabilitation services, such as counseling and healthcare, as well as witness protection, to all abducted girls who have escaped or been rescued. Taking measures to ensure the protection of children of school age to curb future abductions and sexual violence, as well as the Passage of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill (VAPP BIll) that protects girls to ensure persecution of those responsible for sexual violence once captured.”
Also speaking on the continued abduction of the girls, Senior Pastor of the Latter Rain Gospel Assembly, Pastor Tunde Bakare, flayed the Federal Government for its role in the matter.
Speaking at a special sit-out of the BBOG, Bakare said, “The whole nation has failed these children.“Parents, families and friends of our dear daughters, I am here today not just to speak to you, but to speak to the nation and to the world as one of you. I am here as a father burdened by the captivity of our daughters, and I am here as a friend. I am here to express our frustrations and to speak of our undying hope as we wait expectantly for the return of our dear Chibok girls.
“We are not unmindful that the Nigerian state failed to provide security for our daughters as they gathered to write final examinations despite prior intelligence reports that suggested they were in danger. It is most severely injurious to see that the fate of our daughters has been frequently politicised. Rather than rise to the occasion as stakeholders and custodians of the security and welfare of the citizens of this nation, political parties and politicians have paid lip service, using our pain and plight of our daughters to score cheap political points.
“We are not convinced that the matter of our daughters has been given the needed thoughtfulness. We do not believe that those who are in a position to act have taken sufficient actions towards addressing the issue or even towards calming our anxiety as waiting parents.”
Asserting that the girls would have been rescued if they were children of politicians, he said that those responsible for the rescue of the girls, either past or present government, have not taken sufficient actions in the last two years that the girls were abducted.
He continued, “We do not believe those concerned have taken sufficient actions concerning the rescue of these girls. We believe that they are still alive, at least no evidence, satellite evidence that they are in a mass grave. We believe they are alive. It remains a scar on the soul of this nation until these girls are brought back.”
The Journey So Far
It has been one tortuous journey that has spanned two years. Like a thief in the night, the Boko Haram sect had struck and abducted the girls on April 14, 2014, and smuggled them out to Sambisa forest in trucks without resistance. It took the government weeks before they could actually verify how many students were abducted and where they were taken to. Of course, the parents of the abducted girls flayed the lackadaisical attitude of the government.
When the government was not forthcoming in rescuing the girls, the parents led by the BBOG group held a peaceful protest in May. The march was not just in Abuja but was simultaneously done in many states across the country.
After the abduction, the group and families have tried to keep hope alive. In 2014, their hopes were raised by the purported cease fire deal between the Federal Government and the sect, which part of the deal was the release of the Chibok girls. The former Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh (rtd) had on a certain Friday, October 17, 2014, announced the ceasefire with instruction to service chiefs to comply immediately.
Afterwards, the then Senior Special Assistant to the former President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, had revealed the role played by the Prime Minister of Chad, Idris Derby, adding that the abducted Chibok schoolgirls would be released and the Boko Haram menace would become history in no distant time.
Stating that negotiations started months ago, he said part of the deal was the release of the wife of the deputy Prime Minister of Cameroun, Chinese officials and the traditional ruler of a border town between Nigeria and Cameroun. Unsurprisingly, the sect reneged. As time went on, it became clear that the purported ceasefire was merely a ploy to get the military to backdown especially as they had the upper hand at that period.
Days after the ceasefire would be, the sect launched deadly attacks on Azur Village near Shaffa town in Hawul Local Government Area of Borno and killed no fewer than eight persons. When local vigilante, known as Civilian JTF, went to the village to bury the victims, they were also killed and on that same day, they hoisted their flag in Abadam, a border community between Borno State and Niger Republic after they had killed about 40 innocent residents in their attack on the community.
Again, two hours after the ceasefire, about 60 women (40 from Waga Mangoro and 20 from Garta), were said to have been allegedly kidnapped by Boko Haram from Waga Mangoro and Garta villages in Madagali Local Government Area of Adamawa State. With the outrage the botched deal had provoked then, it was the parents of the abducted girls and BBOG group that suffered the most for it. Expressing the feeling of the group, Ezekwesili had lamented that the group cannot afford the luxury of hopeless disappointment, given the dashed hopes, squashed joy and diminished euphoria.
It was also in May 2014 that Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, in a video claimed responsibility for the abduction and vowed to sell off the girls as slave brides, even as he said he had converted the girls to Islam. When it became clear that the girls were actually abducted, the international community attempted to help and countries like China, Israel, France, Britain and Unites States provided some level of intelligence gathering.
This came at the heels of the claims by Amnesty International that the Nigerian military were forewarned about four hours before attack but, they claimed they could not muster enough security personnel, an allegation they have since denied.
In September 23, 2014, one of the girls, Susan Ishaya escaped and it was announced on Ezekwesili’s twitter handle at about 11.17pm. The traumatised girl was rushed to the hospital for treatment. But that was it, till now, the 219 missing girls are yet to be found. In October, the BBOG group tried to march to the presidency to commemorate the six months anniversary of the missing girls, but they were stopped by security forces.
Last year April, as part of the one year anniversary of the girl’s disappearance, the group held a commemorative service where they unveiled the
Rescued Victims Identification Initiative. Held at the THISDAY Dome in Abuja, Ezekwesili later took to her Twitter handle to note that the lecture by His Eminence, John Cardinal Onaiyekan was beyond profound as the depth and breadth honoured #ChibokGirls.
She wrote, “Cardinal John Onaiyekan – The Catholic Archbishop of Abuja left the nation with very deep perspectives for retrospection and introspection. With assurance by @DefenceInfoNG of sustained momentum against terrorists by our Military, we anxiously await rescue of our #ChibokGirls!
“We are overjoyed to see more citizens regain their freedom from terrorists’ enclave. We applaud @DefenceInfoNG successful effort. We want more.
Days before April 30, 2014, we used all social media platforms to call out to you to join us to March for our #ChibokGirls. Many turned up. On a day like this, one year ago, after two weeks of social media advocacy and birth of hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, we moved into Unity Fountain.
“On that April 30, 2014, we marched and have never stopped marching. Today is one year and painfully, our #ChibokGirls are still not back. Hadiza Bala Usman driven by same bond of shared humanity with our #ChibokGirls reached out with idea for a March. None of us thought, one year. On April 30, 2014, no way Hadiza Bala Usman Maryam Uwais, Saudatu Mahdi and I imagined the rescue of our #ChibokGirls would go beyond two weeks.”
On the initiative, the group had designed a verification and identification system that would assist in identifying each rescued terror victim easily. Tagged the Verification, Authentication and Reuniting System (VARS), the group said it was holistic for credible rescued victims’ identification, adding that the FG should adopt the system. They never did.
Also during their one year anniversary, 219 #ChibokGirlsAmbassadors were presented to the world on the one year anniversary as they joined BBOG all around the world in the #GlobalSchoolGirlsMarch to march for the missing girls. Then the group had said, “We are all saddened as the one year of this heinous abduction approached. However, we are organising to commemorate this sad event if they aren’t back by then.
“There is also the Chibok Girls Ambassadors. Schoolgirls aged 10 -18 who would volunteer to stand for our missing Chibok girls. Schools would also be able to participate by organising marches called the Global School Girl March. During our Special Global Week Of Action commemorating our #ChibokGirls’ abduction, we shall like to have all our friends across Nigeria and the world to join in and support our activities in their different communities, cities and countries.
“And, we wish to demand expeditious global campaign to accelerate all efforts being coordinated by the Nigerian Government and her allies towards their rescue. The effort of every man and woman, far and near, in this particular period will be critical in driving the required renewed demand and pressure to find our girls and bring them home to their parents.
“A day in the captivity of terrorists is agonizingly dreadful enough. One year is too much and too difficult to imagine. Our #ChibokGirls are innocent global citizens that the world must ensure are #NeverToBeForgotten.”
Also to mark the anniversary of the missing girls, THISDAY gathered that the famous Empire State Building, was lit in purple and red in their honour of the BBOG campaigners. The organisers had explained that while the red colour stands for the BBOG chosen colour, the purple stands for the campaign to end violence against women.
For the affected families it’s been from one broken promise to another. Last year, their hopes were buoyed when the military began its assault on the sect and recovered all the claimed cities. But their hopes were dashed when the military announced that they have no idea where the girls were. This would not be the first time their hopes would be dashed. Severally, the military would announce that the girls have been rescued, only for the news to turn out to be false.
One of such occasions, the then Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, had said the girls would be rescued within a given period. Then he had said the onslaught against the sect was prolonged because the military were not in possession of adequate machineries needed in the proscription of the sect. He later said the successes recorded then was because the military had taken delivery of the military hardware, which it had placed orders for at the inception of the Boko Haram crisis.
Another of such promises was made by the then Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, who said the government was working assiduously to rescue the girls. He had said, “Let me say that as a father, all hands are on deck to ensure that those girls are brought back. I know, because I see the President everyday and I know he is pained that those girls are out there.
“All it takes to appreciate what the president is going through is to sit back and switch roles, so you can imagine the pain. I am also pained because I have daughters and I would not want them abducted for anything and having said that I want to let you know that everything humanly possible is being done to return those girls.”
Again, after the present administration assumed office, their families hope of a rescue soared because part of the campaign promises by Buhari was that the girls would be rescued. In fact, on the eve of the first anniversary,
Buhari had in a statement said, “Today is a time to reflect on the pain and suffering of the victims, their friends and families. Our thoughts and prayers, and that of the whole Nigerian Nation, are with you today.
“I want to assure all of them, and particularly the parents, that when my new administration takes office at the end of May, we will do everything we can to defeat Boko Haram. We will act differently from the government we replaced; we hear the anguish of our citizens and intend to respond accordingly. This new approach must also begin with honesty. We do not know if the Chibok girls can be rescued. Their whereabouts remain unknown. As much as I wish to, I cannot promise that we can find them.
“But I say to every parent, family member and friend of the children that my government will do everything in its power to bring them home. What I can pledge, with absolute certainty, is that starting on the first day of my administration Boko Haram will know the strength of our collective will and commitment to rid this nation of terror, and bring back peace and normalcy to all the affected areas. Boko Haram means ‘Western Education is Sinful’.
“When they are defeated militarily, as they will be, we will ensure our citizens in the affected areas have improved educational opportunities as a direct counterbalance to Boko Haram’s twisted ideology. In particular, we will educate ever more young girls ensuring they are empowered as citizens of Nigeria.
“Let us use this anniversary to remind each other that the attack on Chibok was an attack on the dreams and aspirations of our young people. We stand united in our pledge to resist terror in Nigeria– not just through military means but also through the power of opportunity and the hope of a better future for all.”
Again, in January 2016 Buhari had also admitted that securing the missing girls is his responsibility. This was after he ordered the National Security Adviser (NSA), General Babagana Munguno, to set up a panel to investigate the abduction of the girls.
Afterwards, a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the president on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu said the “investigation will seek to, among other things, unravel the remote and immediate circumstances leading the kidnap of the girls by Boko Haram terrorists as well the other events, actions and in actions that followed the incident.”
But earlier, in a meeting with some parents of the abducted girls, representatives of the Chibok community and members of the BBOG at the Banquet Hall of the State House, Buhari had said he remained fully committed to his pledge to rescue the girls.
He said, “I assure you that I go to bed and wake up every day with the Chibok girls on my mind. The unfortunate incident happened before this government came into being.
“What have we done since we assumed office? We re-organised the military, removed all the service chiefs and ordered the succeeding service chiefs to deal decisively with the Boko Haram insurgency. In spite of the terrible economic condition we found ourselves in, we tried to get some resources to give to the military to reorganise and equip, retrain, deploy more troops and move more forcefully against Boko Haram.
“And you all know the progress we have made. When we came in Boko Haram was in Adamawa, Yobe and Borno. Boko Haram has now been reduced to areas around Lake Chad. Securing the Chibok girls is my responsibility. The service chiefs and heads of our security agencies will tell you that in spite of the dire financial straits that we found the country in, I continue to do my best to support their efforts in that regard.
“This is a Nigeria where we were exporting average of two million barrels per day at over 140 dollars per barrel. Now it is down to about 27 to 30 dollars.
“You have been reading in the press how they took public funds, our funds, your funds and shared it, instead of buying weapons. That was the kind of leadership I succeeded. That was the kind of economy I inherited.”
Months after that promise, the status quo still remains. The girls remain missing despite the rescue of thousands of persons abducted by the terrorists.
On April 30, 2014, the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) group was born and had, since the girls were abducted, kept faith despite all odds.
April 30, 2014, no way Hadiza Bala Usman Maryam Uwais, Saudatu Mahdi and I imagined the rescue of our Chibok girls.
Led by the duo of the former Minister of Education and Dr. Oby Ezekwesili and Hadiza Bala Usman, the group has become a worldwide phenomenon. Week after week, they staged marches, protests, had meetings, all on strategies to bring the girls back.
The group even had a global week of action to mobilise everyone around the world to demand for the immediate rescue of the Chibok girls and end this humanitarian tragedy. Everyday, the group met at the Unity Fountain in Abuja, where they held daily sit-outs despite the elements, praying, encouraging themselves and liaising on the way forward.
Against hopes, Ezekwesili said they won’t think of possibility of death, adding that they can still be rescued before May 29, 2015. She had said, “We refuse to speculate as to whether they are alive or dead, we don’t even want to think about the possibility of death, we know that they must bring back the girls, their parents are still waiting for them, they are holding on to a slim hope that the girls will be rescued. How can our country move on without 219 citizens that can still be rescued, it just doesn’t make sense, no society grows by abandoning its citizens.”
Also re-echoing her sentiments then, the Chairman of the Chibok community in Abuja, Hosea Abana, expressed dissatisfaction with the level of search. He said, “I believe the girls are still alive, I am not sure that they have combed Sambisa as they may want us to believe, Sambisa is very large. I don’t know where the girls are but I refuse to share the view that they have been killed. The girls that we called for their return 360 days ago are still not back with their parents. People want to move on, but we can’t afford to move on, we must find our girls and bring them back.”
Also, sometime in April 2015, Ezekwesili took to the world stage to task President Barack Obama of the United States to replicate the Osama effect and rescue the girls. Speaking as one of the TIME Magazine 2015 World Most 100 Influential People, held at Lincoln Centre, New York City, she said if Obama could succeed in bringing down world renowned terrorist, Osama Bin Laden, then he can very well rescue the girls.
She had said, “If he could get Osama Bin Laden, he could get our girls. It is time for someone as powerful as Barack Obama to compare the girls of Chibok to his own daughters. These girls are a symbol of our own message to girls, that they should be educated, that we would go beyond the call of duty for you.”
Still keeping faith, the BBOG and the families took the bull by the horns and a meeting was fixed with President Muhammadu Buhari, as regarding the fate of the remaining 219 Chibok girls, who are yet to be found.
One of the Co-convener of the group and former Minister of Education, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, led other members and they marched to the presidency. Chief among the questions the group asked was what the government was doing to bring the girls back.
She had said, “I could have chosen the easy path of looking away on the tragedy of our #ChibokGirls to avoid the toxin they spew. God forbids. I stand on. We have written to request for a meeting with the President as we did on several occasions with the previous government.
“The meeting shall enable us to express our deep anxieties at the failure of the Federal Government to rescue our 219 Chibok girls. We shall also use the meeting to understand and contribute to the strategy for countering terrorism, ensuring post-insurgency recovery and other related issues.”
That meeting didn’t go too well as they left disillusioned. While some members of the group alleged that the president walked out on them angrily during the dialogue, Ezekwesili however debunked it, although she did add that there was no connection.
Battle with Critics
Expectedly, the unflinching stance of the group was not without some challenges. They have had to battle with the elements, snide remarks, countless accusations and even physical confrontations.
During one of their sit-outs in Abuja in 2014, the then Commissioner of Police, Joseph Mbu had attempted to disrupt their gathering, threatening to arrest them for disturbing the peace of the city. Believing firmly in the rule of law, the group sought legal redress, also for restraining order against the police, and they were later backed up by the Inspector General of Police, who distanced himself from the attempt to arrest the group.
It was during one of such attempts to besmirch the campaign that Ezekwesili, went for the jugular of those seemingly opposing their efforts, calling them heathens. She had said, “I had to offload my fury on those who should consolidate effort at rescuing our #ChibokGirls but are rather directing energy at wrong targets. Heathens who proudly work evil thinking that the creator of eyes and ears can neither see nor hear. Hear me well, God is not mocked.
“Heathens who see public office as a spoil can never understand we who passed through same office and spat on those ignoble and accursed wealth. If even the parents of the girls abducted them, would we as a sane nation not do everything to rescue them? What then is the irritation about.
“Heathens wish that we should feel guilt for standing for the cause of the vulnerable children of our nation. We shall stand on. Heathens wish to embed a culture of wickedness as the spirit of our shared humanity? No. It cannot be, Keep on raging. We”ll keep demanding. These heathen just cannot get it. How can they? Heartless, they make double Victims of #ChibokGirls who were already victims. Heartless lot!”
Condemning claims that they were paid by the then opposition she had said, “These heathens imagine vain things by lying to themselves that our empathy is opposition inspired, money or power induced. Heartless lot. We will not stop demanding for our #ChibokGirls. Take joy in persisting. No matter how loud the heathens rage and imagine vain things.
“We have reason to thank God for keeping filthy minds far from us. Filthy minds for whom money and power are reason to ignore the #ChibokGirls. Let it be known to all that nothing the Federal Government and their minions do to me for standing for the #ChibokGirls shall ever dissuade me. Heathens who have decided that we all must join and call bad, good and good, bad. We who refused are torn at. You waste your time.”
This came right on the heels of the recent twitter clash between her and the presidential Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs, Doyin Okupe, where the latter called her out, adding that her grouse was her inability to accept Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s sublime supremacy over her.
Although that was in the past administration, nothing has
changed now. From their botched attempt to protest to the presidency to the belief that they had lost tempo and claims by critics that they were bought to embarrass the previous administration.
At another time, some critics on the social media tasked the group over their recent purported silence since the assumption of office of the new administration. The critics claimed the BBOG had reduced the tempo of their demands, unlike what they did during the regime of the former administration.
Hiding his identity but tweeting from @RadicalYouthMan, one critic wrote, “To all those activists in BBOG and Twitter that sold us a lie and called it change, receive your reward from APC. God’s reward, comes.” Another salvo was shot by one Skywalker tweeting from @Irosky007 who wrote, “Today, the vociferous, unholy campaigns and harassment of #BBOG has automatically seized, or have the girls returned?”
Tweeting a gift card he had created as “An award of hypocrisy’ one @Mayourspeaks wrote, “This award Goes to #BBOG Mummy @obyezeks. Thanks so much for your hypocritic contribution to finding our girls. Love you ma.” Also sharing the picture of the group at the daily sit out, he wrote, “Well in case you don’t know!! This are the no of people left in the #BBOG propaganda started by our Mum @obyezeks.”
To which Tunji Iromini tweeting from @Detunjiprino replied, “So if I pray right now that your sister, mother, daughter or loved ones be kidnapped, will your Amen be resounding? Also, social media entrepreneur, Japheth Omojuwa came to the defence of the group. Tweeting from @omojuwa he flayed claims that the group had disbanded.
He wrote, “If you said no girls were kidnapped and you are tweeting ‘what happened to #BringBackOurGirls?’ you should donate yourself to a BioGas company. Because the #BringBackOurGirls group continues to meet in Abuja everyday, like they did during the last ill-fated government. Only there is a difference between now and then: today’s government considers the BBOG group a partner. With a collective purpose and essence.”
This is even as Ezekwesili had explained that they were still waiting for President Muhammadu Buhari to rescue the girls. Tweeting from @Obyezeks she wrote, “Scam. A word that in heaven, some Nigerians must get ready to apologize to God for, seeing that it hardened their hearts to 219 young victims.
“We continue to hold our daily sit-out as always. Only our occasional marches was delayed to enable administration settle in. DAY434 of our #ChibokGirls. Mr. President @MBuhari the whole world awaits the progress report on your promise to rescue our 219 Girls. #BBOG! Learning from the failure of others is wisdom. Hopefully, this administration and their supporters have learned that you cannot bully @BBOG_Nigeria.”
In fact, just recently, Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State, stirred the hornets nest when he said the girls were not missing, claiming rather that it was a fabricated attempt to punish and removed Jonathan.
Speaking in Ado Ekiti during a two-day workshop organised by Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin Women Arise for Change Initiative, he said, “You can’t get what is not missing. The cries over missing girls were just a political strategy. What could Boko Haram have used to carry those girls? However, if truly missing, they should be recovered. One thing I know is that what is not missing you cannot get.”
“It pains me that some of the human rights activists had gone since the advent of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government. They have lost their voices. Where were they when DSS invaded the Ekiti House of Assembly and arrested a lawmaker and locked him up? They were flouting court’s orders at will and victimising opposition. It is better we collectively speak up now or we are consumed.”
But some youths under the auspices of North-East Youth Peace and Development Empowerment Initiative (NEYPDEI) quickly responded to his Salvo. The president of the group, Alhaji Kyari Abubakar, said it was a surprise that somebody like Fayose who regards himself as a democrat could make such a statement to score a cheap political point. He said, “We are surprised that this statement is coming from someone who regards himself as a democrat, that statement suggest that he has no sympathy for the parents of the abducted girls and the pains they are currently passing through.”
Thousands Rescued, Yet No Chibok Girls
In September 2015, malnourished kids were among 139 rescued from Boko Haram. They were rescued in Bitta and Pulka in Borno state. In October, 338 hostages were rescued from villages near the Sambisa Forest, a Boko Haram stronghold.
In December, 900 hostages were liberated by the Cameroonian government according to the Information Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakari. Also in
December, the acting Director of Army Public Relations, Colonel Sani Usman, said the army rescued 210 civilians held captive by the terrorists.
But in January 2016, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Gabriel Olonisakin, during a meeting with Chibok parents, BBOG and the presidency, said in the last three months the military has liberated more than 3000 people kidnapped by Boko Haram in the North eastern part of the country. He said that the military had the ability to rescue the Chibok girls, but added that “intelligence is delicate and we don’t want to do anything to jeopardise the lives of the girls.”
In February 2016, Usman said the NA has rescued 1,890 people who were being held by the Boko Haram insurgents at various locations in the North-east in the past two weeks. He said the rescued persons included 800 Nigerians who crossed over to Banki, Cameroon and were brought back to the country by troops of the 21 Brigade.
Explaining further, he said the troops 121 Task Force rescued 45 persons comprising 17 women and 28 children during a joint operations with Cameroonian forces at Mararraba, Angwan Fada, Dale and Wizha Bokko Timit, Bokko Nasanu and Bokko Hidde up to Ngoshe, adding that 350 others including five Cameroonian girls were rescued in a joint operation by troops of 7 Division Garrison, 112 Battalion, Army Headquarters Support Group and Armed Forces Special Forces at Gajibo, Maula, Gamai, Gamare, Maiwa, Warsale, Tangli, Tushi, Sowa, Hasanari, Changuwa, Malamaja, and Marya in Dikwa and Mafa Local Government Areas.
He added that a similar rescue operation by the troops of 7 Division Garrison, their counterparts of 112 Task Force Battalion, and Armed Forces Special Forces, on February 17, 2016, at Kwaptara, Mijigete, Garin Boka, Mosole, Ngubdori, Ma’asa, Dukje and Gulumba in Dikwa and Bama Local Government Areas resulted in the rescue of 195 Boko Haram’s captives.
“On February 23, 2016, troops of 21 Brigade in conjunction with troops of MNJTF on clearance operations at Kumshe general area, rescued 250 persons, mainly women and children held hostages by Boko Haram terrorists and brought back 800 refugees from Cameroon. On February 23, 2016, troops of 7 Division rescued 150 persons at Kodo. The troops of the 21 Brigade also intercepted 3,000 Nigerian refugees who were crossing from Wambatche, Liman and Kodo Fata villages in Cameroon into Nigeria,” he said.
Also in February, soldiers rescued 195 people held hostage by Boko Haram Takfiri terrorists in Borno , and a range of equipment and livestock seized including two trucks, 180 motorcycles, 750 bicycles and a generator.
In March, Nigerian Army rescued 701 people around Gwoza local council of Borno State held hostage by Boko Haram terrorists, as a result of the joint operation of the Nigerian Army and their Cameroonian counterpart. They were rescued from Ngoshe, Bokko, Bokkotinta, Bokkosatu, Bokkokugile, Chikide, Chirawa and Dale villages all in Gwoza local council.
Still in March, 800 people held captive by the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram were rescued in two separate missions. No fewer than 309 hostages were after a battle in the Kala Blage area in which 22 militants were reportedly killed and afterwards, an additional 520 people were rescued in the village of Kusumma with three Boko Haram fighters killed and one captured.
Also, 114 Task Force Battalion, while on patrol along Bitta-Pridang-Manawashe axis rescued 95 persons suspected to have escaped from Madube and Shuwari general area and similarly, 117 Task Force Battalion also conducted another patrol around Mildo, Vapura, Mildo, Shelmi, Gubla, Dar and Hyambula settlements and rescued 27 persons who escaped from Mayo Ali village.
Although no one was rescued, troops of 81 Battalion and 251 Task Force Battalion of 25 Task Force Brigade, 7 Division destroyed the spiritual power base of Boko Haram located inside Alagarno forest in Borno State.
The army still in March, rescued 63 persons who were in the captivity of the sect during separate operations at Lawin Meleri, Matiri Bulaka and Aljeri villages.
In April, the army said it has freed 275 captives during clearing operations in multiple towns in the North-east. The army also killed 15 Boko Haram fighters and a factory used to make Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) was destroyed.
Although the Nigerian army in this dispensation has recorded a huge success in the Boko Haram war, rescuing many people and recapturing almost all territories from the insurgents, however, despite all the efforts, the Chibok girls remain missing.
So, Where Are the Chibok Girls?
For many, the question whether the girls are even alive and whether they were still in Nigeria begs for answers. Last year, an official of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Mr. Raad Zeid al Hussein, had said that the girls may have been slaughtered in Bama.
He had premised his verdict on the fact that the girls may have been part of the women who were murdered by the insurgents before they fled from Bama and other towns in Borno State just before the Nigerian military and allied forces from Chad and Niger recovered the territories. According to him, various reports at his department in Geneva showed that “the recent recovery of territories in the North-east brought to light macabre scenes of mass graves and more obvious signs of killings by Boko Haram.
“The use of children by Boko Haram as expendable cannon meat and human bombs could, if confirmed, constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. There are persistent and credible reports of serious violations by the Nigerian security forces and other countries in their fight against Boko Haram, and called for “complete and fully transparent investigations by the authorities.”
But the Federal Government immediately rose up to debunk the rumours. The then Coordinator of National Information Centre (NIC), Mr. Mike Omeri, who debunked the report said all is not lost yet as regard rescuing the girls. He had said, “The search for Chibok girls continues and that is why even with capture of Bama and the rest, security and military have never relented, and until it is concluded, we cannot begins to believe speculation. “
However, the President, Association of Industrial Security and Safety Operators of Nigeria (AISSON), Dr. Ona Ekhomu, is also of the school of thought that the girls have been given away. In a press statement last year he said, “I’m sure that most of the girls have been given away to terrorist commanders or sold off as wives or as sex slaves by Shekau.”
Security Experts Call for Robust Security Measures
While the clamour for the rescue of the girls continues, renowned security expert and President, Association of Industrial Security and Safety Operators of Nigeria (AISSON), Dr. Ona Ekhomu, called for robust school security measures to be put in place. He had also called for the creation of standards of security to harden educational institutions against terrorist attacks, adding that school authorities and state governments in the North -east should urgently design security master plans for schools in order to safeguard students and teachers from terrorist attacks.
Describing the plight of the Chibok girls as tragic, he said, “I’m sure that most of the girls have been given away to terrorist commanders or sold off as wives or as sex slaves by Shekau but the most important lesson of the Chibok mass abduction was for the authorities to be proactive in the implementation of security measures aimed at protecting students from mass abductions or mass murder.
He said, “Recall that many schools had been successfully attacked by Boko Haram including Bayero University Kano, the University of Maiduguri, Federal Polytechnic Mubi, School of Hygiene Technology in Kano, Government Girls Secondary School Mamudo – Yobe State, Government Secondary School Buni Yadi – Yobe State.
“The Boko Haram sect had previously taken several female hostages from various schools in Yobe and Borno states. The seizure of girls in Chibok was not the first such incident. Thus, safe school initiative is not being focused on protecting school populations, rather the initiative was “British culture-bound” focusing on infrastructure development, emergency relief and rehabilitation of the Chibok girls who may never be found.
“Rather than on preventive, detective or reactive physical security measures that could address the existential threat to schools in northern Nigeria. Also, Security experts need to be involved in conducting vulnerability assessments and threat assessment of schools in order to develop workable school security master plans.
“The plans should include concentric layers of protective measures, smoke bombs to conceal students in their hostels from marauders, electrified hardware to lock-down the school in the event of an invasion by malevolent individuals. The plan should include security awareness training for schools including teachers and students.
“The authorities need to establish a 911 emergency response system for taking calls from persons in distress. Also, there should be professionally manned-emergency calls centers in order to avoid exposing callers to grave risk.”
Also speaking on the spread of terrorism and insurgency and its consequences, another security expert, Mr. Patrick Agbambu, the International Coordinator/Chief Executive Officer of Security Watch Africa, said the nation needs to seek security expertise and equipment from knowledgeable counties and manufacturers on how to effectively combat the menace of Boko Haram, Al-Shabbab and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
He said the affiliation of some of these groups with ISIS poses greater danger to not only Nigeria but Africa and the entire world, adding that “the last decade has witnessed very fundamental and structural changes in the security threats facing all nations of the world. Attention is gradually shifting from individual criminal activities within communities to cross border crimes such as terrorism and insurgency.
“According to a new study by the Global Terrorism index, the number of killing by acts of terrorism increased by 80 per cent in 2014 alone. Of this figure, Islamic State (ISIS) and Boko Haram were between them responsible for 51 per cent of all claimed global killings and 78 per cent of all deaths occurred in Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Kenya, Somalia and Syria.
“Extremism has become the main causes of all the violent killings and clashes the world is facing now. We must as individuals and groups endeavour to shun extreme beliefs. As security personnel, we owe our families, communities and countries the onerous responsibility of re-strategising and re-energising our security apparatus with a view to forestalling further threats to our societies.
“This is the time to recognise that intelligence gathering is central to our safety and that we must urgently become friends with our communities in order to be able to protect them better. As advisers, we must encourage our political leaders to seek alternative solutions outside increased funding of our defence and security budgets.”
Although the fate of the remaining 219 girls remains unknown, it yet behooves the Nigerian Government not to fail in rescuing them from captivity despite the two years already spent in captivity.