For Chibok Girls, a Glimmer of Hope?

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Until last week’s video showing 15 of the abducted school girls taken from their hostels two years ago in Chibok, North-eastern Nigeria, by the terrorist group, Boko Haram, hope of their return had faded. But there seems to be a ray of hope as the world is calling again for their safe return, writes Michael Olugbode

Last Thursday was exactly two years since 276 students were abducted by the terrorist group, Boko Haram, from Government Secondary School, Chibok – a town in Borno State. Though some of the kidnapped girls later escaped from their abductors reducing the numbers still being held to 219, the hope for their safe return waned everyday in the past two years. No thanks to reports that some may have died from illness, various military operations targeted at terrorist camps in Sambisa Forest (where they are believed to have been kept) or in the process of being used as suicide bombers.

The video showing 15 of the 219 Chibok schoolgirls few days ago which is now viewed as a proof of life, has rekindled hope about the possibility of their being reunited with their loved ones and also renewed the global agitation for their release, a development that will further put pressure on the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to urgently secure their release.

But beyond this ray of hope are pertinent questions which the new video has also raised: Unlike the first video released after their abduction that showed a large number of the girls, why were only 15 chosen for the latest video? Does that suggest that the girls are scattered across various terrorist cells/camps to make their rescue by the military difficult? Even though there are claims that the girls may have been scattered across various cells/camps by the terrorists, why has the military not been able to make any significant headway in tracing the girls in any of the various terrorist camps reportedly destroyed in the past two years? Are the girls shown in the new video still within Nigerian territory? The 15 girls shown in the video represented less than 15 per cent of the missing girls, does that not raise fears about the state of the other missing girls? Does the new video coming few months after the President declared that there was no credible intelligence on the missing girls, not raise questions about the nation’s intelligence network?

While these posers are still unanswered, there is a renewed call on the Nigerian government to do everything possible to ensure the safe return of the missing girls. Since the video was aired, there have been messages from around the world calling for the release of the girls. Former British Prime Minister and UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Mr. Gordon Brown, in a statement sent exclusively to THISDAY, said “we have all done far too little to secure their release.”

Brown said two years after their abduction, “the exact whereabouts of the schoolgirls – most of whom are believed to be between the ages of 16 and 18 – remains unclear.”

Noting that the Chibok girls were still desperate but powerless after 730 days in captivity, he said the girls were still relying on a miracle for their release.
Brown said, “Two years on and still their parents wake up each morning not knowing whether their daughters are alive or dead, married or single or violated as slaves. They surely deserve more than a forlorn hope.”

The former UK Prime Minister said the treatment of the Chibok girls was among the worst of the horrors inflicted daily on children in conflict zones, and expressed the view that the United Nations Security Council could intervene and encourage Nigeria -with the support of the Americans, the French, the Chinese and the British – to undertake enhanced air surveillance and potential action on the ground to secure the sighting and release of the girls.

United States House Democratic Leader, Nancy Pelosi, at a news conference outside Capitol Hill to mark two years of the abduction of the Chibok girls said, “we must and we will bring back the girls,” adding,

“they are not forgotten.”
Parents of the girls last Thursday at a prayer session marking the second anniversary of the abduction, pleaded with the federal government delegation led to Chibok by three ministers – Environment, Mrs Amina Mohammed, Minister of State for National Planning, Hajiya Zainab Ahmed, and her Works, Power and Housing counterpart, Hon Mustapha Baba Shehuri – that everything should be done to get their daughters released and reunited with their families.

The leader of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls’ parents, Mr Yakubu Nkeki, in a speech said the grief and sorrow of their missing daughters were still boldly written on their faces.
“We cannot fathom your definite location and the condition you are in right now. Are you alive or dead. Are you pregnant, put to bed or empty. Have you eaten the food of your choice or forced to eat something against your will. Have you taken your bath today. How do you take care of yourself during your menstrual flow?” Nkeki said in what sounded like a poetic rendition to the missing girls.

He lamented that nobody could answer some of the posers except the abductors of their daughters, urging the government to step up efforts at freeing the girls.

Already, Senate has summoned the National Security Adviser and all the service chiefs to brief it at a closed session on their efforts so far to recover the abducted Chibok schoolgirls, while the House of Representatives has asked the Federal Government to set a target for security agencies to rescue the girls. A protest was also staged by the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) movement on the heels of the new video and to commemorate two years of the abduction of the girls.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, had recently said the federal government could not put a time line as to when the missing girls will return and be reunited with their families and had called for patience on the part of Nigerians, assuring that everything needed to be done to rescue the girls were being done with the help from international community.

The new video is an indication that negotiations are ongoing. There are reports that demands ranging from 1 million euros to $50 million had been made by different Boko Haram cells for the release of the girls in their respective camps.

President Buhari had declared in December 2015 that government could talk to Boko Haram if credible representatives emerged. Not long after, precisely in January, he said the government was launching a new investigation into the kidnapping, but little has emerged on their whereabouts since then.
In a message marking the two years of the abduction last week, Buhari assured parents and relations of the girls that he frequently reflected on the ordeal of their daughters in the hands of Boko Haram terrorists and shared the pains of their continued absence from home.

The President said as a parent and leader of the country, he understood the torment, frustration and anxiety of the parents and would not spare any effort to ensure the safe return of the girls.
The president said he continued to believe that with the total commitment of the Federal Government, Nigerian Armed Forces and security agencies, and the support of the international community, the girls would be eventually rescued.

The new video no doubt has further put pressure on his government, which rode to power on the back of the perceived poor handling of Nigerian affairs, including the abduction of the Chibok girls, by the President Goodluck Jonathan’s regime. That is the pressure that is needed to keep the hope of the parents and the missing girls alive.