Government must do more to ensure the release of the remaining schoolgirls

Tomorrow marks exactly four years that 276 girls were abducted by Boko Haram insurgents from Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State – all of them between the ages of 15 and 19. While 57 of the girls escaped from their abductors on that day, negotiations between the Muhammadu Buhari administration and the insurgents have led to the release of 104 while three were found by the Joint Civilian and Military Task Forces at different times. The remaining 112 girls are still being held captive by the terrorists.

Without the return of the remaining girls, the promise of the constitution that the welfare of Nigerians shall be the primary purpose of government will continue to ring hollow. Therefore, giving up on rescuing the remaining girls cannot be an option for any self-respecting society, especially when education remains the only path to sustainable progress and the anchor of any serious government. And we need an atmosphere where our girls will not be afraid to go to seek knowledge.

On this occasion, we cannot but salute the doggedness of the #BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) group, comprising ordinary Nigerians from all walks of life, religion and ethnicity, who had been holding a peaceful sit-out since the night of April 30, 2014. To the extent that all they seek is for the release of the girls from their abductors, we align ourselves with their aspiration.

It is indeed noteworthy that it was the group that helped in attracting worldwide attention to the plight of these young girls, compelling a unique humanitarian solidarity that is unprecedented in our nation’s history. Presidents, first ladies, film stars, sports men and women, entertainers, schools, governments and international organisations, religious leaders as well as so many ordinary people around the globe have joined the campaign for the Chibok girls. Along with this publicity, however, critical weaknesses and lapses on the part of the federal government in the rescue effort have been exposed in a manner that has apparently aggravated the authorities, placing them on the defensive.

Initially, the BBOG group was able to engage constructively with certain agencies of government, including the National Assembly, the National Security Adviser and delegates of the then President Goodluck Jonathan. As time went on, however, the narrative changed. The executive began to question the demand to “bring back” the girls, on grounds that it sounded accusatory of the federal government. Unfortunately, that acrimonious relationship has been inherited by the Buhari administration that came to office with the pledge to work towards the release of all the Chibok girls. Even though the administration has succeeded in bringing back 107 girls, there are still 112 of the girls in captivity.

For a group that meets daily in the open, with people joining the focused discussions with the only item on their agenda being the Chibok girls, their families, their welfare and how to enhance the rescue effort, the stigmatisation and hostility by government and their allies is most unfortunate. It is perhaps because Nigeria is coming from a long history of military rule that the authorities are finding it difficult to comprehend that in a democracy, citizens have the right and freedom of expression, to legitimately meet and associate with each other on any issue of concern, for as long as they wish. It is certainly healthy that Nigerian citizens can demand for accountability and good governance, irrespective of religious affiliations or ethnicity.

As we therefore mark the fourth anniversary of the Chibok tragedy, we join in calling on the authorities to work towards the safe return of the remaining 112 girls as well as that of the lone Dapchi school girl, Leah Sharibu, who was recently held back by the insurgents on account of her Christian faith.