The task remains unfinished until every one of them is free

Exactly five years ago today, 276 girls were abducted by Boko Haram insurgents from Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State in a tragedy that shook our country and the entire global community. While majority of the girls have either escaped or been released by their captors, especially following the intervention of the current administration, 112 of them are still held in captivity. A day like this therefore serves as a reminder of the task yet undone. Until all the abducted girls can be accounted for, the promise of the constitution, that the welfare of Nigerians shall be the primary purpose of government, will continue to ring hollow.

The Chibok tragedy was a defining issue because of the chilling message sent by Boko Haram which stands for “western education is sinful”. The insurgents have in the past decade waged a brutal campaign against innocent school children, especially in the North-east. Yet, “children should feel safe at home, in schools and on their playgrounds at all times,” according to Mohamed Malick Fall, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria who revealed that the insurgents have recruited and used thousands of children between the age of 13 and 17 as combatants and non-combatants, raped and forced girls to marry, and committed other grave violations against children.

The Chibok tragedy led to the formation of the #BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) group, comprising Nigerians from all walks of life, religion and ethnicity, who started holding peaceful sit-out two weeks after the abduction. With the fear that the girls could easily be forgotten in the daily swirl of things, the aim of the group was to remain at the Unity Fountain as a reminder that the girls are still in captivity. The group succeeded 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, governments and international organisations, religious leaders as well as so many ordinary people around the globe, joined the campaign for the release of the Chibok girls. Initially, the federal government announced that efforts to rescue the girls were on course and that they would be brought back home. But days turned to weeks and months. And then, years. While it is gratifying that many of the girls have been reunited with their families, giving up on rescuing the remaining ones cannot be an option for any self-respecting society. The authorities must deploy all necessary resources, equipment, intelligence and men into the forest and beyond, whatever it takes. Nigerians desperately need the assurance that our government has the capacity to protect all its citizens, and that those in distress for no fault of theirs will not be abandoned to their fate.

Meanwhile, the Senate on Thursday urged the federal government to expedite action for the release of Miss Leah Sharibu, the only schoolgirl among the 110 students abducted from Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State, on February 19 last year, still in captivity. The rest, following what the federal government described as a series of ‘behind-the-scene-discussion’ were returned March 21 to Dapchi, incidentally by the kidnappers themselves. Sharibu is being held back because of her faith: she is a Christian. But President Muhammadu Buhari had vowed then to ensure that ‘the lone girl was not abandoned’ and Nigerians are holding him to his promise.
As this newspaper has argued repeatedly on this page, we cannot afford to give up on Leah Sharibu or indeed the 112 Chibokgirls that are still pining away in captivity. They and many others held behind the lines represent a blur on our collective humanity. On a day such as this, Nigerians desperately need an assurance that the federal government has the capacity to defend our territory and that the life of every single citizen matters. Nothing would symbolise that more than the return of Leah Sharibu and of course, the remaining 112 Chibok schoolgirls.