Five Years of Anguish for Missing Chibok Girls

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Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that the  inability of the government to rescue the remaining 112 Chibok schoolgirls, five years after they were abducted by the Boko Haram terrorists, remains an albatross on the nation’s neck

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 112 Chibok girls who are still missing after their abduction five years ago by the Boko Haram sect. For them, April 14, 2019, marked five long years of unfulfilled promises, pain, uncertainty and disillusionment.
On exactly April 14, 2019, the abduction of 279 school girls from Chibok clocked five years. But that is not the issue at hand. Five years later, about 112 are still in captivity, with their survival status unknown.

Abduction

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. 57 girls however were able to escape. 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 and the parents of the missing girls, who have kept faith, the clamour  is practically dead now.

Initial Global Support 

Although the global support had died down over the years, the disappearance of the girls had cooked up a storm globally. To show solidarity to the BBOG then, 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 in 2016 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, had also written 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 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.”

Unfulfilled Promises

Undoubtedly, it has been a case of unfulfilled promises from the past administration or partial fulfillment for the present administration. Although 297 girls were abducted from Government College, Chibok in Borno State, 57 were able to escape, leaving 219 girls still in captivity.

Years down the line, four others escaped and were rescued. Afterwards, the Muhammadu Buhari-led government secured the release of 103 after a deal involving ransom payment was made to the terrorists. This deal also purportedly included the release of five Boko Haram commanders.

The release of the 103 was a bitter sweet moment for the movement and the parents. While those whose daughters were among those released were rapturous in their joy, it was the opposite for those whose girls weren’t among those released.

Keeping Faith

 While the nation still battles with the stain the continued loss of the girls portends, credit however must be give to the BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) advocacy group, who for five years have kept the faith. At the kick off of the group, it was championed by Hadiza Bala Usman  Maryam Uwais, Saudatu Mahdi, Aisha Yesufu and former Minister of Education, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili and it became 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.

This group has for five years now highlighted the plight of the missing girls and other victims of the insurgency, both at global level, and at home through protest and through constructive engagement with the government and other agencies. According to them, their advocacy includes five years of a daily sit-outs in Abuja; weekly sit-outs in Lagos, Oshogbo, and Ibadan; visits to key local and international stakeholders; development of strategies and tools such as ‘Citizens Solutions to End Terrorism’ and the ‘Verification, Authentication and Reunification System (VARS)’ for missing persons.

Shame of a Nation

As they are known to do, the BBOG issued a statement to commemorate the day. This year, the statement tagged ‘the shame of a nation’ said: “Today marks five years since the tragic abduction of 276 #ChibokGirls from the Government Girls’ Secondary School, Chlbok, Nigeria. Nothing prepared our movement for the shameful reality that 112 of our Chibok Girls would have their freedom, dignity and dreams taken away for five agonising years, because their government has failed to do everything necessary to give them justice of rescue.

“None of us, who are not biological parents of the 112 remaining girls, can accurately imagine what their parents and families must feel on a day like this. We however know that one thing they have uniformly expressed is the deepest level of disappointment at the way that the tragedy the abduction of their daughters and the grief of parents have been badly managed by two successive governments.

“For these parents, they feel that our country let down their daughters by failing to uphold their right to freedom and life. For these parents, the worse is that the current administration, which while in opposition, promised to dignify them and their daughters by taking speedy actions of rescue and keeping them abreast of developments. This is indeed the shame of a nation. The shame of leadership that has failed the citilens who have every right to the constitutional duties of government to guarantee their safety and security.

“Today, five years after, the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has persisted to deny “Chlbokgirls and their parents the speedy action of rescue promised. Even worse, it has denied them the simple and basic: respect of providing  updates on the status of the federal government effort, if any at all to rescue them. It is condemnable that the same president, who made the abduction of “ChibokGIrls the epicenter of his campaign in the 2015 Presidential elections, no longer remembers that 112 children of his poor citizens are still languishing in the den of terrorists despite his many pledges to rescue them.

“The world which cried out in unison for justice on behalf of “Chibokgirls are not at all fooled by any statement that may be made today by the government of President Buhari. They can see that the parents of our remaining school girls have wickedly been forgotten and abandoned to their fate, and left to grieve the loss of their children without any form of closure being declared by the Federal Government.

No serious government handles a matter like the still missing 113 school girls of Chibok and Dapchi with the levity of an unending saga. The same manner of gross neglect and abandonment has also been extended to the parents of Leah Sharibu. We question the government’s silence on Leah Sharibu. We question government’s  silence on the state of Alice Nggadah of UNICEF.

“We were tempted to not direct any further statements to the president and his government on this fifth year since abduction of our Chibok girls. We contemplated allowing our silence make the loudest statement considering that a word count would record that our movement has already spoken and written in excess of 1 million words in our effort to get the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to give the justice due to the remaining 112 girls to them and their families. However, our voice shall continue to make the same demands no matter how impervious to its duty to our Chibok girls the president and his administration may act.

“Since our first march on the streets of Abuja, Lagos, New York, Washington DC, London and other cities of the world from April 30, 2014, we have never ceased to advocate for our #Chibokgirls and other abducted citizens. What have we not said or done in the past to get the president  and his government to treat the victims of the Chibok and Dapchi tragedies with the humanness and dignity that serious nations accord their citizens?

“Our movement has written, spoken, held meetings at local and global levels and marched to mount pressure on the Nigerian government, leading countries and the United Nations to give justice to “Chibokgirls and other abducted persons like Leah Sharibu.”

Demands

Over the years, their demands have always been for the girls to be rescued. According to them, while they are aware of the efforts made so far, and commend the government for the recovery of 107 Chibok girls, and 106 Dapchi girls, they  will not relent in their advocacy and strident demands for the rescue of our school children and fellow citizens from captivity.

In demanding justice for the slain, they also acknowledged and honoured the sacrifice of the
military and expressed their thoughts and prayers to the families of the heroes in the armed
forces.

Therefore, the sum total of their demands were for government to, “bring back our girls now and alive, equip and look after the welfare of our police and our troops, give our children safe and secure schools, properly rehabilitate those who have been victims of conflict or crisis, respond quickly whenever something bad happens to our citizens, and communicate about what they are doing to the victim’s families and the general public”.

Legislative Call 

The House of Representatives also called on the Federal Government to redouble efforts towards securing the release of the remaining Chibok schoolgirls and the last Dapchi girl, Leah Sharibu. The call was made at the plenary last Wednesday, after it adopted a motion moved by a member representing Chibok/Gwoza/Damboa Federal Constituency in Borno State, Asabe Vilita-Bashir.

Moving the motion, which was largely debated and unanimously adopted by the lawmakers, Vilita-Bashir said it was disheartening that after five years of their abduction, about 112 of the Chibok girls were still being held by the insurgents.

Deputy Speaker, Mr Lasun Yusuff, who presided over the plenary, said it was painful that after the Chibok girls’ abduction, more girls were captured by the insurgent in Dapchi.

He said: “It is painful because in my area, my people say it is better for a child to be announced dead than to be declared missing. Some of the girls might have died in the hands of their abductors, and some security personnel might have lost their lives in the course of rescuing the girls. We just need to improve on our security architecture.”

Fresh Promise

Undeterred by the bleak future, President Buhari, however promised not to forget the girls. He said: “Today marks five years since the abduction of our Chibok daughters. We have succeeded in bringing back 107 of them, but we will not rest until all the remaining girls are back and reunited with their families. I made this promise when I became President, and I will keep it.

We will never give up on our missing daughters, including Leah Sharibu; and all the other people held hostage by Boko Haram. In the last four years our security agencies have successfully rescued thousands of captives, and they will not relent until every captive is free. It gladdens our hearts to see the progress being made by the young women rescued from Boko Haram. We celebrate their courage & determination to defy the evil ideology of the terrorists, by continuing to pursue their education. There is no doubt that the world is inspired by them.

“I extend our best wishes to all the Chibok girls in various schools in Nigeria and around the world. Special congratulations to Kauna Yaga Bitrus, who has excelled in her college in Maine, USA, and will very soon be receiving an ‘Against All Odds Award’ from her school.”

While Buhari’s fresh promise may evoke hope for the bereaved parents, its fulfillment would actually be better. In essence, there are families that continue to hope against hope for the safe return of their daughters for five long years.