The nation is awaiting the return of the remaining schoolgirls

Last Friday marked the ninth anniversary of the violent abduction of 276 girls from Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, by Boko Haram insurgents. While 57 of the girls were able to escape from their captors, 16 were later rescued and 107 have at different times been released through negotiations. With 96 of the girls still unaccounted for, Amnesty International has reminded the federal government of its obligation to their traumatised parents.  

As we have repeatedly pointed out on this page, giving up on the remaining Chibok girls cannot be an option for any self-respecting society. While they may have been away for so long, it can never be too late to bring them back home. In a vibrant country such as ours, the issue of citizens in distress should always be on the front burner of public discourse. Nigerians also need the assurance that the federal government has the capacity to defend them as they go about their lawful pursuits within the country.   

When the mass abduction occurred on 14th April 2014, there was global outrage with a series of protests under the hashtag, Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) launched in Abuja. Demand for the rescue of the girls resonated in a manner never seen before. World leaders, first ladies, human rights activists, renowned journalists, international organisations, and the ordinary people, joined the global advocacy for their rescue. The Safe Schools Initiative was also launched in Abuja to build community security groups that would promote safe zones for education, consisting of teachers, parents, police, and community leaders. “We cannot stand by and see schools shut down, girls cut off from their education and parents in fear of their daughters’ lives,” said former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, then UN Special Envoy on Education at the launch.   

Unfortunately, the idea has since been abandoned despite the billions of Naira initially invested in it. And in the last nine years, options in the effort to rescue the remaining Chibok girls have ranged from outright military action to negotiations. It was not until January 2017 when there was a breakthrough with the release of the first batch comprising 21 girls. Four months later, another set comprising 82 of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls were released following a collaboration between the Department of State Services (DSS) and the military, as well as the Swiss government and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The fact that thousands of students (mostly female) have since been abducted in several other attacks on schools by gunmen seems to have normalized this most heinous crime.  

As we therefore remember the remaining Chibok girls, concerns by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) over growing attacks on schoolchildren in Nigeria should be taken seriously by the authorities. In recent years, repeated attacks on schools have created fear in many vulnerable students and their parents, especially in some sections of the country and is affecting the attitude to education. This bodes ill for the country. When a school is under attack and students become targets, according to Manuel Fotaine, a senior UNICEF official, “not only are their lives shattered, but the future of the nation is also stolen.”    

In a democracy, freedom remains the most fundamental right. That freedom is diminished for as long as there is a citizen held in captivity. Besides, the value of every life is the ultimate measure of a nation’s sovereign integrity and democratic credentials. The global solidarity demonstrated in the wake of the abductions nine years ago is ample evidence of our shared humanity. That explains why we cannot as a country afford to give up on the remaining girls. 

For sure, the political landscape of the country has changed since their abduction. But that is cold comfort for their parents who continue to keep hope alive that their children would be rescued from wherever they are and be brought back home alive. The remaining 96 Chibok girls have been away for such a long time. The authorities must locate their whereabouts and rescue them.   

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