Then the #BringBackOurGirls demonstrations started back in April this year, many of those who joined up came out with the sincerity of concerned citizens; unlike the Occupy Nigeria protests and labour unions’ demonstrations, for the first time it was about speaking up and out against what happened to the other, acknowledging that if I do not speak up tomorrow it could be me. Nigerians were coming out to demand for the release of over 200 young girls from a remote local government in North Eastern Borno, unheard of by many prior to the abductions.
Fuelled by the inaction over the senseless murder of dozens of school boys in Buni Yadi and the hundreds that have and continue to be abducted, maimed, and killed for no apparent reason or cause; Nigerians were angry, Nigerians were tired, Nigerians were exercising their rights to freedom of expression, freedom to assemble freely, and freedom of movement as laid out in the Constitution of the Federal Republic. They were demanding for accountability for the government to carry out its constitutional responsibility to protect and secure the welfare of each and every citizen of this great nation. They were demanding for social change, and action against the injustice and lack of concern demonstrated after the abductions. Then the unpredictable happened, and the world stood up for us; from politicians to superstars, from renowned activists to the ordinary citizen, across the world people were screaming #BringBackOurGirls!
And then it finally caught the attention our leadership, who even questioned that the kidnappings actually happened in the first place. BBOG’s perseverance led to the acknowledgement and eventual meeting with the Chibok community and some of the girls who escaped. Yet instead of acknowledging the efforts of these brave citizens, they are labelled as ‘psychological terrorists’. An accusation that is so wrong on so many levels, not only because it is simply baseless and unjustifiable but because it is discourteous to every citizen that supports and sympathises with the cause.
Violence be it physical or verbal is still violence and violent words and accusations only fuels rancour and animosity. When statements come out from the highest most respectable office of the nation it should reflect the character of that office. A successful government is one that listens to its citizens and gives them priority over all else. The way it engages with the population shows its capacity and level of sophistication. Using violent communication only reveals a dearth in communication and leadership skills. The objective of BBOG’s advocacy and its daily sit outs have been questioned and the nonchalant attitude of ‘nothing being achieved – they will get tired and go home’ has been nurtured through criticism and reproach.
Yet despite the accusations and name calling, despite the denunciations and threats these citizens continue to come out. Time and time again the BBOG advocacy group has proved that it is a non-violent citizen movement with a singular purpose – to get those innocent girls rescued – a justified cause by any standards. It has responded by continuing its advocacy through various means including its daily sit outs which openly welcome anyone and everyone who sympathises with the issue; demonstrating a level transparency that has become rare in our current society. Every day before commencing, citizens pray for the nation: Oh God of creation, direct our noble cause, guide our leaders right, help the youth the truth to know…to build a nation where peace and justice shall reign”.
And through its relentlessness, this open group has raised unprecedented awareness on an issue that otherwise would just have been swept under the rug like others before it. These Nigerian citizens have not gone home, have refused to go home, will not go home come rain or shine until something is done. This is a new breed of Nigerians who have chosen to persevere against all odds because they are simply tired of the status quo. I deserve better, they deserve better, we all deserve better.
Therefore instead of challenging it and labelling them as the opposition and critics of the government, they should be embraced and applauded for their courage. BBOG has shown the capacity, resilience, and tenacity of Nigerians to not only endure difficulties, but to stand up for each other and be a brother’s keeper; a concept that is woven into the very fabric of African cultures – the spirit of Ubuntu, I am because we are – putting aside religion, ethnicity or tribe or any other affiliation which unfortunately is becoming increasing alien to the current Nigerian psyche.
An open advocacy group like BBOG and others that will spring up having being inspired by this one is a step in the right direction towards carving a course for a new Nigeria. And each and every person who has shown solidarity particularly those who come out every day against all odds and despite other commitments should be commended for standing for our collective humanity.
BBOG has shown that there are still Nigerians who believe in a new Nigeria and if there is anything that they should be accused of, it should be of being ‘Peaceful Warriors’. Because BBOG is certainly not about one person, it is about over 200 innocent girls from Chibok and every innocent child, woman and man that has suffered in the hands of the insurgents and from violence. It is not about selfish interests, it is about our shared humanity, it is about empathy and the compassion that we should have towards one another. It’s about sincerity, discipline and sacrifice and the optimism that there is hope in humanity, that we have been created into peoples and nations so that we may get to know one another, and that our diversity unites us first as Human beings and then as Nigerians. It is not about politics, it is about integrity and upholding moral and ethical principles, it is about the conviction to stand for what is right and the respect we should have for one another despite our differences.
And most certainly it is not about criticizing the government or our leadership. It is about being Nigerian and pledging our allegiance to our country “to be faithful, loyal and honest. To serve Nigeria will all our strength, to defend her unity, uphold her honour and glory, so help us God”!
Fatima Kyari Mohammed is a peace advocate and development consultant. She is currently a senior expert with West Africa Conflict and Security (WACAS) She is also co-founder and coordinator of the LikeMinds Project, Nigeria (www.likemindsproject.org).