By Levi Obijiofor
After a few weeks of vigorous and emotional international and national protests over the abduction of more than 230 female students from Chibok, Borno state, everyone seems to have forgotten about the unfortunate students. How could we forget so soon? The international community and civil society groups seem to have eased their pressure on the government and the security agencies to find and free the girls from their kidnappers.
Rescuing the Chibok school girls was always going to be difficult as it took the government nearly three weeks after the event to acknowledge that some female secondary school students had indeed been kidnapped in Borno State by Boko Haram terrorists. The longer it took the government and security forces to respond, the more entrenched the abductors became. The moment the girls were taken and dispersed in the notorious Sambisa forest and Gwoza mountains, the parents knew it would take a very long time before they could be united with their children, if ever that would happen.
The lull that followed two weeks of active campaigns for the release of the girls suggests that the nation and the international community have abandoned the girls to their worst fate. The frequency of the protests and the number of people who participate in the campaigns have gone down significantly. This has prompted the question: Where next from here? Weeks of vigorous placard waving and yelling in the streets have not achieved the goals outlined by the campaign organisers.
Offers of assistance from world leaders such as President Barack Obama of the United States, David Cameron of Britain, Israeli and Chinese leaders, not to forget a coterie of African leaders initially seemed to signal the beginning of the end for Boko Haram terrorists. So far, nothing has happened. Despite the military and technological superiority of the countries that have offered assistance to President Goodluck Jonathan, including their intelligence gathering capability, the abducted girls remain in the custody of their kidnappers.
Jonathan’s determination to rescue the school girls is now under scrutiny. Last month, he said he would not sleep until the girls have been found and returned safely to their parents. How many times since that statement has Jonathan forfeited his sleep?
Jonathan’s critics have pointed to his haphazard response to the abduction of the schoolgirls. Since the girls were kidnapped, Jonathan has made many statements that are in conflict with one another. We must acknowledge that Boko Haram poses a major security challenge. However, Jonathan has been criticised many times also because of his failure to provide unambiguous leadership and his failure to show courage.
After Boko Haram terrorists attacked the students in Chibok, Borno state, and took away more than 230 girls on 14 April 2014, Jonathan did not respond as forcefully as you would expect a political leader. Rather than go after Boko Haram kidnappers, the government kept quiet for more than two weeks. Owing to that inaction, the kidnappers took all the time to move the school girls into different locations, making it difficult for soldiers to find and rescue the students without bloodshed.
Some activists have queried why the government kept quiet and refused to respond nearly three weeks since the girls were forcefully taken from their school. As the nation watched in disbelief at government’s apathy, the international community and civil society groups at home began to coalesce in the quest to find the girls. The campaign also received further impetus from social media.
There is no doubt that social media helped to draw national and international attention to the abduction of the school girls. Some world leaders such as Barack Obama of the United States and David Cameron of Britain were at the vanguard of global pressure to find and free the abducted school girls. There were also other media and movie stars who added to the international profile of the campaign.
In the early days of the formation of the “Bring back our girls” movement, Abuja was turned into a carnival ground of sorts by women activists, as well as political and human rights campaigners who displayed placards on which were written catchphrases such as “Bring back our girls”, “Bring our daughters home”, and “Free our girls”.
This is as much a query to the federal government as it is a question directed to civil society. Where is the campaign headed to after more than 70 days during which the school girls have been in captivity? Why has government failed to furnish the nation with regular updates in regard to the condition of the girls, the efforts to secure their freedom, and the progress made by security forces to overwhelm Boko Haram militants and their leaders? Is the international community still committed to helping the government to find and free the abducted girls? What level of support has the government received from friendly foreign governments?
Everyone, the government and civil society, has an obligation to assist in the battle to free the girls. It should not be a case of out of sight, out of mind. This is a national scandal. The idea that a group of school girls could be seized from their school premises and taken as prisoners by a terrorist organisation for more than two months defies our sense of decency. The government has not shown that it has an obligation to protect the life and property of every Nigerian citizen. More than 230 Nigerian schoolgirls are languishing in detention within the territory of Nigeria. Yet, the combined force of Nigerian soldiers and intelligence community has not been able to locate or free the girls.
Can anyone still refer to Nigeria as the giant of Africa, in any sense whatsoever? Things we never contemplated are happening in the country. A terrorist organisation has defied the philosophy of national unity to mock the government and the people of Nigeria. In a united Nigeria, people should be free to live and do business in any part of the country without being targeted, hunted and killed like animals merely because of their religious beliefs, their ethnic origins and their political philosophy.
Boko Haram is doing everything possible to divide Nigeria by force. Politicians who are close to Boko Haram, including religious and traditional rulers who hail from the northern part of the country, continue to condemn Boko Haram activities but the terror organisation continues to treat everyone with contempt, except, of course, all those traitors who provide financial support and intelligence to the violent organisation.
Let’s get this point clear. The Chibok girls did not commit any crime to justify their abduction. Nothing will ever justify the brazen abduction of teenage schoolgirls. The students were taken away forcibly, against their free will. Whatever happens, whether or not the Chibok girls gain their freedom sooner or later, it is the obligation of civil society to keep the fire of the campaign raging. The outrage expressed by the international community and world leaders against the abduction of the Chibok school girls must be seen as anger directed also at our society.
Levi Obijiofor teaches journalist at The University of Queensland, Australia.