Will the Chibok Girls Ever Come Home?

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Chibok schoolgirls

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On Tuesday, April 14, the whole world remembers the plight of Chibok schoolgirls who have been in captivity of Boko Haram for one year with a message for the General Muhammadu Buhari incoming administration that the girls must not only be rescued but that security should also be improved all over the country to repel terrorist attacks

By Olu Ojewale  |  Apr. 27, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT  |

CERTAINLY, it was not the way the girls would have loved the day to be remembered. On Tuesday, April 14, emotions were high as the whole world joined Nigerians from different walks of life to call attention to the plight of hapless 219 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram, an Islamic sect, from Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, one year ago. Inability of the Nigerian government to rescue the schoolgirls whose, involuntary voyage into captivity now more a year ago has been of international concern.

Sadly, however, just like the captives, the whole world appears to be helpless to get them out of their trauma. Little wonder all the solidarity rallies held in remembrance of kidnapped girls across the globe were laden with emotions and apparent display of frustrations. Notwithstanding, from London, to New York; Paris to Denmark, Abuja and even, Lagos, the message was equivocal: #BringBackOurGirls.

Jonathan
Jonathan

In its campaign, the #BringBackOurGirls, BBOG, selected 219 children who served as ambassadors of the group and representing the 219 kidnapped girls in the Boko Haram den, on Tuesday, April 14, marched to the ministry of Education in Abuja, with a protest letter. The children drawn from different schools across the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, bore placards bearing the names of each of the missing schoolgirls as they marched to the ministry. Written on their red T-shirts were words such as “#365DaysOn” and “#NeverToBeForgotten.” Waving placards in their hands, the girls, christened #ChibokGirlsAmbassadors, spoke with tears as they expressed outrage that the Chibok were yet to found.

Chidi Odinkalu, chairman, National Human Rights Commission, led other human rights activists to accompany the BBOG leaders to the education ministry. On getting to the education ministry, both Ibrahim Shekarau, and Viola Onwuliri, minister of education and minister of state for Education, were not on hand to receive the BBOG girls as the gate to the ministry was locked, which kept them out for almost 30 minutes.  One Olutoun, a director of planning at the ministry, later addressed the girls through the gates. This drew the ire of Odinkalu who insisted that the gates could not be shut against the students, as they were Nigerian citizens.

Buhari
Buhari

The gates were later opened while Mohammed Bello, director of human resources at the ministry, who also introduced himself as the acting permanent secretary, received the protesters. Fielding questions from the protesters, Bello assured them that the government was doing its best through the security agencies to ensure that the Chibok schoolgirls were rescued and returned safely to their parents.

“We are concerned with anything that has to do with girls’ education, we are with you and will give you all the necessary support to ensure that the girls are found… If you have seen what has been happening in the last three weeks, you will know that sooner than later, we will get the girls back,” Bello said.

Odinkalu, who said that he was there as a parent, urged Nigerians to keep hope alive for the missing girls, as there was no evidence that they were dead. He, however, chided officials of the education ministry for the shoddy manner in which the protesting students were received. “This is an anniversary that no parent would wish for, not even for their enemies. When we came, we were locked out and people were afraid to see us. This is the Federal Republic of Nigeria and it is this country that unites us. The girls were abducted because they chose to write the exam in a certain part of the country.

“The only reason my child was not abducted was because he took the exam in another part of the country. Nigeria is changing, it is important for public officers to live up to their responsibilities. It is utterly offensive for public officers to lock us out of this building. We pay for this building.

Ezekwesili on #BringbackOurGirls campaign
Ezekwesili on #BringbackOurGirls campaign

“The next time we come here, receive us as Nigerians, receive these children as your children, because one day you would leave this office and you will reap what you have sown, the seed of irresponsibility. Never again should any child have to go through what these children are going through or what their parents are going through,” Odinkalu said.

In a message taken to the education ministry, the #BringBackOurGirls team called on the United Nations to deploy its relevant instruments to ensuring the prompt rescue of the Chibok girls and to improve the security situation in Nigeria. The group further pleaded with the UN to “escalate and process the request of the Chibok nation for the help of independent private investigators.”

The message which was contained in a statement by Oby Ezekwesili, leader of the team and a former minister of Education, was read on her behalf by Maureen Kabrick, a member of the group, after the conclusion of the procession by the #ChibokGirlsAmbassadors.

She said: “The UN should escalate and process the request of the Chibok nation for the help of independent private investigators. We call on world leaders and other members of the international community to reactivate their support for the #BringBackOurGirls cause and push it back as a prioritised discourse because the only logical closure to this issue would be when our girls have been brought back and insurgency becomes a thing of the past.” Kabrick said that as a non-partisan civic movement, the group would “continue to advocate and demand justice for our 219 Chibok girls (and) until our girls are rescued, our movement will not stop.”

Obama
Obama

Kabrick used the occasion to thank the global community, including Michelle Obama, United States first lady; Malala Yousafzai, world youngest Noble Peace Prize winner; Alicia Keys, a pop music star, and the media for their support and efforts in getting the girls released. She also commended General Muhammadu Buhari, president-elect, for his promise to do everything he could to rescue the girls.

Indeed, in his message on Tuesday, April 14, Buhari cautioned that he could not make promises on the return of all the 219 kidnapped schoolgirls. The president-elect, who takes office on May 29, stated in statement that there was a need for “honesty” in his new government’s approach to the girls’ abduction, with nothing seen or heard from the students since last May when they appeared in a Boko Haram video.

“We do not know if the Chibok girls can be rescued. Their whereabouts remain unknown. As much as I wish to, I cannot promise that we can find them. But I say to every parent, family member and friend of the children that my government will do everything in its power to bring them home,” Buhari said. His statement was apparently in contrast to that of outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan, who has repeatedly said the girls would be found, and the military, which said last year it knew where the teenagers were being held.

Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai

As a mark of solidarity with the group, parents and relatives of the abducted girls, Sean Hoy, ambassador of Ireland to Nigeria and Pobbel Gottermenn, his Danish counterpart, on Tuesday said their kidnapping was a terrible experience for any parent. The diplomats, who met with leaders of the BBOG group and some Chibok parents, expressed solidarity with the people of Nigeria, especially, parents of the abducted girls. “I came here today to give my own solidarity to the campaign. I also have daughters of my own, so I can feel a little bit of the pain the people here are feeling. “I have spoken to the organisers and some of the people from Chibok; we are just here to give our support.

“I can’t say that government’s inability to rescue the girls means weakness, because none of us have been able to go to the North-east, so how can we come into the situation when we don’t know what it is, it is very difficult, but the most important thing is to bring them back safely. It may take a little longer, but that they all return is the most important thing,” Hoy said.

On his part, Gotternmenn said that he felt for the girls and others who had abducted by the sect. “Denmark has been giving support to the internally displaced, we just paid about $2 million to organisations in Nigeria and outside of Nigeria to help IDPs from Nigeria,” he said.

Similaly, Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the United Nations, in a statement on Tuesday, April 14, again called for the immediate release of the schoolgirls. Ban promised that he would not give up in his campaign to ensure that the girls regained their freedom.

The UN secretary-general said it was abhorrent that Boko Haram were killing, abducting and recruiting children and using girls as suicide bombers. He said: “I also remain deeply concerned by the group’s repeated and cowardly attacks targeting schools, in grave violation of international humanitarian law. Going to school should not have to be an act of bravery. The children of north-eastern Nigeria and neighbouring countries must be allowed to live in peace and enjoy their right to a safe education.

Odinkalu
Odinkalu

“The legitimate response to Boko Haram’s attacks must be fully consistent with international law and not create additional risks for the protection of children. On this day, I reaffirm my support to the governments and peoples of the region in the fight against Boko Haram. I stand in solidarity with the families of all abductees, especially children, their communities and society at large.”

The United Kingdom and European Union also pledged their support and determination to work closely with the incoming administration of Buhari to restore peace and security to areas “blighted by conflict.” James Duddridge, the UK minister for Africa, said this in a statement issued Edward Dunn, press secretary in the British High Commission: “We must not forget the brutal abduction of 270 schoolgirls from Chibok one year ago today (Tuesday). My thoughts are with the victims of this terrible crime, their families and the thousands of other men, women and children abducted by Boko Haram in North-East Nigeria. There can be no justification for these abductions.

“The UK is supporting Nigeria and its neighbours in efforts to end the conflict and find those abducted. And we will work closely with Nigeria’s new government to restore security and prosperity to areas blighted by conflict.”

That assurance was further given an impetus by Sambo Dasuki, a retired colonel and the National Security Adviser, NSA, at one-year anniversary day that the federal government was making every effort to ensure that the girls along with every other Nigerian abducted by terrorists were rescued.

Dasuki
Dasuki

Speaking to PR Nigeria, a media advisory for security agencies, Dasuki also promised that Sambisa forest, the fortress of Boko Haram terrorists and one of their last remaining enclaves, would be stormed and liberated before the May 29 presidential hand-over date. “Right now, all Boko Haram camps, except Sambisa Forest have been destroyed… Every movement of the terrorists is being monitored and every necessary detail is being taken care of to rid the country of the last bastion of terrorists’ infestation,” Dasuki said.

Echoing Dasuki, Mike Omeri, director-general, National Orientation Agency, NOA, said on Wednesday, April 15, that the federal government remained resolute in finding and returning the schoolgirls to their respective homes. “Our intelligence indicates that the present military operation is focused in the area (Sambisa) where the girls are believed to be held,” Omeri said.

Rescuing the schoolgirls is one thing that will delight everyone across the globe, but maintaining security and safety of Nigerians is another. Reports from the North-East of the country have shown that most of the internally displaced persons, IDP, could still not be able to return to their homes. Lives and properties were still wantonly destroyed by the Islamic terrorists, especially in remote parts of the states. Indeed, Pogu Bitrus, national chairman of Chibok Community Association, said the situation in the North-East was very frightful for ordinary people. He claimed that majority of people living in the region could no longer move freely even in the recaptured areas. “People cannot still go to their farms or to work or do inter-city journey without being afraid of what can happen to them. Even where they notice the presence of insurgence, they cannot give information for fear of being attack by Boko Haram. So, there is no peace. People are not living as they should, free of intimidation and harassment,” he said.

Tsav
Tsav

This, perhaps, was why the United States expressed concerns about the security situation in the country. John Kerry, the US secretary of State, recently predicted that the new government in Nigeria might face the challenge of protecting its citizens against terrorism threats. Kerry made the assertion in a statement by the African Regional Media Hub of the United States Department of State on, April 14, in Lagos. The statement quoted Kerry as making the prediction after signing a Memorandum of Cooperation to support disease control and prevention in Africa with the African Union, AU, in Washington D.C. “One of the principal challenges facing the new government in Abuja will be that of protecting Nigerian citizens from the terrorism threat. The US endorses the effort by the AU and its partners to establish a multinational taskforce to halt Boko Haram’s campaign within and beyond Nigeria’s borders. We will also continue generally to help African governments to improve their counter-terrorism and border security capabilities,’’ the statement stated.

For Nigeria to improve its counter-terrorism and secure its borders, Abubakar Tsav, retired police commissioner, wants the in-coming administration to do everything within its power to rescue the Chibok schoolgirls and embark on massive recruitment into the Nigeria Police. Tsav reasoned that Boko Haram had succeeded so far because the nation lacked adequate policing. “The number of (police) is grossly inadequate. The United Nations requirement is that there should be one policeman to 400 civilians but we have not attained that yet. With the small number of police we have, some of them are used as security guards, escorts and for all sorts of domestic use. My advice is that we have a lot of school leavers roaming about the streets who can be trained as policemen and women. They can be used to provide intelligence that will help to forestall the kind of insurgence the nation is dealing with now,” Tsav said. Besides, he would want the police to have more independence to do its work without interference from politicians, but the former police boss doesn’t agree that the nation is ripe for state police. He told Realnews: “This would have been the best time to have state police; all over the world that is the practice, but our politicians are not mature enough. They will use state police to attack and dismantle their opponents.”

Ekpe-Juda
Ekpe-Juda

While Ebongabasi Ekpe-Juda, a security expert, would like to agree that politicians could abuse their powers by using state police to their own advantage, he argued that the country is ripe for state police and that there should no further delay. “The number of Nigeria police is generally poor. We need to recruit more police. Members of the APC government that is coming in have been talking about state police; this is the time to implement it. Let each state have its own police, even local governments so that they can combat crimes and provide effective security. People have said before that we were not ripe for state judiciary but today we have state judiciaries that are functioning. In the same light, let us have state police and allow federal police to have overriding authority over state police,” Ekpe-Juda said.

In any case, Ekpe-Juda expects Buhari, as retired general, who has fought wars before and dealt with Matasine insurgence in Maiduguri before would be in the best position to deal with Boko Haram. “He must deal with Boko Haram as fast as possible. December must not meet Boko Haram in this country. Whatever he needs to do to connect with other countries to deal with Boko Haram should be done immediately because Jonathan failed woefully on that score. Jonathan asked for six weeks to deal with the insurgence, whether he achieves that or not Buhari should continue wherever Jonathan government stops and set this country free from the Boko Haram mess,” he said.

The security expert would also want Nigeria to ignore the US prediction that the incoming administration could be bodged down with security issue. Ekpe-Juda told Realnews: “The US can afford to be pessimistic but we in Nigeria are optimistic. If Jonathan who was lacklustre could do what he did in six weeks, I believe a trained soldier like Buhari can do better. I expect Buhari to do better and put this thing behind us once and for all.”

In any case, Onyekachi Ubani, a lawyer and former chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, believes that the Jonathan administration, has not disclosed everything it knows about the kidnap of Chibok schoolgirls. “It is worrisome that there are many complicities about the Chibok girls. But I don’t want us to use the issue of Chibok girls to put pressure on the incoming administration. We should allow it some time to put things in place security-wise that will benefit the whole country. We all want a peaceful and secured country to live in. So, I expect the Buhari administration to hit the ground running to fulfil all its electoral promises especially in the area of security. He knows what to do,” Ubani said.

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