The Chibok Girls: Three Years in Bondage
Jibrin Ibrahim, Deepening Democracy Column, Daily Trust, 14th April 2017
No one expected that the Chibok Girls would remain in bondage for so long but sad\y that is where we are. Today is the third anniversary of the abduction of 276 girls from their school in Chibok. Since then, 81 girls have returned, mostly through the ingenuity of the girls themselves and 21 of them through a process of negotiation done by the Federal Government. In the seven days of the countdown to this anniversary, the Bring Back Our Girls Movement has among other activities organised a workshop on the imperative of having a coherent public policy response to missing persons in the country. There are simply too many people that are abducted, kidnapped or go missing and we do not even have a register to track then, nor do we have a mechanism to systematically search for, and if necessary liberate missing Nigerians. Today as always, we express our concern about the 195 Chibok girls that are still in bondage. We have the same concern for every single person whose liberty has been violated by kidnapping and we say that that the Nigerian State must wake up to its responsibility of security provisioning for all of us.
Since the 30th of April 2014 march to the National Assembly, the #BringBackOurGirls movement has steadfastly sustained a daily sit-out at the Unity Fountain and other places. This commitment is unpatrolled in our history. Some members of the movement have been engaged in this mobilisation every single day for the past three years. The movement has remained strong because it has a very strong leadership composed of committed people who sacrifice their time, intellect and resources to sustain the struggle. Today, I would like to salute this selfless leadership, in particular, Oby Ezekwesili, Aisha Yesufu, Maureen Kabruk, Hosea Abana, Aisha Oyebode, Ayo Obe, Emman Shehu, Bukky Shonibaire and many others not cited here. I would also like to express my gratitude to Cardinal Onaikan and Ustaz Khalid who have not only provided spiritual support, but also led many of the marches organised by the movement, including the march to Aso Rock this week. I really appreciate the roles played by these great leaders because I have not been able to sustain my own daily personal engagement so I know what it takes. The fact of the matter is that this movement is inventing a new form of civil society in Nigeria that is not focused on seeking grants and holding meetings in hotels. It's a new form of engagement that recaptures the genuineness of original civil society in which actors are not doing a job but simply devoting their time, energy and resources to a cause that they believe in and are deeply committed to.
My message to the Government continues to be enough is enough, rescue the girls, stamp out terrorism and allow Nigeria return to normalcy. I have seen the irritation of some people in Government that the movement is harassing the President. Yes, citizens have the absolute right to demand of their President that he does his job and secures the liberation of these Nigerians placed in bondage by terrorist. I can confidently assure President Buhari that we will continue to harass him until he does the needful and gets his Government to secure the release of the girls and all other abducted Nigerians.
I am aware that the Government has made considerable progress in the struggle against the insurgency. In December 2016, camp zero in Sambisa forest, the veritable world headquarters of the Islamic State in West Africa was taken by the gallant armed forces of Nigeria. 1,240 Boko Haram fighters were taken prisoners following the operation and reports at the time indicated that the flag of Abubakar Shekau was recovered after he had apparently fled the area. The war against Boko Haram, which was announced to have technically ended in December 2015 was supposed to have really ended in December 2016. It has however not ended and the cost has been very high. At least 15 million people have been directly affected by the insurgency. So many officers and men of Nigeria's armed forces and over 20,000 civilians have lost their lives. Millions of people in the North East have been displaced within and outside the country. Today, hundreds of thousands of people in the affected zone are facing severe malnutrition and even starvation could be on the horizon.
The Boko Haram movement is not dead yet and it is changing its tactics to hit and run isolated communities, travellers and security posts. A report just published by UNICEF draws attention to the fact that in the first three months of this year, 27 children, most of them girls have been used by the movement to bomb and kill innocent people. The have developed methods to indoctrinate or drug the children to kill themselves and others. Over the last three years, 117 children have been used as bomb detonators and the pace of such action has been accelerated. Favourite places of attacks have been motor parks, markets and mosques. The State and communities must do more to stop such atrocities.
The common wisdom in Nigeria is that Boko Haram should never have developed the military capacity to carry out the mayhem and atrocities it has carried out against the Nigerian people. It should have been destroyed and mopped up when it was still a rag tag group of insurgents. Through the nonchalant attitude of the previous administration and massive corruption that made it difficult for the armed forces to carry out its tasks at the time, Boko Haram developed strong military capabilities, mainly from our army, occupied and kept significant Nigerian territory leading to its declaration of a Caliphate. We are today turning the page as their capacity to take and keep territory has been degraded but they remain a killing machine.
Sambisa has fallen but the majority of the Chibok Girls have still not be found and liberated. For a long time, the expectation was that they had been kept captive in the forest and the liberation of the forest would lead to their freedom. Today, three years after their capture and bondage by Boko Haram, Nigerians and the international community continue to repeat the demand for their search and rescue. The Chibok Girls have remained one of the top concerns for the entire world as a statement of what should not happen. Girls must not be captured and enslaved simply because they went to do to school to acquire knowledge. It had been assumed that slavery was abolished two centuries ago so it was a real shock to see a movement openly proclaiming that it had enslaved human beings. It was for that reason that the whole world had been demanding from the Nigerian Government to #BringBackOurGirls. The attitude of the Jonathan Administration was that they did not care about these particular citizens. The Buhari Administration came into office with a singular determination to crush the Boko Haram insurgency. Success has taken them much longer than they had anticipated. Their first challenge was to recreate a fighting force from an army that was already used to two forms of action only - corruption and running away from the war front. We must commend the President, the Armed Forces High Command and our troops for building back the capacity of our forces to the level where it could begin to fight again.
I recall that at the beginning of the struggle for the liberation of the Chibok Girls, we had gone to the Defence Headquarters to demand why no action was being taken to rescue the girls. The response we got from the military high command was that the Nigerian armed forces had not received new military assets since the Shagari regime of 1079-1983 and were not in a position to fight the insurgents. Following the probe of the $2.1 billion arms procurement allocation squandered by the Jonathan Administration, we now know that a lot of money was released to the armed forces for arms procurement but that most of the money was simply stolen. My prayers today are that the struggle against the insurgents should continue until all those captured by them are found and liberated. Chibok for me has always been a signifier for all those placed into bondage by the insurgency. The girls became important as the global symbol for the defence of the dignity and sanctity of human life; of the girl child, of women, of the right to education and for defending all those that are oppressed. It is for this reason that all those placed into bondage by the insurgents must be liberated by the Nigerian State.
Professor Jibrin Ibrahim
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