There has been an extremely positive outcome of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign so far. It has placed the question of why the Nigerian State is not doing the work the Constitution stipulates – providing for the welfare and security of Nigerians on the table. Over three hundred girls were abducted from their school in Chibok and for three weeks, the State did nothing. In addition, the State made it clear it was focused on the World Economic Forum for Africa, which I am told is an extremely important event. It took the world to scream at President Jonathan and the armed and security forces that the lives of hundreds of Nigerians matter even more and the State should do its work, wake up, search and rescue the girls.
I heard a woman interviewed on BBC Hausa Service about security agencies in Kaduna deploying massive weaponry to stop the #BringBackOurGirls rally at Murtala Mohammed Square in Kaduna. She wished that the weapons had been deployed to Borno State to fight the terrorists rather than unarmed citizens in Kaduna. Indeed, it was difficult to understand the deployment of armed personnel carriers to stop unarmed citizens meeting to ask their State and Government to rescue the girls while an arsenal is yet to be sent to the armed terrorists who abducted the girls. When Hilary Clinton last Wednesday castigated the Government of President Goodluck Jonathan for being “derelict in its responsibility of protecting Nigerians”, she was referring to this attitude of allowing the enemies continue their activity and dealing with the citizens who need the welfare and security their State should provide for them.
In Abuja, the #BringBackOurGirls participants arrived at Maitama Amusement Park on 8th May to find that the gate has been padlocked to keep us out on the orders of security operatives. It was an astonishing move because we had chosen a secluded place so that we would not be accused of trying to draw attention away from the famous World Economic Summit for Africa event. We affirmed our right to meet as citizens living in a democracy and proceeded to do our sitting by the roadside. Yesterday, after all the important VIPs that came for the Summit had returned to their countries, we decided to resume our siting at the Unity Fountain. The place was surrounded by a massive deployment of armed policemen with a mission to stop the sitting of unarmed citizens. But then, citizenship is becoming real in Nigeria and the sitting is our right. We sat.
The fact of the matter is that over the past one week, Government has been acting precisely because of the pressure we are creating. They set up a fact finding committee, sent the National Security Adviser and Service Chiefs to Chibok to find out what happened and agreed to ask for help from foreign governments to find the girls. It is the most tragic narrative about the Nigerian State than nothing would have happened had our campaign to #BringBackOurGirls not had so much resonance at the national and international levels. The girls would just have been left to the fate of slavery that their captors have announced was their fate. They would have suffered the fate of hundreds of other girls who had been captured previously and left to their fate.
Meanwhile, the Director of Defence Information of the Defence Headquarters, Major-General Olukolade has been working at an incredible pace saying to the world that our armed forces have the capacity to rescue the girls. For our part, we believed they had the capacity, which was why we had been telling them to bring them back. We visited him and his team on a mission of constructive engagement between the DHQ and civil society on Tuesday. After the visit, he issued a statement alleging that we distorted our report on the meeting ostensibly to pitch public opinion against the armed forces and to project the Nigerian military in bad light and further heat-up the polity. The release further claimed that we were trying to drag the military into politics.
In our response to him, we stated unequivocally that our objectives were and remain to engage the military constructively to seek pathways towards achieving the collective objecting of bringing back our girls. We had also faithfully reported what he told us to our members. That ttroops are effectively deployed on the ground, are making steady progress in the efforts to rescue the girls and the results of their efforts will soon become apparent. That the operation is difficult and delicate and to avoid providing vital information to the enemy, they have been discrete about their activities. And that iintelligence is a vital part of asymmetrical warfare and all citizens should commit to feeding accurate and useful information to our security agencies.
The fact of the matter is that we are a single-issue coalition without any political, religious, ethnic or regional dimensions to our struggle. Far from seeking to undermine the efforts of the military, we are determined to enhance it and make it more robust and effective. Our concerns about the lack of results so far were aimed at motivating the military to more effective action. The military however needs to justify citizen’s support by turning their weapons on the terrorists and not on unarmed civilians.
We started our campaign because weeks after the abduction, there was still no substantive newsfeed or public evidence that something was being done to rescue the girls. We queried the military because there was no protection for these children in schools in the North East in spite of the advance warning derived from the devastation and pain of the 59 innocent children murdered in Federal Government College, Buni Yadi on February 25th 2014. We questioned the military because we found it strange that under a state of emergency, a large convoy of trucks, vehicles and motor bikes could be deployed, move in a convoy, unleash terror on the school at Chibok for four hours unchallenged and then flee with about 300 girls to a location yet to be determined by Nigeria’s security institutions. Finally, as citizens we need to ask for explanations of why, despite the massive increase in security spending (up to N1 trillion in 2013 and N845 Billion in 2014), Nigerians are not safer. Our armed forces need to know that is the type of things that that citizens do in a democracy.
This week, Graça Machel, Mandela’s widow sent a poignant letter to the abducted Chibok girls. As she put it “I decided to break the restrictions of my mourning because silence is not an option. I know however, that Madiba will understand and approve.” Her message to the girls was moving – “We send them waves of love and comfort, to warm their hearts and dry their tears. We pray for them and look forward to the day when they will embrace their parents and families at home. We send them waves of energy to keep their inner selves strong and resilient. When the dark night in the forest is overwhelming, they must lift their eyes to the sky. The stars are watching over them. They must not lose hope and they must not succumb to fear and despair, even in the most adverse of circumstances they find themselves in.” If only our own Government could show similar love and concern for the Chibok girls.
Graça Machel also had a powerful message for Government: “It is government’s first and foremost responsibility to protect its citizens, and keep them safe. If the world can mobilise all the means possible to search for a plane carrying 239 passengers, certainly it can also mobilise the means to find our girls. They deserve nothing less. We want to see the same resolve, commitment and focus from the Nigerian government, African governments and of course those governments who have the capacity and resources to save our girls.” We @ #BringBackOurGirls can only say thank you our mummy.
I will conclude with the message from Rev Enoch Mark gave us at the Abuja rally on Friday. His daughters, one 20 and the other 18 years old, were abducted from Chibok. He affirmed that the issue was not religious. Boko Haram, he explained was out to destroy everybody, Muslim or Christian, who is not a member of their group. By their action, they are uniting Nigerians and creating a bond that will keep the country together. He concluded that he is so encouraged by the solidarity of all for their cause that he will be able to eat and sleep that night. The Nigerian State should realize that the Nigerian people are uniting around the need to rescue these girls and the emerging movement is one of state building and nation building around the principle that the State exercises its power to promote the welfare and security of citizens.