For over two months, security agencies have harassed and sought to intimidate our movement incessantly. The latest was the statement yesterday accredited to the Deputy Director of Department of State Security, Mrs. Marilyn Ogar who described the #BringBackOurGirls campaign as a franchise. She made the comment in Abuja while responding to questions from journalists at the press briefing of the National Information Centre (NIC). This is a dangerous and unprecedented attack because as is well known in security circles, the term “franchise” is used to refer to inter-related terrorist cells. She is reported to have said that if indeed our movement “was a protest group it would not need to force members to register and wear tags.”
Mrs. Ogar also affirmed “security forces know about all the activities of the group. We know that they have a bank account,” she said. “We know that they visit prominent individuals to solicit funds; we know that they have split themselves into groups; we know that they want to simulate a protest march in Abuja to make it look like they went to Chibok.” There is a clear attempt to smear our work with a link our work with Chibok and Sambisa forest. It is clear from these comments that the security agencies are setting up the movement for a crackdown based on trumped up accusations.
Our activities are open and our meetings are in a public space, the Unity Fountain. There is no compulsion to membership and our symbols such as the red t-shirts, face caps and pins are donated voluntarily be members. We are motivated by empathy and the need to search and rescue these girls. We are shocked that all we get from our security agencies is harassment, vilification, innuendoes and threats. This must stop. Security agencies have the responsibility to protect rather than intimidate citizens trying to do a good turn.
It will be recalled that on 8th May, the Director of Defence Information of the Defence Headquarters had alleged that we distorted the report of what was for us constructive engagement with them two days previously. He claimed that we were trying 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. The statement by Mrs. Ogar yesterday was escalating this accusation to a higher level.
We wish to state unequivocally that our objectives were and remain to engage constituted authority in Nigeria and our security agencies as allowed by our Constitution. We are simply engaged in civic action that is constructively seeking pathways towards achieving what we consider to be the collective objective of bringing back our girls.
For the avoidance of doubt, we have always been and remain a single-issue coalition without any political, religious, ethnic or regional dimensions to our struggle. We are conscious of our rights and responsibilities as citizens and we are exercising them to remind government of their own responsibilities to provide security to citizens and rescue those in distress. We cannot be stopped from exercising our citizenship rights through intimidation. Far from seeking to undermine the efforts of the security agencies, we seek to enhance it and make it more robust and effective. Our concerns about the lack of results so far, 87 days after these girls have been abducted, are aimed at motivating the security agencies to more effective action.
Finally, rather than see our civic action calling on the government and its security agencies to do their work as enemy action, we urge them to take action against the real enemies who are the terrorists who have abducted and kept in captivity for almost three months over two hundred innocent Nigerian girls.
Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, a transparency advocate, was one-time cabinet minister in Nigeria and lately a Vice President at the World Bank; and Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman is coordinator of the #BringBackOurGirls Movement. They jointly wrote and sent this statement from Abuja.