Why they are still missing three years later
The tragedy that befell the nation three years ago is evergreen. Months and years down the line, the world still grapples with the question of what exactly transpired that night of April 14, 2016; and those who doubt the abduction still scrounge for some shred of sane detail that would jolt them out of their rationality. Unfortunately, the division of minds meant a lack of convergence, affecting the unified force we, as citizens, could have had in raising our voices, strongly, for these innocent victims of our systemic failure.
A critical look at the last three years points to why our girls are still missing. One would recall how the initial news of the abduction was denied, leading to a complete inaction, while the insurgents gained time to move our girls as far as is safe for them to have an upper hand. When the abduction was finally acknowledged, it was accompanied with a lie that our girls had been found, save for eight, which the Chibok community rebuffed. Although a Presidential fact-finding committee was constituted 18 days after the abduction, the Report of the committee, submitted 66 days after, was thought to be a roadmap to finding our girls. Sadly, the politicization of the issue was advantageous to the insurgents making the Nigerian government exceed the 48-hour window that security experts advise as crucial to successful rescue operations. Not even the fathers who tracked the insurgents, armed with their bows and arrows, could recover their daughters.
The ‘proof of life’ video released on April 13, 2016, showing 15 of our Chibok girls, was a long-awaited confirmation. While some still believed the video was staged, the return of Amina Ali Nkeki on May 19, 2016 was another breakthrough. On October 13, 2016, successful negotiations secured the release of 21 of our girls, and that’s been the highest number recovered till date. On November 5, 2016 and January 5, 2017, Maryam Ali Maiyanga and Rakiya Gali Abubakar, respectively, found their way near home. Yet, we sustain the advocacy, while commemorating milestones, backed with hashtags that capture our expectations – #NeverToBeForgotten (first year); #HopeEndures (second year); and #3YearsTooLong (third year) – hoping it’s the last. Our work is unfinished until our girls are back!
My recent visits to Chibok shows that more work needs to be done, especially for a community that has gained global spotlight. For instance, the complete rebuilding and reopening of Government Secondary School, Chibok, where our girls were abducted from, is long overdue. Also, renovation of all schools in Chibok to a standard that encourages uptake of education and delivery of quality learning, would be an action in the right direction. Ensuring the access roads to and from Chibok are repaired and more secure would boost economic activities in the area; including provision of basic amenities – electricity, health care services, and so on.
While acknowledging government’s efforts in securing release of 11 per cent of our Chibok girls since their abduction three years ago; as well as the rescue of thousands of abductees while decimating the insurgent group, it is however clear, that the journey to the end of this eight-years-and-running insurgency seem far off. When asked, Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, reiterated the fact that negotiations are ongoing, while hoping for success. However, for parents who wait in agony, this promise must be attended to with utmost urgency and unwavering commitment, so that another parent would not die of heart attack before our girls are brought home.
This required hastiness is especially more important considering the recent increase in the recruitment, radicalization, and deployment of children by Boko Haram. According to a new UNICEF report, there is now a 200 per cent increase in the use of children as suicide bombers, with 27 children deployed in the first quarter of 2017 alone; against nine during the same period in 2016, and 30 altogether in 2016. These anticipated quickened actions from our government, must be backed with continuous effective communication with relevant stakeholders, so that the silence that seem to now be the order of the day (except when an event occurs), is not construed as an outright neglect of our girls. We should also not forget updates on the welfare of the 24 rescued girls. It is dangerous to leave the public to guesses, assumptions, or individual permutations in periods like this, as such fosters untrue narratives, unconfirmed reports, and misdirected actions.
Hence, while Nigerians pray, and parents keep hope alive, added to a sustained advocacy, there’s some ray of light from three corners: ongoing military actions, negotiations, or a combination of both. Leading this is primarily that of the Nigerian government, backed by the international community.
A critical analysis of how the 24 girls returned is a pointer to the best option. The three escaped girls retuned singularly at different times with a 6-month interval between the first two, and a two-month gap between the second and the third. A geometric progressive analysis of this, even though lacking a clearly articulated pattern, shows that should we leave our girls to escape one after another, we would wait for donkey years before we have the remaining 195 girls. However, since a single successfully negotiated deal produced 21 girls, more of such deals would bring our girls back in bigger batches until they all return. Hence, while the military continues its work of total clear-out, which, in itself, may lead to having our girls back, negotiations must be continued for it seems to be the angle where the light in the tunnel shines brightest.
Finally, I wonder: What is Nigeria now doing because ‘Chibok Girls’ happened? In answering this, one cannot but take a cue from the US government that promulgated the ‘Amber Hagerman Child Protection Act’ of 1996. This legislation was a result of the abduction and death of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman in Arlington, Texas. In fact, the US was creative in couching an acronym around AMBER (America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response), which is a system dedicated for child abductions in the US, such that once an abduction takes place, an emergency alert is distributed on radio, internet, TV, and SMS. There’s also partnership with Facebook, Google, and Bing for the online component of the system.
Learning from a nation that places high value on its citizens, three years is long enough for the Nigerian government to have come up with something that is directly tied to the unprecedented single abduction of 276 girls! Ideas range from a directly-linked legislation, to a standardized policy on safety of children areas (schools, parks, centres, etc), government-funded app on reporting abduction cases, and a lot more are possible.
Three years is, indeed, too long for our girls to have been brought back; and for so much to have been done in honour of this sad reality.
• Shonibare is the CEO, 555 Consulting, focused on HR, Strategy, and Development. She is also the Founder, The Light Foundation, where she coordinates two programmatic interventions – ‘Adopt-A-Camp’ and ‘Girl Child Africa’ – for IDPs and girls in conflict-affected areas. Bukky is a working group member on Women, Peace, and Security (Resolution 1325) with UNOWAS; partner on Education-in-Emergency with UNICEF; Coach on Rapid Results Initiative with World Bank, among others. She has B.Sc in Business Administration; Master’s in Peace and Security; and currently studying Law. Bukky is a 2016 Mandela Washington Fellow; and Strategic Team Member of #BringBackOurGirls movement.