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Chibok Girls: Five years of unfulfilled promise

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Portraits of some of the 200 Chibok schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram Jihadists five years ago are displayed at Falomo roundabout in Lagos, on April 13, 2019. – Civil societies and rights activists have line up activities across the country to mark the April 14, 2014 abduction of 276 schoolgirls from the Government Girls Secondary School at the remote town of Chibok in Borno State, northeastern Nigeria, which brought global attention to the conflict that has left more than 27,000 people dead since the Boko Haram conflict began in 2009. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

The story of the ‘Chibok Girls,’ which has curiously migrated from anxiety to sorrow, has now reached a denouement – of fear and gloom after five years of inconclusive recovery by state authorities. And this sad story has been compounded lately by a Dapchi Girl, Leah Sharibu whose story too has become another promise unfulfilled.

The abductors of the Chibok and Dapchi school girls, commonly referred to as Boko Haram terrorists had terrorised the north-eastern part of Nigeria since 2009, and had kidnapped many girls and women before in the region. But the impact of their activities on women and girls garnered significant worldwide attention with the Chibok and Dapchi school girls incidents in 2014 and 2018 respectively.

Although, it is like they happened yesterday, it is half a decade since Chibok made history in the world map with the kidnap of 276 students from the Government Girls Secondary School. This deplorable and devastating act of structural violence, which took place on the night of April 14, 2014, sparked global outrage and a celebrity-backed campaign #bringbackourgirls, by the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) campaigners.

The campaign has been sustained till date in the quest to consistently put pressure on duty bearers to rise up to the occasion, and bring back the girls safe and alive. Unfortunately, till date, despite assurances from the government that the search and negotiations for the release of the remaining girls are on-going; and that it is doing everything within its powers to rescue the girls, most of the school girls, about 113 are still missing. This is deeply shocking and inexcusable!

However, as the nation marks the fifth year of the kidnap of the Chibok school girls, Nigerians as usual were told that the government was working to rescue the remaining kidnapped school girls. Besides, citizens have also been assured that the government is committed to doing anything to rescue the remaining kidnapped girls.

Specifically, on April 15, 2019, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, reaffirmed that the search by the military for the remaining Chibok girls was on-going.

Anyway, various accounts on the abducted Chibok girls show that only about 57 of the girls managed to escape in the immediate aftermath of the abduction. Another three were freed by soldiers: one of the girls was found with a baby May 18, 2016; with another two girls found in later months during military raids on November 17, 2016 and January 5, 2017. Also, negotiations between the Federal Government and Boko Haram reportedly brokered by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Switzerland led to the release of a group of 21 of the school girls on October 13, 2016; and 82 on May 6, 2017 totalling 163 girls released so far.

Similarly, 110 girls were abducted from the Government Girls Science and Technical College in Dapchi, Yobe State on February 19, 2018. While 104 of her colleagues were released on March 21, five of the hapless girls died in captivity. Till date, Leah Sharibu The Guardian’s ‘2018 Person of the Year,’ is still in the hands of her abductors, the Boko Haram terrorists, who made the renunciation of her faith a precondition for her release. There was a revelation that she declined and so was held hostage. Leah at the moment is the face of the perceived conflict between religions in Nigeria; by telling her to renounce her faith.

It would be recalled that while this Christian girl, Leah, still held by Boko Haram terrorists during the third quarter of 2018 in a trending audio message begged President Muhammadu Buhari to come to her rescue. However, the government said that the clip would be verified to be sure that it was Leah’s voice.

Meanwhile, a report on October 3, 2018, that President Buhari consoled Leah Sharibu’s family and assured her parents that the federal government would do its utmost for the safety and security of their daughter was cheering. The president was quoted as telling Mrs. Sharibu: “I convey my emotion, the strong commitment of my administration and the solidarity of all Nigerians to you and your family as we will do our best to bring your daughter home in peace and safety.”

Despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s assurance to Rebecca Sharibu, mother of Leah, that his administration will do everything it would take to bring her daughter back home; the Leah albatross still hangs on the necks of the authorities as the girl is still held in captivity. Till date, there is no update on the plight of citizen Leah; and it is a shame of a country that a Nigeria’s daughter is still held hostage and the government remains ‘mute’ on it.

Interestingly, when On 23 June, 12 boys known as Wild Boars went exploring in Thailand’s Chiang Rai Province with their football coach; and ended up trapped deep inside Tham Luang cave, underneath a mountain; and fear gripped the world because the cave has no GPS, no Wi-Fi, and no cell phone service; as such it is a place where a person can become completely isolated. So, many had expected the story of the lost Wild Boars to end in tragedy. Instead, it became a story of hope and survival, and of families reuniting.

This is a remarkable story of determination and doggedness – and the length a focused country that has value for human life will go to save lives. It is a show of commitment and the value placed on human lives in Thailand. Thai government was not territorial: they got the required expertise from other countries. There was no inter-agency squabble. People went to help voluntarily. Trauma management was excellent. Due diligence was the guiding principle as possible rescue procedures were explored. People were trained on various options before they decided on the procedure to adopt. And the team diligently worked in a well-coordinated manner, without the usual blame game and finger pointing that is common in our clime. Also, money was not thrown at the challenge. They did not rest on their oars until the last boy was rescued.

Therefore, it is a national embarrassment and a shame to all the duty bearers in this country that till date, they cannot account for 113 Chibok girls and Leah Sharibu. The 113 Chibok school girls and Leah still in captivity are Nigeria’s daughters and the nation’s attention and action concerning them should not be less. If Thailand can rescue the Wild Boars, then Nigeria can rescue the remaining 113 Chibok girls and Leah Sharibu.

Therefore, it is hoped that as a country Nigeria will learn some lessons from the Wild Boars, put in a lot of thinking into solving the problem of Leah and the rest of the kidnapped Chibok school girls still in captivity. If it is expedient, the Nigerian state should stop being territorial, and possibly get help from other countries to rescue our daughters and defeat Boko Haram powers.

Similarly, other Nigerian non-state actors should rise up to the situation, and continue to mount pressure and speak up for the rescue of the school girls as the non-release of the remaining 113 Chibok school girls and Leah remains a moral guilt hanging over the Nigerian state’s duty-bearers. This tragedy should not be treated like ‘June 12 1993 election result annulment,’ whereby the country attempted to ‘atone’ for its sins after 25 years.

All told, the president should be reminded that part of his campaign promises in 2015 was that he would work for return of the Chibok schoolgirls. Sadly, the 113 Chibok girls and Leah Sharibu are still in Boko Haram captivity. This is a promise still not kept about our daughters – four years on.


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