On April 14, 2014, 276 school girls were abducted from their dormitories by Boko Haram in Chibok, Borno state. The latest from the government on this matter, at the time of this writing, is that it has ‘no reliable intelligence on the whereabouts of the girls’. It has also said it would soon name a panel to investigate the abduction.
This comes as a big let-down for the parents and families of the girls. It is also a shock to advocacy groups that have been at the forefront in demanding decisive government action in the rescue of these girls, especially the Bring Back Our Girls group, led by Aisha Yesufu, Oby Ezekwesili, and Hadiza Bala Usman.
While we wait on the government to name its panel to investigate the matter and to gather credible intelligence, it’s important that we see the big picture for what it is. Before setting out to write this piece I did a desk research to update myself on what is on ground. I asked questions like, ‘How much has the government done till date in combating the insurgents and what levels of success have we recorded? What is the present humanitarian cost of this crisis and just how well connected is the government to the plight of affected citizens?’
I found out and everyone should know that the Chibok girls are a small fraction of the total number of girls that have been abducted by the Boko Haram in recent times. It shocked me to find out according to some reports there are over 2000 people, majority of whom are girls and women, that have been abducted by the group between 2014 and now. According to Amnesty International (AI), between November 2014 and February 2015, about 500 women and 1000 girls were kidnapped by the Boko Haram. That happened just in the space of four months! And what do these insurgents do with these vulnerable people?
AI reports that many of them are forced into marriages, serially raped, used as sex workers, trained to fight, or sold off as slaves. These are Nigerian citizens who have full rights to government security and protection. All of these people also need to be brought back. It is time to let the government know that we are not only missing 219 Chibok girls (57 escaped on their own from the original 276), but 2000+ people.
How much has the government done? This deserves attention too. Here is a quote of a reported speech attributed to the president:
“”I assure you that I go to bed and wake up every day with the Chibok girls on my mind. The unfortunate incident happened before this government came into being. What have we done since we assumed office? We re-organized the military, removed all the service chiefs and ordered the succeeding service chiefs to deal decisively with the Boko Haram insurgency.
“In spite of the terrible economic condition we found ourselves in, we tried to get some resources to give to the military to reorganize and equip, retrain, deploy more troops and move more forcefully against Boko Haram. And you all know the progress we have made. When we came in Boko Haram was in Adamawa, Yobe and Borno. Boko Haram has now been reduced to areas around Lake Chad. Securing the Chibok girls is my responsibility.”
There is a long way to go. I look forward to hearing that there are greater results coming from our multi-task force at the borders in defeating Boko Haram and recovering all the children, women and men they have taken captive. None can be left behind. And until this is done Nigerians can not accept the claim that Boko Haram has been technically defeated. The president in his inaugural address plainly stated that the war on Boko Haram cannot be said to be won without bringing back the Chibok girls. This statement is commendable to the person who does not realize that over 2000 persons have actually been abducted. It is good however for the government to state the true picture of things and reframe its goals very clearly.
It should also start planning for the rehabilitation and reintegration of this people. This would be a sure signal that our government is heading somewhere and is keen on getting there. At this point, I just want to yell out loud, ‘Bring Back (all) our Girls! Bring back all our citizens!’