*Proof of life video a deceit — Cece Yara
By Josephine Agbonkhese & Anino Aganbi
IN a twinkle of an eye, it’s now over two years since the disappearance of 219 students of the Federal Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Bornu State. Not a few imagined the girls who were reportedly abducted by Islamic sect Boko Haram would be a year older in the sect’s den, not to mention two.
At least not with the loud cry by human rights activists, daily activities aimed at pressurizing government, protest walks in cities around the world; thanks to the instant fame amassed by the #BringBackOurGirls-BBOG hashtag on social media platforms. Plus the ‘wasteful’ journey of foreign intelligence personnel who trooped Nigeria from big western nations. And then of course the failed negotiation between the Federal Government and the sect.
Doubts: So abysmal was the futility of these efforts that some soon started doubting the reality of the whole incidence. These doubts notwithstanding, civil society leaders who have been at the heart of the campaigns for the release of the girls have not in any way lost faith in the eventual return of the girls.
Some of them who spoke with Woman’s Own include Laila St Matthew-Daniel of Acts Generation, Dr Abiola Akiyode of the Women Advocates Research & Documentation Centre, WARDC, and Mrs Grace Ketefe of Cece Yara Save a Child Foundation.
Government’s biggest mistake
St Matthew-Daniel who sympathised with the families of the missing girls on the 2nd anniversary of the kidnap, said government’s biggest mistake was its failure to pursue the insurgents immediately after the kidnap was reported. “The mistake government made was its failure to embark on a rescue mission immediately the event occurred. It’s unfortunate that a lot of people doubted and still doubt the reality of that event.
But remember, it was same doubt and mockery that did not allow government to move as fast as it should. When something similar happened to 139 girls in Uganda, the abductors were immediately pursued and most of the girls were recovered,” she said.
She is however of the opinion that there is a conspiracy of silence surrounding the continued disappearance of the girls, hence the need to continue asking questions. “I believe there are some secrets that need to come out. There is a conspiracy of silence; a truth that has to be unravelled. So, even if some people are doubting Thomases, it is good for us to keep asking “where are the girls?” until somebody answers that question. “Talking about doubt, who would go through so much to pretend that over 200 girls were taken when they were not? Something is definitely wrong with us in Nigeria; a lot of times we take on the mindset of negativity. I however believe the truth will come out someday,” St Matthew-Daniel enthused.
Finding missing girls in one piece: On whether the girls can still be found in once piece as portrayed by the Proof of Life video released last week by America’s cable network CNN, said to have been shot by the insurgents, St Matthew-Daniel said keeping over 200 girls for that long is a herculean task for anyone.
She went on: “Never. Let us not kid ourselves. It is not easy to keep over 200 girls together like that. Remember we once heard they had started to sell them. I believe they actually did because at that point, they were trying to be known and integrated into ISIS.
Hence, whatever ISIS did, they also did. When ISIS started beheading in cold blood, Boko Haram started; when they started razing villages, Boko Haram started; and when they started selling women and children in markets, Boko Haram too must have followed. “Besides, I want to say that video looked very mechanical. The girls didn’t look stressed or strained but looked quite young and robust. And how come it was only that little group of mothers that were brought to see that video? I would have hoped to see about 200 mothers.
What quietened the international community?
“That’s why I say there is a conspiracy of silence. I want to know what happened when the world was ready to come in; I mean, this was a world that had gone in to rescue people in the most dangerous of places. They were ready to come in, storm Sambisa or wherever, and pick up the girls. But all of a sudden, there was a quiet. What happened and what stopped them? “Another point is that there was going to be negotiation for an exchange. But we were later told government did not align with the agreement and so, the girls were never released. There are people who know the truth, and I believe that one day, that truth will come out. Years later, women and girls who would have eventually gained their freedom from these insurgents will show up in history.”
On her part, Akiyode chided government over what she described as its insensitivity towards the many human rights violations in the north-eastern part of the country, the attack on the Chibok schoolgirls being the height of it.
“Government cannot get a pass mark until this mystery is resolved, and that is until the girls return alive. Remember about a year ago when the Bring Back Our Girls group met with the president and he said it lacked the capacity in terms of intelligence to rescue the girls? You do not get to hear such from the president of America when talking about ISIS or any terrorist group.
What we need to hear from the Federal Government of Nigeria, post Jonathan regime, is positive statements on efforts that have been made.
Human rights violations in the north-east: Akiyode further decried the level of human rights violations in the north-east, describing it as is alarming. She told Woman’s Own: “We keep talking about the Chibok girls because it was a case of a whole load of children taken away at once. But there is a whole load of mess going on up there. The Internally Displaced Persons Camps-IDPs, sexual harassment, trauma, to mention a few. “Many others have been missing before and after the Chibok girls and it is sad that till date, we do not have even a record of missing persons in the north-east so that people can also report when such things happen. As for the IDPs, as we speak, the number of people who stay with friends and relatives in their houses are more than the people in the IDP camps, and yet, government is not looking at the issues. “Recently we were told government was embarking on a rehabilitation of the schools affected by the insurgents’ activities in the north-east, and we were surprise to hear that the Chibok school where those girls were taken from is not included when it should be among those given priority.
More action than words: “What I’m saying in essence is that we need more results to show that government is concerned and strategic towards the release of the girls. We need to see more action because two years is a long time. A child that was 14 at that time is now 16. The child that had not started menstruating must have reached the stage of puberty now.”
Safety of school children in Nigeria: To stall further attack on schools across the country, Akiyode who also recalled the recent Barbington Macaulay school kidnap in Ikorodu, Lagos, called on government to consider the formulation of a national policy on the safety and security of school children. “I would have expected also, that as a country with all of these happening for months now, that government should have taken steps to secure all the schools in Nigeria.
What happened in Ikorodu should never have happened because the reason why those girls were taken is because the school was unsafe and insecure. I therefore advise that government considers having a national policy that will address the safety and security of young children in schools while we wait for the girls’ return. This is particularly as kidnapping is almost becoming a legitimate business in Nigeria,” she said.
Assistant Director, Cece Yara Save the Child Foundation, Mrs Ketefe, on her part, described the now popular Proof of Life video as “insignificant and not enough to prove that the girls were still alive.” According to her, the footage only helped to remind her of the tragic case of a Pakistani pilot. “That video reminds me of the case of a certain Pakistani pilot. His proof of life video was shown in January or March but it was later discovered, according to intelligence gathering, that the man was burnt alive in December.
Meanwhile, that video was shown in negotiation for the release of some terrorists. Hence, we cannot say those kidnapped girls are alive or in one piece in their abductors’ custody because that video was done four months ago. “I personally see it as a ploy to deceive government because these people know very well that the whole world is emotional about the issue. The only way we can be convinced, however, is if at least one of the girls is released to us,” Ketefe said.