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Chibok girls: Two years after the heist- matters arising

By Morenike Taire

The day before April 14, 2015, very few people- even in Nigeria- had ever heard of Chibok before. Chibok, a Local Government Area in Borno State, Nigeria, located in the south of the state with headquarters  in the town of Chibok, has an area of 1,350 km² and a population of 66,105 at the 2006 census.

Then, on that fateful night that was to define the era, more than 500 girls in a secondary boarding school set about preparations for their final examinations in physics. Persons believed to be Boko Haram insurgents had made their way into the compound, making away with 276 of the girls. A few weeks later, 57 escaped.

The Boko Haram phenomenon had by this time established itself as more than a threat of terrorism. Tellingly, the first attack of the endless series had been at the venue of the Independent Day celebration of  2010 , to be followed by a bomb blast at the United Nations headquarters in Abuja in August 2011, as well as the Police headquarters in June of the same year.

Henry Okah, a foremost Niger Delta militant and one of those who presided over the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), had been arrested, indicted  tried and convicted in South Africa as having masterminded the October 1 attack. The whole affair was shrouded in mystery, arousing political rather than factual sentiments.

#Bringbackourgirls

This decided  lack of clarity has come to characterize the entire phenomenon, with the Chibok girls’ heist more disturbingly so. The girls who reportedly escaped- the most crucial link- have been tenaciously shielded from local media, which in any case has little capacity in conflict reporting, having traditionally covered a relatively peaceful terrain.

Nevertheless, a global movement was to be born. #Bringbackourgirls has the most unique characteristic of being as much a real time as a virtual movement, carrying along influencers around the world in the achieved quest to draw attention to the nefarious act and the still missing girls. In spite of the movement’s best efforts, the girls have not been brought home.

Their captor and Boko Haram chieftain Shekau has leaked several videos in which the girls are to be seen in full Islamic regalia. On the second anniversary of their captivity last week, a video was leaked via CNN, showing a few of the girls looking robust and somewhat contented and has quickly come to be known as “proof of life” video. Countless protests were staged in the Nation’s capital cities- and indeed round the world- asking the Nigerian government to escalate efforts to find the Chibok girls and restore them to life and dignity. United States first lady Michelle Obama posted a tweet. The one led by former Minister and #BBOG leader Oby Ezekwesili was prevented from reaching the seat of government, an act that is attracting a great amount of criticism.

Stranger than fiction

Beyond the Movement and civil society, however, the initial enthusiasm appears to have waxed cold within the general populace who are a little confused about the facts and the lack of them. “Something about this whole thing just doesn’t add up”, says a female senior public relations practitioner.

The Minister for Information, Lai Mohammed, has expressed strong misgivings about the mysterious new “proof of life” videos, wondering why they were not released earlier. Speaking to CNN, he said the girls did not look in the least distressed and did not appear to have changed very much in appearance.

Also, A youth group, Northern Youth Leaders Forum (NYLF), last weekend queried the motive behind the release of the Chibok Girls video by  CNN on the second anniversary of the girls’ abduction, as well as the authenticity of the video.

President of the group, Adamu Adamu told journalists  that from the analysis provided by CNN, the video was shot sometime around last December, but wondered why the network held on to the video for several months and decided to release it on the second year anniversary.

He said as heart breaking as those images from the videos are, they raised a lot of questions asserting that while the group appreciates Protection of sources as a non-negotiable requirement of journalism, Nigerians would be grateful if CNN is willing to assist the Nigerian authorities by providing information that could lead to the rescue of the girls.

“Madam Secretary”, a television series which follows the life of Madam Secretary  as the shrewd, calculating, and determined newly-appointed United States Secretary of States, McCord; aired an episode titled “Desperate Remedies” last week in honour of #Bringbackourgirls movement. The episode kicked off with a man named Chris Santumari in Maroua, Cameroon, trying to negotiate the release of 106 Nigerian school girls in exchange of five Boko Haram fighters.

After an unsuccessful negotiation with Hadi Bangote who heads the sect, Chris returns to America to discuss what he knows about the deadly sect.

Returning to America, he discovers he has contracted the Marburg virus (an Ebola-like virus which lives in African monkeys) during his stay in Africa.

At the hospital, an experimental treatment that could save Chris is available, but they only have three doses of it. Also, the deadly sect leader Hadi, has contracted the Marburg virus.

After Chris’ recovery, Elizabeth (Madam Secretary) sends him back to Cameroon, where he makes a deal with Hadi. He offers him the cure to stop the outbreak, in exchange of the missing girls.

In the end, they stopped the outbreak and saved the 106 school girls.

It is an incontrovertible fact, however, that truth is often stranger than fiction.

Strategies: Negotiation or force?

The previous administration of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan had flirted with using negotiation techniques to tease the girls out of the hands of their captors, a most unpopular idea at the time. Nigerians had been vehement against the very idea of negotiating with terrorists as had been the international community.

Self-appointed Australian Boko Haram negotiator had however in 2014 accused opposition politicians of hindering the freedom and release of the Chibok schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram in April that year. Davis, who had expressed frustration by a number of unsuccessful attempts to secure the release of the abducted schoolgirls, often spoke of a clear connection between the Chibok girls’ fate and cutting off the funding that is Boko Haram’s lifeblood.

“Tackling the moneymen behind Boko Haram must be an essential part of the West’s anti-terror approach. At the same time, those politicians implicated in the terror funding scandal must be investigated without delay. To do otherwise would mean unleashing untold trauma and devastation on hundreds more innocent Nigerian girls. To these young women and their families, the cost of further inaction would be incalculable.”

Now Shehu Sani, a Nigerian Senator  and activist from Kaduna State who had been involved in the negotiations says a combination of both would bring the desired results. Speaking to CNN and some local media, Sani says,  “First of all is to explore the negotiation option and secondly is to continue using force. The third option is to use force and still open the door for negotiation, which is the one which I prefer because the use of force is still a clear message to the insurgents that they cannot win the military”

Highlighting the fact that the girls were on the terrorists’ camp as hostages he cautions that “attempt to use force to rescue them naturally comes with consequences”.

On the other hand, Former British Prime Minister and UN envoy Gordon Brown recently suggested the United Nations Security Council could intervene and encourage the Nigerians — with the support of the Americans, the French, the Chinese and the British — to undertake enhanced air surveillance and potential action on the ground to secure the release of the girls.

“To show the kidnappers will be punished, the Security Council should adopt a resolution that holds the perpetrators of future child abductions accountable so that the full weight of international pressure is brought to bear. Attacks on schools, colleges and universities are crimes against humanity. And the international community should ensure the funds for guards, for cameras and simple gates to protect schools in conflict zones”.

What Nigeria is saying.

“Nigeria is on international news again!” Says a Canada leader of Nigeria in Diaspora Organization (NIDO). “BBC, CNN and other international media houses have all obtained and are airing the “Proof of life” video of the Chibok girls! It is heartbreaking to see in real terms, the absolute dereliction of duty, incompetence and undeniable failure of the last administration. I appeal to the Buhari administration to use every resource at its disposal and leave no stone unturned (including the possibility of using mercenaries or PMC firms if necessary) to see these girls returned to their rightful places. These girls are Nigerian citizens – their freedom is non-negotiable! They are our daughters and their freedom speaks to our humanity and represents our best values as a nation! A failure to do the needful is a failure in leadership that will neither be forgotten nor forgiven”.

As President Muhammadu Buhari said in his inaugural address to the nation, we could not claim to “have defeated Boko Haram without rescuing the Chibok girls and all other innocent persons held hostage by insurgents”


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