Bring Back Our Girls, Now!

Bring Back Our Girls, Now!

Thursday, July 31, 2014 5:09 pm

Ayorinde Oluokun/Abuja –

There is a demand on President Jonathan to ensure freedom of the Chibok girls, who have endured over 100 days in captivity of their Boko Haram abductors

Last Wednesday, the over 200 girls kidnapped from Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State on 14 April by members of the Boko Haram militant group, marked 100 days in the custody of their abductors. The 100th day was marked across the globe with renewed calls to the Nigerian government for action to get the girls out of the hands of their abductors. While the kidnapping of the girls had helped rally the world against the insurgents, for the parents of the abducted children and the Chibok community at large, it was over three months of anguish, sorrow and tears.

This anguish came to the fore when President Goodluck Jonathan met with some of the parents of the abducted girls and leaders of the Chibok community in Abuja last Tuesday. Parents and other members of Chibok community who had arrived in Abuja a day before the meeting were taken in four Abuja mass transit buses to the meeting with the President. The President had been under pressure to meet with the parents of the girls since they were kidnapped.

But he only agreed to meet them following a request by Pakistani rights campaigner, Malala Yousafzai, who was in Abuja to further draw attention to the plight of the girls and campaign for girl-child education on 14 July. Following the request, the President had fixed a meeting with 12 of the parents and five girls who escaped shortly after being seized by the militants, who were brought to Abuja to meet with Malala by #BringBackOurGirls, a global campaign launched on social media to secure the  of the girls’ release. But the parents pulled out of meeting with the President because, according to them, it was organised in a hurry, and there was not time to consult with all the parents. Though the Presidency had accused the #BringBackOurGirls campaigners of influencing the decision of the parents not to attend the meeting, it fixed another meeting, which was held last Tuesday. The meeting, which was also attended by some of the girls who managed to escape from their abductors, was the first the President has had with the victims of the abduction.

Though the media was kept out of the meeting, it was gathered that some of the parents, especially women, shed tears as they narrated their ordeal since they were separated for their children even as they pleaded with the President to use his powers to ensure their immediate rescue. The obviously traumatised escapee girls, sources indicated, also gave graphic details of how they were able to escape from their abductors, while also appealing to the President to expedite action to rescue their colleagues still in captivity on time. Reuben Abati, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, later confirmed in a statement that his boss had the opportunity of listening to the parents of the kidnapped children and other stakeholders from Chibok community on the issue.

The presidential spokesperson, who intimated that over 200 people from Chibok attended the meeting, said the girls spoke in great detail about their experiences and observations. He also confirmed that the girls who escaped also gave an account of what they went through while the President reassured them of the Federal Government’s determination, and his own personal determination, to ensure that the girls that are still in captivity are brought out alive. The President was said to have assured the distraught parents of the commitment of his administration to ensure that the girls are rescued alive, and to rout Boko Haram completely from Nigeria.

Indeed, as revealed by Pogu Bitrus, the national chairman of the Chibok community last week, not less than 11 parents of the abducted students have died since the unfortunate incident. According to Pogu, seven of them died of heart attack and frustration at the loss of their children. “One father of two of the girls kidnapped just went into a kind of coma and kept repeating the names of his daughters until life left him,” Bitrus said.

Information also indicated that some of the parents have been permanently on sick bed since the abduction of their daughters. The agony of the parents 100 days after was conveyed in a statement last Wednesday, signed by Hadiza Bala Usman, former Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili; Aisha Oyebode, Yemisi Ransome-Kuti, Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu, Amina Hanga and Eleanor Ann Nwadinobi, the Nigerian leaders of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign.

The group held a press conference at the BRECAN Centre in Ibadan, a special sit-out ceremony at the Unity Fountain in Abuja, remembrance service at the wall of the missing girls at Falomo roundabout, Ikoyi, Lagos, and a candlelight vigil at the Nigerian Consulate in New York. The group also launched a new website,, in commemoration of the Chibok girls’ 100th day in the captivity of Boko Haram.

The central theme of all the activities was the need for government to expedite action to rescue the girls. There were similar events held under the auspices of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign across the globe. In a statement, Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary-General, restated his call for the release of the girls in a statement in which he also gave his support to vigils held around the world for the same purpose.

A new online petition by A World at School,, which also called for the safe return of the girls, was launched with a promise by the promoters that all messages of support would be passed to Chibok community leaders and families of the girls. The petition will also be signed by UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, to President Jonathan and Ban Ki-moon. The Chibok girls’ families are also expected to sign the petition and offer their full support for the Safe Schools Initiative. The Safe Schools Initiative – a fund set up to pilot 500 safe schools in northern Nigeria – is a programme that brings the Nigerian Government and Nigerian business leaders together with the international community to ensure that all children are secure when learning. The fund total currently stands at $23million. “We, of course, hope that the Chibok girls will be released earlier. However, by marking the 100th day of the abduction of the girls, kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists and by pledging never to abandon them, we are reminding people that we are in the midst of a global civil rights struggle,” said Brown, who was instrumental to the establishment of the nitiative recently launched in Nigeria as part of the response to relentless Boko Haram attacks which are already discouraging many students from going to school in the terrorism-ravaged north-eastern Nigeria.

Jonathan also promised a complete rehabilitation of the Chibok community at the meeting he held with the parents last week. But as the #BringBackOurGirls campaigners noted in Abuja last Wednesday, all the promises of rehabilitation and building of schools will only make sense when the Federal Government deploys its resources to ensure that the missing girls are brought home. It will be recalled that the federal government had jeopardised the chances of immediate rescue of the girls with its lukewarm attitude to it when it was first reported.

As pointed out by the former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, in an interview about two months ago, because of the President’s disbelief about the abduction for over two weeks after the event, there were no concrete actions to rescue the girls as the President and his officials dithered on the need for action. The first concrete step of President Jonathan was the setting up, on 5 May, of a rather unwieldy Presidential Fact-Finding Committee on the abduction amidst accusations and counter-accusations between officials of the Presidency and the Borno State government over whose failure the terrorists took advantage of to kidnap the girls.

Hope of eventual rescue of the girls was heightened on 12 May with the release of a video showing 130 of the girls by Boko Haram. Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the violent sect who spoke in the video, said the teenagers were among the students kidnapped in Chibok. The girls, who were dressed in the full muslim gowns, were seen reciting Quranic verses. Shekau had called for a swap of the girls with detained insurgents, saying: “We will never release them (the girls) until after you release our brethren.” President Jonathan himself later told William Hague, the British Foreign Minister who visited him some days after, that government would not negotiate or exchange prisoners with Boko Haram for the release of the girls. This was followed by a series of activities, including pledge of support from the United States, France and the United Kingdom among others, to help Nigeria by deploying material and military resources to rescue the girls.

While the foreign powers were said to have impressed it on Nigeria not to negotiate with the terrorists, reports indicated that federal government initiated a deal that would have led to a swap of Boko Haram detainees with the abducted girls, using Ahmed Salkida, a Nigeria journalist with links to the insurgent group, as a negotiator. The Mail, a British newspaper, reported that Ahmad Salkida – who reportedly fled to the United Arab Emirates last year following threats to his life on account of his closeness to the insurgents – was said to have been appointed by both the government and the extremists to broker an agreement for the release of the girls in exchange for Boko Haram members in detention. The arrangement, according to a British newspaper, was called off at the last minute, though it reported that Shekau had agreed to bring the girls out of their forest camps early in the morning and take them to a safe location for the prisoner swap. There was also the report of government’s engagement of Stephen Davis, an Australian clergyman, to negotiate a deal for the release of the girls with the insurgents.

Davis himself confirmed his involvement in the arrangement and was even forthcoming with how far he had gone by revealing the then condition of the girls at the terrorists’ camp in an interview with some foreign newspapers. Nothing has been said by government about the negotiations since it was reported about two months ago, though it was gathered that Nigerian military chiefs may have dissuaded the President from going ahead with the prison swap, with the assurance that they are capable of rescuing the girls.

The military chiefs have claimed on three occasions that they are aware of the location the insurgents are keeping the girls but have been cautious in going ahead to rescue them so as not to put their lives in danger. But there has been no information on what they are doing to rescue the girls safely. Sources told this magazine that recent activities at the Presidency regarding the abduction are also influenced by the 2015 re-election ambition of the President. He wants to be seen to have done everything possible as a caring president to stave off criticisms that may arise if he went ahead to declare he would run for a second term of office and begin campaign when the girls are still in the custody of Boko Haram.

Yet, the Presidency has continued to display crass intolerance to the activities of the Bring Back Our Girls campaigner, while officials of the presidency have especially targeted Ezekwesili, one of the leaders of the #BringBackourGirls, who was briefly detained by Nigerian security operatives on her way to London at Abuja airport last Monday for smear campaign.

The good news is that the group has vowed that it will continue standing with the abducted girls.


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