Rotimi Olawale, is a youth development expert and co-founder of Youth Hub Africa. For more than six years he has been involved in leading youth advocacy efforts mainly around the Millennium Development Goals. In 2006, he represented Nigeria as a youth ambassador at the United Nations Global Youth Leadership Summit held at the UN Headquarters in New York. Olawale has held several global leadership positions including; member, UNFPA Global Youth Advisory Panel for 2 years; member, African Youth Panel. Presently, Olawale is active in the Abuja family of the #BringBackOurGirls movement, serving as the Public Relations Officer. The Scoop’s Femi Owolabi and Stanley Azuakola spoke with him on some of the issues around the #BBOG movement, and asked him ten questions.
Enjoy the interview:
1. It is almost 100 days since the Chibok girls were abducted, and for over 80 days, the Abuja family of the #BringBackOurGirls movement has not relented in its effort in asking the government to bring back the girls. What fuels your persistence?
We are here everyday because we believe that as citizens, mothers, fathers, brothers, we need to stand in the gap for the over 200 girls that were abducted by Boko Haram and all the others that have been kidnapped earlier but their case went under the radar. We are determined to remain at the Unity Fountain everyday until they are released. We are saying that we will not allow Boko Haram dictate whether our girls can go to school or not. We are saying, Nigerians are united irrespective of religion, geo-political zone or tribe as we have several Nigerians from different parts of the country and across the 2 main religions in our midst.
2. Is the group linked to the opposition? And have you accepted materials or cash from the opposition in the past?
It is laughable anytime we hear our group linked to the opposition and infact I was asking, what if the over 200 girls are card carrying members of a political party, are we saying that the Government will first ask what political party you belong to before they act on their responsibilities? We are not a political group, we are not linked to the opposition. We are simply Nigerians saying Enough is Enough and this has become a global campaign with several people joining us across the world including notable people like Malala, the First lady of the United States, Music Stars and Icons and ordinary day people from Melbourne in Australia to Pakistan. Are all these people also members of the opposition?
Early in the campaign, we decided we will remain a single issues group and our issue is calling on Government to #BringBackOurGirls. We also said because of the politically charged environment and other factors, we will not raise money, ask for money or receive money from any group, organisation whether local or international and people have knocked on our doors to give money but we refused 100percent. So it was interesting to hear that Maryln Ogar mentioned that we maintain several bank accounts, we have asked her to publish the account and the signatories and we didn’t hear from her on that matter again.
3. So if you haven’t, how exactly do you fund your operations. You hold press conferences, commemorative events etc, how do you raise the money for those operations?
The press has been cooperative both locally and internationally and we don’t pay the press. They are as concerned as we are and have offered tremendous support from all over the world. Today, I have spoken to Spanish and German Press and numerous press across the country. We meet in a public park, sit on mats and rent a few plastic chairs. We have had members who attend the daily sit out donate tee-shirts and water. We have not really needed huge amount of cash for anything. We had a first website donated and built by volunteers and its now been upgraded by another set of volunteers. We have used the Thisday Dome twice and we got it for free thanks to the owners. So we have not had cause to need huge amount of money for anything
4. The Nigeria presidency and military hierarchy maintains that it has been effective with plans to rescue the girls, but wouldn’t divulge its modus-operandi to the public. How do you react to this?
Well, initially the military gave misinformation claiming to have rescued almost all the girls, the presidency was mute over the abductions until after our first protest. What we are asking the Presidency to do is to ramp up efforts and ensure that our girls are brought back and alive.
5. Which #BBOG leader was recently mentioned in a foreign report as seeking the help of a foreign PR agency to visit the US. The report also claims that that #BBOG leader has links with the opposition. Do you know who this person is?
Interestingly, I wrote an email to TheHill journal asking them to name the #BBOG leader because their initial report claimed that according to a FARA filing. We got the FARA filing and discovered that it listed a Mr. Delano and the APC. No Mr. Delano has been involved with the Abuja or Lagos campaign. I didn’t get a response to the email but then discovered that the Journal edited and changed the story on their website. These are all part of plans to discredit the group and link us to the opposition, we know that discerning Nigerians see beyond the propaganda
6. What value, if any, do you think Malala Yousafzai’s visit to Nigeria would have in the move to have the girls back?
Malala helped to re-ignite global attention to the campaign and we must credit her for making the president promise that he’ll meet with the families of the abducted girls (this finally happened today on day 99)
7. Your group has been involved in issues with security operatives who have told you at various times to desist from your protests and even hired thugs at the Unity Fountain have harassed you. How has this affected the resolve of your group? Does this not make some of your members to become weary and may want to give up?
Well, we are very resilient and we are not tired. We think that the Government will come to realise that in a democracy, citizens have the right to freely gather and peacefully demonstrate. You’ll recall that Madam Oby was briefly detained at the airport some days back on her way to London. All these kinds of harrassment are military-era tactics and should not happen in a democracy
8. President Jonathan is presently seeking the approval of NAS for $1b that would be used in fighting insurgency. What is the reaction of the group to that request?
I think we need to ask what the Government has done with the budgets for security over the last 3 years and run an audit and see where the gaps are. we have spent more than USD1billion in the last 24 months and we’ve not gotten the right result. We might need more or less but we need to find out if there are holes and plug them before we sink in more money. If you enter a house that has water on the floor due to an overflowing tap, you do not start mopping until you’ve first closed the tap! We need Government to plug the holes
9. Beyond the daily sit-out and the call to #BringBackOurGirls, what’s your advise to the government in this fight? Do you have suggestions to the government and have you offered them?
We have developed and crowd sourced what we now called “the Citizens solution to counter terrorism.” This document curated from online responses or ordinary citizens and we have shared this with different stakeholder groups including the office of the National Security Adviser and the Nigerian Military
10. It’s almost 100 days now since those girls were abducted. You have kept the faith thus far. But tell me, in your private moments, do you have hope that the girls will be brought back safe and alive?
YES and that’s what keeps us going!