By Bukky Shonibare
Penning this is quite emotionally and psychologically harrowing for me because, in retrospect, when the on-the-ground #BringBackOurGirls campaign started on April 30th, not in my wildest thoughts did I imagine that we would ever talk about 100 days since the abduction of over 200 girls of which 57 escaped, not rescued.
It is noteworthy that Chibok is in Borno State – a state under emergency rule, even at the time of the abduction; and one would legitimately expect that there should be maximum security in such state, especially around areas considered to be soft targets, like schools. Most disturbing is the fact that the abducted Chibok girls went to seek education in a government-owned Secondary School thereby putting to question the effectiveness of the security measures, if any, that was in place in that area which became a yardstick to measure how secured other states were, whether under emergency rule or not.
The Boko Haram sect has since abducted boys and girls in their small and large numbers, but most daring was the audacity and boldness displayed when they abducted over 200 girls in a government-owned secondary school especially as they were able to move for hours to their base without being pursued, intercepted, and/or stopped despite the intelligence tip-off before and while the actual abduction was ongoing.
Experts have said that the first few hours after an abduction or kidnap is very critical in the eventual success of rescue efforts, and chances become slimmer with every passing hour; yet the angle of politicization compounded expected efforts from onset especially as the story of the abduction was initially debunked, with the ruling party believing it was a stunt from the opposition. When it was finally confirmed that there was indeed abduction, other rounds of dramas ensued where blames was traded between the ruling party and the opposition party; as well as the Federal Government and the Borno State government.
We have four carefully constructed chants for the campaign. The first being: What are we demanding? The response to this is: #BringBackOurGirls, Now and Alive. We sometimes interchange this first chant by saying: What is our singularity of purpose? Or Why are we here? The essence of this chant is to constantly restate the singular purpose for which the campaign started and has continued. This also puts everyone in check, especially those who may want to use the #BringBackOurGirls citizens group as a platform for other selfish ambitions.
The second chant is: What are we asking? To this, the response is: The Truth, Nothing But The Truth. This was necessitated in view of conflicting information we sometimes get from different quarters. We deemed it imperative to ask that in all our engagements with those we consider relevant and strategic stakeholders, we want only the truth and nothing short of it.
The third chant is: What do we want? The response to this is: Result From The Rescue Operations. We gather for one purpose, and our expected outcome is hinged on our singular demand, which is that the girls are brought back, safe and alive. We have been told by relevant authorities that we have engaged that they are doing their best to #BringBackOurGirls; however, whatever approach they have chosen to employ, what we want is simple – RESULT, where our girls are brought back alive, and within the shortest possible time.
The fourth, and final chant is: When shall we stop? This is followed by the response: Until Our Girls Are Back And Alive. This reminds us of our commitment to keep demanding for the swift return of our girls, regardless of inevitable challenges and calculated efforts to shut us up.
Strategic Engagement with Relevant Stakeholders
When we commenced this advocacy, we phased out our activities – Awareness Creation; Compelling of the right action that would #BringBackOurGirls through the understanding of our message and demand; then the result – where our girls are brought back save and alive; and finally the impact measurement. While we have extensively and successfully achieved the first phase – awareness creation; we have had to go round circle in achieving phase two as our message is yet to be understood such that it has not successfully compelled the right action that will produce phase three – result; rather resources – time, energy, funds, and strategies are regularly deployed and implemented to silence us, which if channeled to bringing back our girls, may have produced the result we all desire.
A major factor in this campaign is the issue of politicization. That the 2015 general elections is just few months down the line makes it more difficult for us to have peaceful and meaningful engagements with some of the critical government/political stakeholders who conveniently view our activities through political lenses thereby tagging us opposition party, or that we are heavily funded by those who want to bring down this administration. It is more distressing that the government is unable to see that the #BringBackOurGirls campaigners are well-meaning Nigerian men and women who are bound by one shared humanity to fight a common enemy. We cut across religious, tribal, cultural, language, and ethnical biases and we depict the Nigeria that we all anticipate to see. It is high time the government caught up with the fire we have ignited – a ONE NIGERIA system where we care enough to want this administration to succeed in this fight against our common enemy. We acknowledge that this level of insurgency is new to Nigeria and it is a learning curve for us all, however, we do not want a divisive fight; we want a collective fight against a common enemy.
Section 14 (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is clear: “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government…” This simply means that the entity that has the responsibility and constitutional power to #BringBackOurGirls is the Federal Government. Taking our protest to the insurgents, as they have advised, is a misdirected avenue to dignify an heartless group. Also, the sect is undeserving of the kind of confidence we have reposed on our government to #BringBackOurGirls. Besides, we never voted a political party called ‘Boko Haram’ or a candidate called ‘Shekau’, so it is misplacement of efforts to demand of them powers or authority that we did not give them. Doing so would invariably mean that we have abdicated the responsibility of the protection of lives and properties to them and also that we have lost confidence in the Federal Government’s ability to #BringBackOurGirls. If a thief carts away with your goods, you will not run after the armed robbers because you do not have the wherewithal – weapons, intelligence, constitutional authority, to recover what has been stolen; rather you take the matter to an institution that have been empowered, equipped, and saddled with the responsibility to do so.
We have also received condemnation for being against the current administration and hostile in so doing. We must be guided and know that demanding accountability is totally different from being anti-government. We rallied and voted this particular government into power – I, particularly, voted for the PDP and President Goodluck Jonathan, and this was because I had the confidence that I, alongside other Nigerians who did same, would experience the breath of fresh air that was promised. So, when what is seen and experienced is a far-cry from what was promised, it is only legitimate to ask questions and demand accountability.
One of the actions we wanted to see in the cause of this advocacy was the display of EMPATHY such that our President is able to visit the agonizing parents, the brave escapees, and the Chibok community as a whole to commiserate with them and assure them of efforts to bring back their daughters. What we eventually saw was the converse – the agonizing people of Chibok came visiting the one that is commiserating with them. That was un-African. However, we believe that the meeting is a very crucial one for the parents and the Chibok community as it provided an avenue for them to narrate first hand experiences of their heartaches and desires.
We strongly believe in the maxim: Injury to one is injury to all; hence our unwavering commitment to this cause. That the Chibok girls are not related to most of the campaigners is definitely not crying more than the bereaved, as has been opined. We believe in the spirit of brotherhood where we are each other’s keeper; and we will never allow that narrative to see the light of day, where the legitimacy of our struggle is questioned. We are one Nigeria, and one Nigeria shall we remain. We also know that if we do not join hands now and fight this, it is only a matter of time, it might come close.
It is my greatest hope that the current administration will get to the point where they break the lenses of politics with which the #BringBackOurGirls campaign is being perceived and judged, and come to a point where they appreciate the campaigners for selflessly risking it all to ensure that the whole world beams its spotlight on Nigeria and join hands with us in the quest to #BringBackOurGirls, as well as in the fight to end the broader issue of terrorism in Nigeria. I also do hope that our government is able to see that in Chibok, we currently have 57 escapees and 219 others in captivity that must be swiftly rescued, as they are our own courageous ‘Malalas’ waiting to be brushed up and showcased to the world to hear and be inspired by their stories of bravery, tenacity, and hope.
Conclusively, I must point out that it is one thing to pray and hope for something, it is another to be willing, prepared, and ready to receive what is sought with open arms, and ensure it is sustained. We must all see that the #BringBackOurGirls movement is a representation of the ONE Nigeria we’ve all desired, where our unity is daily being displayed as we shun every form of sentiments that have hitherto kept us apart. It is therefore my heartfelt advice that those castigating the #BringBackOurGirls movement should smell the coffee and catch up with this new order we daily exemplify, rather than make endless, wasteful, and fruitless attempts to box and keep us in pre-formed mindsets of disunity.
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.