Tag: Chibok

Bring back our girls and our country, President Jonathan

I watched the first lady of my country, Nigeria, shed tears for the abducted Chibok girls over two weeks after they went missing. I didn’t actually see the tears fall: she covered her face with a large tissue.

Her husband, President Goodluck Jonathan, went on a political rally in the northern city of Kano two days after the girls were abducted. The 2015 elections are, after all, only a year away. Issues such as addressing the nation over the schoolgirl abductions, and the bomb blast in Abuja days later, which killed 70 people, are obviously less pressing in nature.

Yet on national television last Sunday, the president promised Nigeria: “Wherever these girls are, we’ll surely get them out.” It’s amazing what a little international scrutiny will do. We have discovered the power of the hashtag over the last week. The simple, emphatic demand #BringBackOurGirls has moved across the Twitter timelines of the famous and the unknown, uniting Nigerian housewives and the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. Protests have spread from Abuja to Lagos, London and Washington; CNN, the BBC, al-Jazeera and other international media organisations have flocked to the protest sites, building momentum. And now Barack Obama has called for the world to act against Boko Haram, the terror organisation that kidnapped the girls.

Protesters hold signs during a demonstration on May 6 2014 outside the Nigerian embassy in Washington, DC. (Pic: AFP)
Protesters hold signs during a demonstration on May 6 2014 outside the Nigerian embassy in Washington, DC. (Pic: AFP)

And yet, as elated as I am over the overdue coverage this issue is finally receiving, I cannot help but wonder what comes next. When the girls are released, will they be returned to a country where they are not at risk of being abducted again? Will they be released to families that are safe from the threat of Boko Haram attacks? Will they come home to a Nigeria where the money meant for their education, their health and their future is not siphoned off into accounts around the globe?

Viewing the events surrounding the Chibok abductions, I am reminded of the Occupy Nigeria protest of January 2012, when thousands demonstrated over the sudden removal of a national petrol subsidy, causing fuel prices to double overnight. Like the #BringBackOurGirls movement, Occupy Nigeria migrated from Twitter through street protests to international coverage. The government was forced to the negotiation table. As the world looked on, causing our leaders to squirm, it was the time for us to call for the Nigeria we wanted, to demand transparency, education and better infrastructure.

But the negotiators were blinkered. They could ask for only one thing: a restoration of the subsidy. And when the petrol pump price was reduced, although not to former levels, it was as if a small victory had been won.

What victory, when our legislators were still the highest paid in the world? When our children were still some of the most illiterate in the world? When our youths suffered one of the highest levels of unemployment in the world? None of these issues had been addressed, not even when the world was watching and our government, unembarrassed by the plight of its citizens, was shamed under the vast lens of the international media.

We cannot let this opportunity pass a second time, for who knows what even greater tragedy will cause the world’s attention to return to Nigeria? Now is the time for us to widen our protest; now is the time to ask what country these girls will be returned to.

What happened to the trial of Senator Ali Ndume, alleged sponsor of Boko Haram insurgents? Why, despite the billions allocated to defence, are the insurgents reportedly better equipped than our soldiers? Why do Nigerian girls remain among the most uneducated in the world? Why has polio not been eradicated in Nigeria? Where is the $20bn that our central bank governor discovered was missing from our treasury this year? And, of course: where are our girls?

This Friday I will join hundreds of people in front of the Nigerian high commission in London to protest at the abduction of our girls and the abduction of our country. Mr President, it’s not too late for you to become the leader we elected you to be. Take your eyes off the 2015 elections and focus on the matter at hand. Bring back our girls. Bring back our money. Bring back our country.

Chibundu Onuzo for the Guardian

‘Find our daughters’: Desperate parents protest in Nigeria

Hundreds of parents in Nigeria, many dressed in red, held a day of desperate protest on Thursday in the town where the kidnapping of scores of schoolgirls by Islamists has left families lurching from fury to despair.

The parents began their march outside the residence of a local chief in Chibok, the town in Borno state where suspected Boko Haram insurgents stormed into a school and abducted the girls at gunpoint over a fortnight ago.

The mothers and fathers – some wailing, some chanting angrily – marched towards the scene of the kidnapping, carrying placards reading “Find Our Daughters”, before holding a prayer ceremony at the school gates.

“We want our daughters back. We want the United Nations to come and assist in rescuing our daughters. Through this march, we want to tell the whole world that we need their help to secure the release of our daughters,” Enoch Mark, whose daughter and two nieces were abducted, told AFP.

Fidelis Olubukola, a member of the Civil Society, Women Advocate Research and Documentation Centre, chants slogans for the release of the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram during a workers' rally in Lagos on May 1 2014. (Pic: AFP)
Fidelis Olubukola, a member of the Civil Society, Women Advocate Research and Documentation Centre, chants slogans for the release of the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram during a workers’ rally in Lagos on May 1 2014. (Pic: AFP)

One father drew a damning parallel with recent international efforts to find the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.

“Imagine 25 countries joining hands in a search for a missing aircraft in Malaysia whose passengers are presumed dead. Here we are talking of scores of living girls abducted by people known to have no mercy, but the government doesn’t seem to care much,” said a tearful Yakubu Maina.

The Borno government says 129 girls were taken and that 52 have since escaped.

But locals, including the principal at the targeted Government Girls Secondary School, say 230 students were taken and 187 are still missing.

The leader of Chibok’s elders forum, Pogu Bitrus, told AFP he had received information that the girls were trafficked into neighbouring Cameroon and Chad and sold as brides to insurgents for 2 000 naira ($12).

The report has not been confirmed.

“Death is preferable to this life of misery we have been living since their abduction,” said one mother at the protest, without giving his name. “We call on our government to sit up and rescue our girls.”

Criticism of government
Anger at the government’s ineffectual response has fuelled protests across the country.

Police fired teargas to disperse a group of protesters on Thursday in central Lagos, local media reported, a day after hundreds rallied in the capital Abuja.

Speaking at a separate May Day rally in Abuja, the head of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Abdulwahed Omar, said: “Our hearts bleed and we pray for their safe release.

“The war on terrorism does not seem to be going well at the moment. We demand better initiatives and more commitment,” he told a crowd that included President Goodluck Jonathan, who has faced harsh criticism over the government’s response.

The mass kidnapping is one of the most shocking attacks in Boko Haram’s five-year extremist uprising, which has killed thousands across the north and centre of the country, including 1,500 people this year alone.

A delegation from the Senate in Abuja met with Jonathan on Wednesday to discuss the rescue operation, Senate spokesman Eyinnaya Abaribe told AFP on Thursday, but he declined to give details.

Aminu Abubakar for AFP