Her reasons for participating in the “million-women march” in Nigeria are simple: 276 girls were abducted in the middle of the night from a boarding school in Chibok in the north-eastern Borno state, and the government has failed to act except when faced with international attention and criticism.
This is not the first time the Boko Haram sect has targeted women or students, this incident is just the biggest. In June 2013 the sect attacked a school in Mamudo, killing 22 students, and 59 boys were killed in Buni Yadi in February 2014. Every day, horror stories from women released after months in captivity grace the news. They return home battered, abused, infected with diseases and often pregnant.
Unlike other world disasters, there isn’t round-the-clock coverage of the realities in Borno. This is partly due to the fact that it has been under a state of emergency rule and the airport was shut down after an attack by Boko Haram a few months ago. This has made it very difficult for citizens and journalists to get in or out of Borno, and the flow of information relies mostly on phone calls and SMS messages. This has also aided the government in spreading lies and misinformation.
An army spokesperson, Major-General Chris Olukolade, released a statement a day after the abductions claiming that all except eight of the students had been rescued. After various sources confirmed the inaccuracy of this statement, the army apologised and withdrew it. Because of that gaffe and the subsequent clampdown on information, getting accurate data has been challenging. Different sources continued to report different figures for the missing girls until after our first march when the police and the state government put out a joint statement confirming the number to be 276.
In the past two weeks, two bombs have been detonated within the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Despite this growing insecurity, the government insists on hosting the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa in a few days. Citizens and activists have heavily criticised the conference, and the shutdown of all government offices and schools within the FCT from 7-9 May, but most are now resigned to it. The alternative is to use the international media the WEF will attract to draw attention to the plight of the young girls.
Since our first march, President Goodluck Jonathan has been forced to take action. It might have taken 18 days for him to do so, but we are relieved to know that our actions have not been wasted, and we are determined to scale them up. Jonathan made an appearance on TV last night in which he said: “I don’t know where they are … there is no confirmation of the location of the schoolgirls, you are a journalist, you know more than me.” But he tried to reassure the public, reminding them that “the armed personnel are more than capable of handling the issue”. But we are not holding our breath.
The truth is, I am almost convinced that these young women are enterprising enough to get themselves to safety before government troops do – 55 of them have already escaped. Our next goals are to make sure support structures for counselling, trauma healing and therapy are put in place for the young girls who have returned home and those who are on their way, while still putting pressure on the government to bring the rest of them back home.
So when you see us marching again on Tuesday, remember that it is not just to get these 276 girls back, but also to raise awareness, force action on all the other abductions, and push for better security to make sure this does not happen again.
( Courtesy The Guardian & Agencies …….. Source ……… Our Freelance Contributor in Nigeria)