The Lost Girls of Nigeria

After two years of fruitless search for over 200 girls [most of them must be women now] abducted from Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, Nigeria, there is little hope they would be united with their loved ones ever again. May their parents be comforted – I don’t expect them to read this anyway. But I know they, too, must have given up hope. At least a dozen of them have died of heartbreak.

The failure of the #BringBackOurGirls crusade is Nigeria’s failure and the Nigerian government’s failure. The Nigerian people have failed. Mankind has failed. It’s a big shame. Shame on all of us! Nobody should ever claim victory over Boko Haram – the terrorists have won the war they waged on Nigeria. How can anyone claim victory when over 22, 000 people are dead, almost 3million homeless and 100 million others traumatised? What happened to all the technologies ever invented? Where have the “advanced” nations that promised to help us locate and rescue the Chibok girls gone? What has Nigeria’s security votes achieved?

Before Chibok, there was Buni-Yadi where almost 60 students were slaughtered in their hostels like chickens at night. Hours before the Chibok abductions on April 14, 2014, Boko Haram bombs had killed over 150 innocent people at Nyanya, 8km from Aso Villa. After Chibok, there was Agatu – over 400 people were killed. Nowhere else in the world is life cheaper than in Nigeria. In fact, a campaign for population control is not necessary here; evil people are doing the job nicely. In Nigeria, it seems, government exists for the few rich and powerful and cares little about the poor. There is no law or order. It’s everyone for himself.

Whenever I remember the Chibok girls/women, my heart skips several beats. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been a victim of violence too. I lost one of my parents to thugs in military uniform. The following year, dozens of healthy-looking young men from my community were rounded up like the Chibok girls and taken away; they never returned. On the night of April 22, 1991, I narrowly escaped death (but some relations and friends did not or lost their property) in Bauchi during the Tafawa Balewa crisis. When I noticed the presence of armed bandits in my residence, three years ago, I called the police but nobody showed up; the robbers shot us and escaped with our belongings; nobody is looking for them. In each of those cases, the government of my country simply failed me – it acted as if it didn’t exist or I didn’t matter.

When people like Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State say the Chibok kidnap never happened and that it was arranged to achieve a political objective, they provide a soothing balm to souls living outside Chibok. Indeed, I get some relief on hearing such, for it’s better to believe it never happened. Perhaps, the girls and the school authorities were briefed in advance. The girls were then moved in the dead of night to a nearby airfield where a large plane was waiting. Then, they were taken to a comfortable guest house in Mali or Libya or Chad. When all the noise had subsided, they were quietly returned to their parents and warned to not divulge what happened. After all, in war times, the first casualty is the truth.

How I wish that’s what happened! For anyone who has not met a Chibok parent (like me), such fiction could serve as a tonic. Yes, many had some doubts at the beginning: How could several buses or trucks have entered the school and taken 276 girls undetected even by soldiers of the JTF? Which houses did the terrorists build inside Sambisa Forest to accommodate so many girls? A woman who wasn’t a parent of any of the girls was the first to present herself at Aso Villa. Even President Jonathan and his wife were said to have disbelieved the story until three weeks later.

But what is the reality? Whatever doubts I had were cleared when I learned that the area known as Sambisa Forest is the size of Benue, Enugu and Ebonyi states put together! This is a very vast country, and that partly explains why many places are neglected. And those neglected areas are often the breeding grounds for all manner of criminals. Shouldn’t Sambisa Forest now be leased to serious farmers from Israel, India or Singapore so they could transform it to a huge agric site?

The “Bring Back Our Girls” (BBOG) campaign group really worked to bring the Chibok abductions to the world’s attention. It’s a pity the organisers have not, and may never, succeed in their crusade. However, we cannot disregard the patriotism shown by Mrs Maryam Uwais, the originator of BBOG. She brought in Hadiza Bala Usman and Laila Jean St. Matthew Daniel, who coined the hash-tag #BringBackOurGirls. Mrs Oby Ezekwesili, the presumed leader of the campaign, was later contacted in order to make BBOG look national. Then followed Rabi Musa Abdullahi, Fatima Wail-Abdurrahman, Ejike Oji, Nene Lanval, Nguyan Feese, Rabi Isma, Aisha Kabir Mukhtar, Chidi Odinkalu, Auwalu Anwar, Aisha Oyebode, Yusufu Pam, Mata Abdurrahman, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, Saida Sa’ad, Toberu [Lanval] Dada, Mairo Mandara, Rabia Shak, Dianne Marcus, Yemisi Ransome-Kuti, Hadiza Aminu, Hannatu Musawa, Khadija M. Asuquo, Ndidi Nwuneli, Muftah Baba Ahmed, Josephine Anenih, Yaiya Talib-Sani, Ireti Kingibe, Asmau A-Alhaji, Halima Khabeeb, and Mairamu Isma. Those who helped them with finance deserve kudos also.

Will the BBOG mark the second anniversary this Thursday? What is left is for the crusaders to persuade government to build a monument in honour of the lost or missing girls somewhere in Chibok. Mock coffins, each bearing the name and picture of a stolen Chibok girl, scattered in a well-maintained park would provide one more tourist site in the country. For years to come, visitors to the site would be told the heart-rending story of 219 innocent girls that Boko Haram snatched from their school while they were taking their final exams on April 14, 2014.

That the tragedy happened at all and that the girls were not rescued convicts all of Nigeria’s security and intelligence agencies. I have said it before: any kobo spent as security or defence vote here is wasted. Just as policemen don’t respond to distress calls, our SSS men hardly leave their air-conditioned offices to gather useful intelligence. Yet, if we accept that Sambisa Forest and hundreds of other neglected places are within Nigerian territory, they should be protected and catered for. There is need to take government to the grass roots. We can’t concentrate all amenities in a few cities – no city is well-served anyway – and then claim that all is well with Nigeria.


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