© 2018 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
One Year After, The World Remembers Chibok Girls
By Tosin Omoniyi and Samuel Malik
People around the world marked the first year of the abduction of the Chibok girls in Borno State with calls for a renewed effort to rescue them from their captors.
In Abuja, the Nigerian capital, activists under the umbrella of the Bring Back our Girls, BBOG, group ended a week of activities aimed at marking the April 14, 2014 kidnapping of the girls from the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok.
The activists, who had in their company a group of young girls known as Chibok ambassadors, said the aim of the activities was to raise and keep up the hope of rescuing the girls alive and also create more awareness about the issue of the abduction which has generated controversy for the past one year.
There was a mild confrontation at the federal ministry of education, Federal Secretariat, Abuja, when security operatives barred the activists and press men from gaining entrance into the premises. The standoff which lasted for over 30 minutes eventually ended when senior ministry officials intervened.
Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, Chidi Odinkalu, one of those who led the group in its march to the Federal Secretariat, berated the security personnel for their action, promising that they that they would pay for their actions .
“As parents yourselves, you should have received these young children as your own children. Apart from that you are expected to do whatever is in your power to protect them from danger. One day you will retire and will remove your uniform. I can assure you that you will reap the indiscipline and impunity that you have displayed,” a visibly angry Odinkalu told the policemen.
He added that that part of the intention of the march is to ensure that Nigerians would not go through the harrowing Chibok experience again.
“We will make sure that no child or parent will have to go through what they (Chibok girls) went through. That is the essence of our gathering today,” he said.
A director in the ministry of education, who did not give her name but addressed the group, said she would convey the message of the activists to the appropriate quarters. She also apologized for the actions of the security operatives.
One of the prominent leaders of the Bring Back Our Girls Droup, Obi Ezekwesili, in an interaction with the media said the girls could have been rescued if the government had shown more concern about their plight.
“If only the government had deployed the resources at its disposal to finding these girls, we would not have been where we are today. These girls, in my estimation, could have been found in the first few days after they were kidnapped if the government had been serious about their plight. We lost that opportunity. Many turned their backs on these young girls. But the truth is just like the Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka has said, the Chibok girls will continue to be an open sore on the conscience of all Nigerians until they are found,” Ekwesili said in an emotion laden voice.
Founder of the BBOG group, Hadiza Bala Usman, said the purpose of the march to the ministry was to once more remind the government of the need to put in more effort at rescuing the girls.
She added that the group would not relent in its effort to keep the issue of the kidnapped children in the consciousness of Nigerians.
In an interaction with our reporter, she said despite their numerous confrontations with the police and others security operatives; they had never being dissuaded from demanding for the rescue of the girls.
“Security agents have harassed us and often tried to disperse us. They issued a ban on our protests. We took them to court and won the case. There is nobody that has a right to prevent any peaceful gathering based on our Constitution. We have had a running battle with former Police Commissioner, Mbu, who had banned us from operating. He came here with his people to disperse us and we know our rights as citizens. So we refused any intimidation,” she said.
On allegations in many quarters that the group was only paying lip service to the girls’ plight and that members of the BBOG had never deemed it fit to visit Chibok, she noted that it was not a deliberate action.
“We have not been to Chibok because we have not got security clearance. We tried to go there through the office of the National Security Adviser, NSA, but we were told the security situation did not permit us to go at that at that point,” she explained.
She also said that the group was funded principally through free will donations from members and that it had not received any foreign sponsorship.
“It is interesting when people talk about funding, because there is nothing to fund. This is something that is the minds of Nigerians that they need to fund for gatherings. We come here voluntarily. We have a few chairs, mats on which we sit down. People bring cartons of water for others to drink from it, as their contribution. We sit, we do our deliberations, we get up and go. There is no explicit cost implication. Our T-shirts are contributions. People go and print if they have the money. If you have money to print 20, you do and come and distribute. So there is really no cost component that needs to be funded by anyone.”
The director of the International Institute of Journalism, IIJ, Abuja, who is one of the leaders of the BBOG movement, said the week was used to remind Nigerians that they owe the missing girls a duty which was to reunite them to their families.
Until that is done, he stated, the protests would continue.
Another member of the group, Fisayo Aransiola said they would keep hope alive until the girls return home.
“We are a group of hope. We have to keep hoping that the girls will be brought back. So, we are keeping hope alive, we keep praying. We will not give up. We do not know where the girls are but we keep demanding for the government and those charged with the responsibility to do the needful for them to help us bring back our girls. We are not giving up hope. We will keep our hope alive until we hear to the contrary, but we believe that God will help us and our girls will be brought back alive,” she said.
She said it was a sad testament on the part of the government that after one year the girls are still missing.
“For the group, it has been a very sad one, emotional, very heart wrenching because we believe every child has a potential for greatness. No child should be missing in a country like this. There is nothing more important than the protection and safety of children and if this nation fails our Chibok girls, then it fails us all,” she said.
The Irish ambassador to Nigeria, Sean Hoy and his Denmark counterpart, Torben Gettermann, paid a short visit to the BBOG group at the Unity Fountain before the group marched to the ministry of education.
Although they did not make any formal speech, they nevertheless said they came to show solidarity to the group as it marked the one year anniversary of the abduction of school girls.
On April 14, 2014, Boko Haram fighters invaded the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok. After breaking into the school, pretending to be security guards, they told the frightened girls to come with them due to security reasons. More than 200 female students were taken away in trucks, possibly into the Konduga area of the Sambisa Forest where Boko Haram are known to have camps.
The school had been closed for four weeks prior to the attack due to the deteriorating security situation, but despite this, students were asked to come and take their final exams in Physics
It is still not certain exactly how many girls were kidnapped from the school. While the police estimate that about 276 children were taken in the attack, other reports indicate that more than 300 girls were actually kidnapped
But it is certain that more than 50 of the abducted girls have either escaped or been released to reunite with their families.