Chika Mefor chronicles the successes, failures and pains over the abduction and rescue efforts of the federal government on the 276 school girls of Government Secondary School, Chibok, three years down the line
n the night of April 14, 2014, the country was rudely shaken with the news of the abduction of 276 girls from the Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, North-east Nigeria by Boko Haram terrorists. Worst was that the nation was still reeling in pains with the gruesome bomb attack by the terrorist group in the Nyanya Motor Park, FCT, when the news of the Chibok girls’ abduction broke.
The government under the leadership of former President Goodluck Jonathan was accused of not taking prompt rescue action and suffered heavy bashing from within and outside the country for it. The government later set up a committee to ascertain what exactly happened that night and map out rescue strategies for the girls.
The findings of the committee revealed that 276 schoolgirls were writing their final certificate examination when they were suddenly abducted and that 57 of the girls escaped as they were being taken into the Sambisa Forest, leaving the terrorists with 219 girls.
Worried that the Jonathan’s government was not doing enough to rescue the abducted schoolgirls, concerned Nigerians, led by the former Education Minister, Dr Oby Ezekwesili and Hadiza Bala Usman, mobilised other concerned Nigerians, 15 days after the abduction to demand from the government the rescue of the girls.
The news went virile on social media, and the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls was created and became popular on social media, with varied local and international messages, demanding for the rescue of the abducted school girls.
The Ezekwesili-Usman-led pressure group: BringBackOurGirls that emerged April 30, 2014 adopted the social media hashtag #BringBackOurGirls as the theme of its campaign and that was how the #BringBackOurGirls group came to be. The co-coverner, Ezekwesili had always stated that when this group of public-spirited Nigerians gathered and walked from the Unity Fountain under heavy rains to the Nigerian National Assembly to demand for the rescue of the school girls, they had never thought in their wildest dream that their advocacy will go beyond a few days.
The group agreed to meet every day until the girls were rescued and started a daily sit-out campaign at the Unity Fountain, same obtained in places like Lagos and Oshogbo, and even outside the country in New York, Washington DC, where the campaign continued weekly.
The group met everyday chanting, messages such as: “bring back our girls now and alive;” “When shall we stop?” “Not until our Girls are back and alive! “Not without our daughters! “Who are we?” “Chibokians”, “Who are we? “Nigerians! “The fight for the Chibok girls is the fight of the soul of Nigeria.” They promised never to stop demanding for the girls.
When everyone seems to have given up hope and fight for the girls, the group continued to be relentless. A ray of hope appeared for both the group and Nigerians when the first abducted girl: Amina Ali Nkeki was found by the Civilian Joint Task Force and the military on Tuesday May 17, 2016 with a baby and a member of a Boko Haram who claimed to be her husband. Subsequently two other Chibok girls, Maryam Ali and Rakiya Abubakar were also found and rescued at different times following the activities of the military, and its civilian counterparts.
The extremist group had severally released videos of the abducted girls, bringing hope to their families that their girls were still alive. In August 2016, the Islamist sect released another video of what appeared to be about 50 Chibok girls. Some of them were holding babies while an armed masked spokesman demanded the release of jailed terrorist fighters in exchange for the girls’ freedom. The insurgents also claimed that some of the school girls have been killed in government airstrikes.
On October 13, 2016 following a successful negotiation with the federal government, the Swiss government and the International Committee of the Red Cross, 21 of the abducted girls were released which put the number of the recovered girls at 24, with 195 still missing.
The federal government raised the hopes of Nigerians, particularly the families of the girls when it stated that negotiations were still on for the release of 83 more girls but till now, no word has come from the government so far on the state of the negotiations even after Nigerians and the #BringBackOurGirls group relentlessly demanded for information.
In press release to mark the beginning of its Global Week of Action for the commemoration of the Third Anniversary of the abduction, the group expressed disappointment over federal government’s commitment on the abduction and rescue of the Chibok school girls.
The group in a press release signed by Ezekwesili and Aisha Yesufu stated that none of the commitments made by the government concerning the rescue of the ChibokGirls has been followed through. The Global Week of Action was rounded off with the organisation of the first “Chibok Girls Lecture””in Abuja.
“We are utterly disappointed at the government of Nigeria’s abysmal handling of this historical tragedy and are at a loss at the obvious emotional disconnect and insincerity that have defined the actions and words of the president and his government on this matter.
“None of the commitments made by the government concerning the rescue of our Chibok girls has been followed through. These days, we have observed a coldness, ominous silence and irritability of key officials whenever the government is reminded of its constitutional duty to rescue Chibok girls and all other abducted citizens,” it said.
The group however added that it will continue to hold President Buhari and his administration accountable and will remain undeterred in its demand for the rescue of the girls.
“Our movement, BBOG fails to understand why this is so but one thing definite for us is that we shall not stop keeping the President and the administration accountable. We remain undeterred in our demand,” it said.
The group stated that after three years of the Chibok girls’ abduction, the government has no more excuses not to rescue the girls.
“We enter the third year of our girls being left in terrorist captivity with the constant shock that the Presidency which last October (2016 ) told the world that 83 more of our Chibok girls were on their way out of captivity ‘very soon’, has since adopted deafening silence as a tool of avoidance of accountability. What reason can the Federal Government have for never providing progress reports on the status of its rescue operation for our girls? Except for cursory remarks made by the minister of Information in January , the Federal Government has acted in manner that suggests that rescuing our Chibok girls is a matter of lowest importance on its agenda. We denounce this posture that is indicative of lack of respect for the dignity of the life of the Nigerian girl child of which our Chibok girls are symbols,” it said.
The group also wondered where the Chibok girls that had returned are being kept, adding that though sparse information were reported about the 21 girls that government negotiated their rescue, not much is being reported about the other three girls, recovered before them.
“Furthermore, regarding the 24 Chibok girls that are back, the media reports of sparse information from the government on their wellbeing almost only touches on the 21 it negotiated release. We ask, where are the other three Chibok girls? The poor and rather opaque communication by the FG on its rehabilitation programme for the 24 girls keeps even families in the dark, leading to some asking for updates from our movement,” the group said.
As the nation and the world commemorate the third anniversary of the girls, the group has pledged not to forget and would continue to stand for the girls until they are back with their families.