Unless you are living under a rock, there is no doubt that you must have heard of the abduction of about 274 girls from a boarding secondary school in Chibok, Borno State. The abduction had occurred the same day as the horrendous Nyanya bus park bombing. The initial attention was focused on the shock of the bus bombing, which came with loads of pictures being shared across social media at lightning speed.
However, the abducted girls had not been entirely forgotten. As the talk on the bombings was reducing, that on the abducted girls was rising, particularly on social media. Then came the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls which became viral. As at the last count, over a million tweets had been sent with the hashtag and it is easier to list the globally-known celebrities who have not tweeted about it than those who have: Mary J. Blige, Keri Hilson, P. Diddy, the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, Ellen DeGeneres. There rarely has ever been a hashtag campaign this powerful.
There have been protests across Nigeria and in cities around the world – tens to hundreds of people have joined the parents and relatives of the abducted girls and people of the Chibok to march to demand that the Nigerian government put the rescuing of the girls top of its priority list. In one of the protests in San Francisco, USA, actress Anne Hathaway led the protest – unlike other protests which were organized by Nigerians in the city.
Naturally, this has made the global media to turn its spotlight on Nigeria and focus its reporting on the abduction itself, and then the wider war we have been waging against the Boko Haram terrorist group for the past five years and why they have still not been defeated.
However, and not surprisingly, I might add too, there are many people who are doubting that the abduction ever took place. The doubting Thomases are mostly of the belief that the abduction is a hoax and the resulting protests and demonstrations are staged to embarrass the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. This includes perennial noisemakers such as Mujahid Asari-Dokubo and sadly, people as high up and influential as the wife of the President herself, Dame Patience Jonathan whose efforts to help with the abduction ended up backfiring, and all it produced was this video that has been a source of comedy and parody.
The “evidence” the naysayers have been holding on to is why the numbers of the girls abducted has been shifting – initially from 234 to 276 and some even saying as high as close to 500. Why also has there been no list of the girls abducted with their pictures so as to “ease the search for the girls?” For them, it fits into their narrative that Boko Haram is a creation of opponents of President Jonathan, mostly Northern Muslims, and are trying to bring down his government, despite the fact that the terrorist organization has been predated this administration and its growth in strength is as a result of lapses in intelligence by previous administrations and other external factors and have still been existing no matter who was in power.
But why do the number of abducted girls keep changing? Like a typical Nigerian, I will answer that with another question – when have we really gotten it right with numbers? Nigeria has always had a problem with statistics, especially numbers of people involved in tragedies. It is not uncommon to see headlines such as, “Scores killed in petrol tanker fire” without the definite number of the victims never found. For example, till date, there has been no definite number of the number of people on the ground who were killed in the Dana Air plane crash in June 2012, and we know the number of people aboard courtesy of the passenger manifest.
One would have expected that the school would have the numbers of those who were missing quite easily, but the school had also lost its records in the attack as buildings were torched. This is not to also mention the fact that government bodies are even more notorious for having problems with numbers. I mean, one government agency is still looking for $20bn which is “missing”. This article here also sheds greater light as to why the numbers of the girls keep changing.
As for the conspiracy theory that the abduction is a hoax and the protests are being held to embarrass President Jonathan, the question is why would the people of Chibok be involved in such a scam? In the 2011 elections, although President Jonathan won only 17.58% of votes in Borno State, the predmoninantly Christian Chibok Local Government Area almost wholly voted for him. Surely, they do not fit the description of the “conspirators trying to bring down his government”.
Not only that, this is not the first case of abduction of young women in that region by Boko Haram terrorists. There have been numerous cases of forced marriages and abductions – where the terrorists seize girls from their homes, throw N2000 at the parents and make off with them – even in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital and other towns. In a recent interview on Voice of America Hausa Service, a Maiduguri-based activist, Professor Hauwa Abdu Biu made mention of other incidents of abductions in Maiduguri and other towns such as Bama and Izge within the state. Shortly after the Chibok abductions, 11 more girls were abducted from Warabe village in Gwoza Local Government Area of the state.
Why then was there so much outrage over this particular abduction and protests against government? It is not rocket science to decipher why – it all has to do with the poor and disastrous way the government has handled the incident. There was no word of any efforts from the Presidency on the incident till after 18 days and from the President till two days later. Thus, it gave the impression, and one which might not be wrong, that nothing was being done to recover the girls. After seeing how President Jonathan went for a party rally in Kano the very next day after the Nyanya bombing, one would not be faulted for thinking that ending this insurgency is not so high on his priority list – it also raised the anger of people and I daresay all decent-thinking people ought to be repulsed by that decision of a President dancing on stage and campaigning rallying when the nation was in mourning and feeling insecure.
The protests could likely have been avoided if the government and the Presidency had done better information management – keeping Nigerians well-informed as well as responding promptly to the abduction. Instead, what was gotten was silence from them and complaints by the relatives of the abducted girls that there was still no security presence in the community even after the abduction.
Beyond that, there is frustration with the inability of the government to end this insurgency and also end other crises such as the clashes in the Middle Belt which have been intensifying of recent. Scarcely have Nigerians ever felt as insecure as this, and they want their government to make them feel secure again and do everything that can be done to achieve this.
So while on the surface it looks like the #BringBackOurGirls protests and campaign is solely about the abducted girls; on the whole, it is about awakening the government that their number one responsibility is to secure the lives and properties of its people. The campaign has been working too, as the heat the government is feeling is prompting it to take action on even an international scale. Not only that, the media focus is exposing cans of worms here and there that has made this insurgency possible to be sustained for so long.
Hopefully, this pressure on government will be sustained to ensure that whatever needs to be done to bring this to an end will be done.