Chibok: Beyond The Politics of Abduction

Chibok Girls

Chibok Girls

The events of the last two years since the mysterious disappearance of over 200 students in Chibok, northeastern Nigeria, shows the proclivity of politicians to play politics with just about anything.

As she begins to pick the pieces of her life, for a new life, Amina Ali Nkeki, one of the 276 school girls kidnapped from Government Secondary School Chibok in North East Nigeria, by marauding members of the Boko Haram sect, if she wasn’t already long aware, would be amazed at her popularity. Ever since that day, April 14, 2014, that news of the girls capture began making the rounds, and suddenly spread like “bush-fire in the harmattan”, the story of the Chibok girls had gone viral.

A girl of 17 years at the time of her kidnap, Amina, now 19, was rescued from the Boko Haram camp during one of the military’s raids on Sambisa Forest, the stronghold of the sect on Tuesday, May 10, and ever since then, news about her and the other girls still in captivity generally, had flooded and still dominate news media across the world like two years ago. But the narrative, aside the feeling of elation by not just her and members of her family and people across the world, hadn’t changed much from what it was.

The story, to some extent, and depending on the ‘analyst’, elicits dismay, doubt or suspicion.  To this day, many still wonder how 276 girls could have been whisked away unchallenged and with no credible information on their whereabouts. Although the girls were said to have been driven to Sambisa Forest by their captors, no one, including Nigerian government officials, right from the time of the Goodluck Jonathan administration that the abduction happened, could tell with exactitude their real location inside the vast forest.

In his first Presidential media chat in December 2015, following his electoral victory on March 28, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari, who succeeded Jonathan, told the world that he had no credible intelligence on the girls location. The statement came as an answer to people who questioned why the girls hadn’t been rescued despite promises made  by the All Progressives Congress, APC, Buhari’s party, during the campaigns that culminated in the March 28 Presidential elections. The APC promised to ensure speedy release of the girls if voted into power. Having passed on the message of lack of credible lead, Buhari, in what later came as a shock to some people, set up a panel to investigate the circumstances leading to the disappearance of the girls. That was the case until May 10 when some soldiers working with local vigilante members, spotted and rescued Amina with her four months old baby—evidence of the assault on her person in the forest. But the rescue, in some ways, like in the past, stirred a controversy among Nigerians, including politicians.

In late March, Ayo Fayose, the governor of Ekiti State and member of the opposition People’s Democratic Party, declared that he doubted the authenticity of the Chibok abduction. To him, the kidnapping may have been staged to discredit the Jonathan administration. “I don’t think any of these girls is missing; it is a political strategy. Who is fooling who? If you wanted to use it to remove some people (from power), you have succeeded already. I don’t know if there are missing girls but no indication has shown that. It is a political strategy because I don’t think any girl is missing. If they are missing, let them find them,” declared Fayose at the event organised by Women Arise for Change Initiative with the theme “Political Aspirants Capacity Enhancement.” The governor then berated the BringBackOurGirls movement that spearheaded the mass action against government’s inaction following the abduction, saying some of them are in it for their own selfish gain.

It wasn’t the first time a PDP member would make such insinuations. Several members of the party, including those that served in the past administration such as Femi Fani-Kayode, the director of the Goodluck Jonathan campaign, had argued that the kidnapping was staged to discredit the Jonathan administration and that some leading members of the opposition party knew the whereabouts of the Chibok girls. To Fani-Kayode, the fact that the abduction of the female students took place in “Borno State under the control of a chief security officer of the state who is an APC governor,” links the party to the kidnapping.

While many APC members were quick to deny the accusation, the statement by Audu Ogbeh, a chieftain of the APC, in the heat of the campaigns in 2014, that the BringBackOurGirls movement consisted of APC members bolstered PDP’s argument. Ogbeh’s comment elicited controversy with some members of the protest group rejecting his claim. This forced the APC member to issue an apology to the group.

The Chibok girls were kidnapped in the dead of night while preparing for their final exams but the exams were said to have been organised against the wishes of the Federal Ministry of Education and West African Examination Council, which, in a memo to the Borno State government, raised concerns about the security situation in Chibok and advised that it be shifted to Maiduguri, the state capital with assumed better security. The warning was not heeded.

With the rescue of Amina, it was now the turn of the APC to take swipes at the PDP. Osita Okechukwu, the south-east zonal spokesman of the party, said the release of Amina had shamed Fayose and his likes. He went on to praise the BringBackOurGirls group for their unwavering quest to see the Chibok girls released. “We salute the gallant Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG), the Nigeria armed forces, the JTF and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, Federal Republic of Nigeria, for their fortitude, resilience, and perseverance. For, if President Buhari had remained indifferent like the former president, the penetration of Sambisa forest wouldn’t have been possible. Indeed, the rescue of Amina Ali has put to shame people like the former First Lady, Patience Jonathan, and Governor of Ekiti, Ayo Fayose, who thought the abduction of the girls was a scam,” said Okechukwu. He added that  the release of Amina has rekindled hope that other girls in captivity could be rescued.

That indeed is the hope of many Nigerians and people across the world, even as some freely express their minds on the issue. To some cynics, the fact that Amina was rescued three weeks before the first year anniversary of the APC government was suspect. They consider it a ploy to deceive the people and shore up the image of an administration that, to some observers, is at its lowest.

In recent months, the Nigerian economy has been impacted heavily by the global fall in oil prices. Crude oil accounts for at least 70% of Nigeria’s revenue, and the drastic drop in price had affected the country’s foreign earnings. The result is that many of the states across the federation are cash strapped, unable to pay salaries, to say nothing of the rise in the cost of living.

The cynicism surrounding Amina’s rescue became even more pronounced, when, days after regaining her freedom, the Nigerian military announced that another Chibok girl, Serah Luka, had been rescued. But the joy that trailed the statement in many quarters was shortlived after it was revealed by some Chibok residents that Serah’s name is not on the list of girls abducted from the school hostel on April 14. Yakubu Nkeki, a member of the Chibok Abducted Girls Parents group, reacting to the news in an interview with the AFP,  expressed doubts about Serah’s status. While noting that there are girls bearing Luka on the list, he doubts Serah is one of them. The two students bearing same surname or middle name as Serah, as revealed by Nkeki are“Kauna Luka Yana and Naomi Luka Dzakwa.”

But the Nigerian army insisted that Serah is part of the abducted Chibok students and that those insisting otherwise have an agenda. In an interview with an online newspaper, Premium Times, Sani Usman, Nigerian Army spokesman, said:  “We cannot be dragging words with people who have clear political agenda. The facts speak for themselves that that girl came from Adamawa and, beyond all reasonable doubt, she is amongst those that were abducted on the 14th of April 2014 in Government Secondary School, Chibok,” he insisted, adding that “For anybody to wake up and say he’s the head of Chibok community and the girl was not amongst those kidnapped is wrong. If the principal of that school comes out and say ‘this is my nominal role and I don’t have such student’ then we can be debating the matter. She is not from Chibok but Adamawa and she may not have been on any of the unofficial lists that said they were 249 girls or 219 girls, but she was kidnapped and we have all the facts.”

 

Chibok or not, the fact remains that Boko Haram had, over the past few years, kidnapped hundreds or thousands of girls and women and Amina and Serah are just two of them. Although the rescue of the duo attracted much publicity given the global spotlight arising from the Chibok incident, many other girls or women, in the last one year, had been rescued from Boko Haram camps in Sambisa and elsewhere. Reports dished out by military authorities in recent times show that no less than 12,000 people, mainly women, and children, had been freed from their captors in the north east region of Nigeria. Many of them are now taking shelter in internally displaced persons camps in the northern part of the country.

Reacting to the blame game between politicians and pessimism expressed by some people, Theresa Effa, Nigeria Country representative for Champions for Change, a nongovernmental organisation, told the magazine that the truth of what happened in Chibok two years ago is better gleaned from members of the community. “For me, I will believe only what  the community members are saying as they live there and know the people who live in the same community with them  and know what happens around them.”

Joe Okei-Odumakin, President, Women Arise for Change Initiative, said the fact of whether female students were abducted from Chibok is long settled. “There has always been the attempt by Nigerian politicians from all the camps, to politicize the abduction of the Chibok school girls since they were abducted over two years ago. But the fact remains that our girls are missing and what is most important to us is not the political gain or loses that certain persons may inherit from the scenario (but) seeing these girls rescued.”

As Amina savours her freedom amidst the attention, the issue of her rehabilitation, Effa cautions, should be taken seriously.  While receiving the young mother in Aso Rock days after she was rescued, President Buhari promised that government would ensure she is well rehabilitated by providing her the “best medical, emotional and whatever care that she requires to get full recovery and be integrated into the society‎” but Effa says it should not just end at that. Apart from the physical, psychological and economic aspects, she expects that all monies voted for the rehabilitation of displaced people should be well utilized for such intervention to have an impact. “Some of the huge funds provided by (the) government for humanitarian programmes and resettlement of IDPs  in addition to  fund coming from governments  outside the country, (such as the) $8,000,000   pledge by the US  Government  for the  development of the North East  must include the rehabilitation of these girls as well. Also, the process must be transparent and all government MDAs and non – governmental organisations involved in this process must be held accountable to ensure they efficiently play their different roles.”  She added that a needs assessment forum should be carried out to ascertain the girls’ preferred skills for economic empowerment. “This can be done using focused group discussions, personal interviews, (and others) to determine the expressed needs of the girls so that support is  given  on a need basis.  And such support could include financial assistance through scholarships or free education for the girls, setting up businesses and other income generating activities for those who may not want to go back to school.” She also expects communities to be sensitized on conflict and post conflict situations and thereby provide the needed support to victims to “reduce stigma and discrimination and enhance community reintegration.”

Effa is one of many women activists and leaders from around the world who attended the Women Deliver 2016 Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, this May. The event focused on the health, rights and wellbeing of girls and women generally. In her opening speech at the well-attended event, Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, the patron of the Women Deliver 2016 Conference, said: “We all share a common conviction – that girls and women are the keys to building healthy, prosperous and sustainable societies and communities. And the evidence is sound – when we invest in girls and women, society as a whole benefit.”

Katja Iversen, CEO of Women Deliver, couldn’t agree less, as she informed the gathering that, “investing in girls and women unlocks untapped potential, and creates a ripple effect that benefits families, communities, and entire nations.”

Manisha Bharti, Chief Strategy Officer of FHI 360, an NGO, drew attention to the challenges faced by the female gender. Girls and women, she said,  “have less access to resources and opportunities and are subjected to exploitation, violence and abuse,” and because “these global challenges are complex, demanding and interwoven – the solutions have to be connected as well.”

Investing in girls and women requires resources and to help advance their cause, Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, pledged $80 million to assist in closing the “gender data gap” over a three year period.

Hopefully, some of the funds would get to places like Chibok and other communities devastated by Boko Haram so that the likes of Amina and Serah may feel the impact and get a better chance to improve their lives.

 

 

 

 

 

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