Two Months and Counting, By Amma Ogan
The girls of Chibok have now been in captivity for two months since April 14. Their story has drawn the attention of the world from New York to Cannes. Movie stars, First Ladies, and school children have tweeted and protested holding up banners, rallying in the streets demanding that our girls be brought back.
Realistically, I suppose, there was a difference of two weeks, 19 days to be exact between when their torture started and when the world woke up, but we should start with the reality of when 279 young girls were snatched away by men who declared their intention to sell them into slavery or marriage for $12USD a pop.
So what has happened in the two months?
In Nigeria Bring Back our Girls has been challenged by Rescue Our Girls, alleged to be a “government” sponsored rent-a-crowd outfit, part of a Nigerian Realpolitik swag of manoeuvers to discredit the original and authentic movement whose aim was to use peaceful protest to build awareness and spur President Jonathan Goodluck to rise to the challenge of his title as leader of Nigeria and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.
What ensued predictably was a statement from the Police Commissioner of Abuja banning the group from gathering daily in the federal capital to keep their protest alive. The organisation responded by taking him to court.
The international community, read America, Britain, France, Israel, Australia, and other nations has offered to help Nigerian security forces track down and rescue the girls. There has been some fancy dancing on the issue of Nigerian sovereignty, whatever that means, given the circumstances. There has also been some delicacy on the matter of the ‘best practices’ of Nigerian security forces. What was that? Oh you know, human rights, corruption, esprit de corps, dirty linen and so on.
President Goodwill Jonathan has not yet seen his way to visiting Chibok. He is too busy and the place is too dangerous. His life is precious. He told Nigerian protesters to address their message to Boko Haram, not him. But he did send a delegation of civil servants to Chibok to represent him, so that’s alright.
The Nigerian Army has said it has seen where the girls are being held and has knowledge of their whereabouts. This has enabled all those concerned about this matter to take a breath but has not allayed any of the anxiety. And by the way, that was two weeks ago…The best possible face we can put on this now is to hold on to the belief that any further steps will require secrecy and covert action and so we await the outcome and call for guidance and protection for the girls and the men and women undertaking their rescue. And we yearn for speed…
The flurry of worldwide protests has died down. The initial aim has been achieved, governments have responded and we must believe that action has been put in motion. But we must not stop rallying.
Meanwhile Boko Haram has not let up on its campaign of violence and mayhem, killing and abducting as they go…
The Nigerian news website Sahara Reporters carried a story last week about women who had been abducted by Boko Haram as far back as two years ago.
The story contained the accounts of five women who had escaped from Boko Haram, some after two months in captivity. These stories of rape and violence confirm all the fears of that most people have of the fate of young women in a situation like this: a situation that has taken place in a cultural environment where patriarchy is still triumphant and women are not regarded as equal to men. It is a reality that no one wants to voice: 279 teenage girls in a camp, in a forest for two months, with groups of armed men whose leader has promised to sell them into marriage or slavery.
But we can count on one thing: these are young Nigerian women: once rescued, they WILL find the strength to go on with their lives. That is their legacy, their inheritance. Once freed, they will return to a life and a place where women have been imbued with the spirit to counter patriarchy, to survive it and prosper and sacrifice and endure and play their role as mothers and nurturers.
So now our prayers, wishes, goodwill, must be for the rescuers, those from other nations who have been assigned to this task. Please look upon these girls truly as if they were your own daughters and little sisters. These girls would by now have danced the night away in their long planned for prom dresses, taken graduation photos with their parents, or be drawing up shopping lists of items needed for college residential life, to begin in September.
And as for the Nigerian security forces, army police and civilian: these really, really, really, are your daughters and sisters. So be the patriarchs, for once. Fulfill that duty in the spirit intended. Bring Back our Girls, Rescue the Chibok Girls. Whichever.
It is pointless to brag about being ‘men’ or being ‘sovereign’ when you can’t, or won’t, walk the talk.
Ms. Ogan, veteran Nigerian journalist, was one-time editor at the The Guardian, and co-founder of the defunct NEXT newspapers. She writes from South Africa.