Chibok Girls: Two Years in Mind, and Still Counting…, By Amma Ogan
This was always an anniversary one feared would come.
Two years, one election and two presidents later, the nightmare of April 14, 2014, when 279 girls, aged 16 to 18, were abducted from their secondary school in Chibok by members of the terrorist group Boko Haram, is still haunting us. Fifty girls took their lives into their hands and escaped, jumping from the lorries into which they had been herded and running into the surrounding darkness. Till date, 219 of that group remain abducted, not one rescued, not one accounted for, dead or alive.
Mine was a resolve to keep writing, every month, until the girls are found, but I found myself flagging not just because other personal tragedies got in the way but also because of the sheer debilitation of watching little happen on this singular matter. Thousands have been rescued from Boko Haram, territory has been regained and the insurgents routed from the communities they savaged, men and women of our armed forces have died in this quest, but no single girl from the 219 has been returned to her parents.
What follows is a journey through two years and excerpts from 16 columns of writing about Nigeria and the Girls of Chibok. I buried one brother in April 2014, the month the girls were abducted. I buried a second brother in January 2016, with still no single Chibok girl recovered.
1) May 27, 2014: “Whom the Gods Would Destroy They First Make Mad”:
“Goodluck Jonathan, the president of this country, who cannot ensure the safety and security of our children, is running for reelection. Can’t see the problem, can’t solve the problem, but wants another go in the seat of power. His wife has actually dismissed the abduction of the girls of Chibok as a ruse to scuttle her husband’s campaign for reelection.”
2) June 13, 2014: “Two Months and Counting”:
“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.”
3) July 17, 2014: “Three Months and Counting”:
“The girls of Chibok remain in captivity despite:
• The Nigerian Army declaring it knows where they are;
• The US, Britain, France, Israel, Australia, South Africa the AU and others having pledged assistance in men, materiel and expertise;
• African power heads of state, namely Kagame of Rwanda and Museveni of Uganda having chided and shamed their colleagues for showing a complete absence of leadership;
• Obasanjo’s declaration that all this could be history if Jonathan would give him the go ahead to talk with Boko Haram…
Meanwhile, first one and now two Public Relations firms are reportedly engaged in brushing up the reputation of the Nigerian President…
Some of these efforts resulted in the publication of an Op-Ed by President Jonathan in the Washington Post about the girls… You would think that if you know the source of your troubles the best solution would be to focus on that and not hire an expensive firm to help you place articles on an American newspaper website.”
4) August 11, 2014: “Four Months and Counting”:
“On a trip to London on the eve of the 100th day of the Chibok girls’ captivity, Oby Ezekwesili, one of the leaders of the campaign to BringBackOurGirls had a “brush” with the SSS that included a fleeting abduction of her passport, and the conversation went the way it has always gone. It followed the steps of the perennial ‘them’ and ‘us’ dance, in which there is no ‘us’, no ‘We the People’, and describes the relationship that has existed from ‘time Imo River’ between the governors and the non-governed in this Federal Republic.”
5) September 14, 2014: “Five Months and Counting”:
“President Goodluck Jonathan’s supporters hit on a new campaign slogan. ‘Bring back Jonathan’ the banners read… Today, five months and counting, where do we draw the line between bring back our girls and ‘Bring back Jonathan’?
Is it to say that if we want to bring back Jonathan we must also bring back our girls?
Is it to say that if Jonathan does not bring back our girls then he should just keep walking?”
6) October 11, 2014: “Six Months of Tomorrows”:
“And so we come to the recourse of the ‘powerless’: the clinging to hope, the counting of days, the chanting of mantras, the focus on keeping the “story” alive, the siege on social media, the prayer that something will give…
But questions remain.
Are those girls in one place?
Should we be looking at a different kind of search for individual girls, tracking them one by one?”
7) November 11, 2014: “What We Know For Sure”:
“THERE WAS NO ‘TRUCE’
THERE WERE NO GROUNDS FOR SWALLOWING THIS BAIT.
THERE ARE NO INTERNATIONAL ORGANISATIONS LOOKING FOR THE GIRLS
THE GIRLS ARE NOT SITTING IN SAMBISA FOREST
WE HAVE NO KNOWN ADDRESSES FOR THEIR ‘HUSBAND’S HOMES’
THE NIGERIAN ARMY IS NOT SURE WHERE THEY ARE
ABDUCTIONS ARE CONTINUING
BOKO HARAM IS GAINING TERRITORY…
…In the last month events have swept thick and fast with horror tales and blockbusters opening every day. Escape from Mubi. Exodus to Niger. The Agony of Yobe. Nightmare in Potiskum. Northeast Badlands. No Deliverance. Abuja Holiday. Cowards’ Valley. Invasion of the State Snatchers. The Brides of Boko Haram. Cry Mayhem, and if you want Nollywood, Wind of Sorrow.
…Seven months and counting…”
8) December 10, 2014: “The New Normal”:
“In May of this year the story of the abducted schoolgirls of Chibok topped the agenda of a meeting jointly held by the European Union and the African Union committees on politics and security. This was coming a month after Boko Haram attacked Government Girls Secondary School Chibok and made off with 279 girls in trucks in the middle of the night.
Last Friday, just six months later the AU Special Envoy for Peace Women and Security Benita Diop landed in Abuja accompanied by the Nigerien ambassador to the AU, Diallo Amina Jibo and a former president of the African Court of Human and People’s Rights, Justice Sophia Kufor, among others. According to the news release their purpose was to reinforce the commitment of the AU to ‘continue to engage officials and all concerned on the best measures to protect the girl-child through robust policies on education, employment opportunities and better welfare.’
…Seems quite clear that what ensued from that meeting in May in Brussels did not make any difference to the fate of the Chibok Girls and the matter has now morphed into a general concern about the welfare of the girl child that has less urgency than an emergency situation requiring immediate response.”
9) January 6, 2015: “New Year New Birth”:
“Nine months and counting since the Chibok Girls were abducted and the question is: Will some Chibok couples be grandparents without knowing it?
It is a harsh, even cruel question to confront a grieving and traumatised parent with, but we are past such considerations. After nine torturous months our eyes should be wide open, no looking to the Aso hills from whence no change has come.”
…It is true that 30 years is a long time in which to look back and reform ones ideas and learn how to do better the things we attempted in our youth.
Is this the case with Buhari? Will he, should he win the election, understand that between him and Jonathan it is not a matter of choice, but a case of how for do, and that the imperative to govern better is based on very, very high stakes right now…
… What we need is an effective person who can run an administration and has an understanding of the value of institutions, the efficacy of process, the definition of governance, the value of systems and a knowledge and interest in what is going on in the rest of the world. A leader who can distinguish between the present and the future, and plans with this in mind, would be so great to have.”
10) February 15, 2015: “Love and War”:
“The ostensible reason for the postponement of the elections as declared by INEC is the state of insecurity in the nation. Having inexplicably played this down in campaign speeches and at sound bite opportunities in the last quarter of 2014, the administration of je suis Charlie Jonathan is now prepared to accept that things cannot go on without a concerted attempt to stem the onslaught of Boko Haram and focus on providing stability so normal life can resume and credible elections be guaranteed.”
11) March 17, 2015: “Still Hoping”:
“Since the postponement of the elections from February 14 to March 28, the Nigerian Military has reported a significant reclaim of territory from Boko Haram…
As I write come reports from the Nigerian Army Defence Headquarters that Bama has been retaken leaving only Gworza still in the hands of the sect…
It is often a struggle to find a hook to hang the hopes for a resurgent Nigeria on. Something that reaches beyond our ability to continue to survive and that reinforces the nation we are striving to be and presents our children with a foundation to build on.
Perhaps routing Boko Haram will be a first step and rescuing the Chibok Girls will be another.
Eleven months and counting…”
12) April 14, 2015: “Twelve Months and Still Counting”:
“The only girls who got away that night a year ago, took their lives into their own hands and saved themselves…
The awful truth about the abduction of young girls is that time compounds the problem in a way that makes simply rebuilding their lives if they are found, no longer feasible. This is why that delay in acknowledging the abduction by the Jonathan administration is nothing short of criminal…
…A week ago there was consternation over a speculation by an official from UNHCR that the Chibok Girls may have been killed by Boko Haram on the run from Gworza during the push back by the Nigerian Military and its allies following the postponement of the elections from February 14 to March 28th. The very thought of that was unbearable, but surely, given what we know of Boko Haram, not beyond the realms of possibility? Do we know or do we just not want to think about it? Nigerian soldiers came across mass gravesites as they fought to push Boko Haram out. Who was buried there?”
13) May 19, 2015: “The Search Must Go On”:
“Many held captive by Boko Haram have now been rescued from Sambisa Forest. International Aid agencies are helping pregnant, and traumatised victims of rape with counseling and rehabilitation. There are large questions looming here that Nigeria must contend with when it comes to responding to pregnant victims of rape and the plight of the displaced and now destitute. Individuals using social media have launched appeals for donations of clothes, money and food for those rescued from Boko Haram prison camps: All power to Nigeria’s Armed Forces who are carrying out this national duty of location and rescue.
For some the torture is over but not yet the 219 girls from Chibok School …
“Nothing done in secrecy remains hidden and the stories of how the media and school authorities were asked by the outgoing administration to keep quiet about earlier abductions in 2013, and did so, will come to light because questions must be asked and failure explained, unless we really want to keep on wandering blindly in a forest.”
14) June 18, 2015: “Repurposing”:
“There were tears amid and hugs and commiseration when two mothers of the girls abducted from Chibok by Boko Haram met with the wives of the new president and vice president, Mrs. Aisha Buhari and Mrs. Oludolapo Osibajo respectively.
…At least there have been signs about a repurposing of the battle against Boko Haram. President Buhari has conferred with the African allies joined in the fight and redirected the agenda. The US has committed funds to help in this. Buhari’s inauguration speech contained these statements; ‘we can not claim to have defeated Boko Haram without rescuing the Chibok girls and all other innocent persons held hostage by insurgents.
… For now the Armed Forces will be fully charged with prosecuting the fight against Boko Haram. We shall overhaul the rules of engagement to avoid human rights violations in operations. We shall improve operational and legal mechanisms so that disciplinary steps are taken against proven human right violations by the Armed Forces.’
…Fourteen months and counting.”
16) August 12, 2015: “Exercising our Patience”:
“President Buhari announced he would be willing to negotiate with Boko Haram for the release of the Chibok girls who remain in captivity. Despite a determined effort to rout them in the run up to the elections, a resurging Boko Haram is back in action with suicide bombings and more mayhem. According to news reports, Buhari’s one caveat to a bargain with Boko Haram was if he could only be sure he was dealing with the genuine agents of the terrorist group.
We have been there before with the hapless Goodluck Jonathan. Counterfeit negotiators meeting sham terrorists, genuine, “budget free” money exchanging hands with no girls to be had.”
19) November 26, 2015: “We Need More”:
“If you don’t know who is dead, how can you confirm those who are alive and how do you determine who to continue looking for, if you are in fact looking?
Buhari’s inaugural speech contained a commitment to find the Chibok girls and made no bones that doing so would be a signal achievement of his administration and set it apart from that of his predecessor. It goes without saying that the more time passes before this is achieved, the less distinct Buhari’s government becomes from that of Goodluck Jonathan, who fiddled while our daughters were violated.
Nineteen months and counting.”
23) April 11, 2016: “Two years and Counting…”:
Where are our girls? It appears there is no way to answer this question. It is a difficult and complex situation. Too much time was allowed to elapse before any serious consideration was given to this matter. The harm was done well before President Goodluck Jonathan woke up to it.
President Buhari’s spokesperson on media and publicity, Garba Shehu, made this statement, three months ago, in January in an article published on this website:
“For President Buhari, there is no place for the overdone political posturing over the sad incident. He is not seeking applause because this problem is far more serious than most people think…
The last battle-ground, the Sambisa forest is large and expansive. It covers about 3,000 square kilometres of Nigerian territory and it ordinarily harbours the remaining terrorists and their captives. But Sambisa presents a number of challenges, not only to our own fighting forces but to the terrorists themselves. The place has been heavily mined. The terrorist operatives who planted the mines are believed to be mostly dead or have fled, so those left too can easily fall victim to these mines as they move in the forest because they don’t know where the mines are planted.
With recent military procurements by the present administration, mine-sweeping equipment have been deployed to pave the way for our soldiers. The Air Force is doing its duty of providing air cover and the Navy is active in Lake Chad waters. Our neighbours, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin are collectively standing with Nigeria to deny terrorists a foothold on their soil.
In addition to these efforts, there are daily intelligence reconnaissance flights by our Air Force, the UK, US and France, which are partnering with the Lake Chad Basin Commission Countries. In the light of all these, a serious advance is being made towards liberating the forest and hopefully, government will be laying its hands on whatever is left of the terrorists and their hostages.”
Agreed this tone is a welcome change from the depraved indifference of Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, but to put it in our local parlance, “na dat one we go chop?”
The struggle continues.