1 January 2016
It was 612 days ago on 30 April 2014, that our citizens movement emerged, compelled by humane considerations to demand swift rescue action for the schoolgirls of Government Secondary School, Chibok who were abducted at midnight of April14, 2014 . We never imagined that our advocacy would be protracted since we expected the Federal Government to pursue every option possible to rescue the 219 innocent children. Sadly, this was not to be and here we are on the second New Year and 627 days since their abduction.
Contextualizing Development on the Rescue Activities for Our #ChibokGirls
It would be recalled that on 25 May 2015, at the end of the the previous administration and dawn of a new one, we publicly announced that within 1 week of the inauguration of of the new president, we shall seek a public engagement to receive an update on the new administration’s plans to rescue our 219 abducted Chibok girls. We demanded from the incoming administration urgent, focused, sustained and effective actions designed for success in this endeavour.
We noted that the incoming president had on numerous occasions declared tackling the insecurity especially in Northeast Nigeria as one of his topmost priorities on assumption of office. He also had called the tragedy of the unjust captivity of our Chibok girls, and the manner the Nigerian military prosecuted the counterinsurgency effort as ‘an embarrassment’; and rightly so. He promised to make addressing these concerns his administration’s priority in order for Nigeria to have a pride of place among the comity of nations. We welcomed this serious ownership and acceptance of responsibility to resolve end this monumental tragedy as the serious disposition we demanded on our first day of our advocacy on April 30, 2014.
We also expressed that we hope that our movement’s determination to hold anyone who is the president of Nigeria, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces accountable for the duty they owe the country will be considered by the incoming administration as part of our growing democratic culture.
On 29 May, during the president’s inaugural speech he declared routing the terrorists as a topmost priority, and specifically said ‘But we cannot claim to have defeated Boko Haram without rescuing the Chibok girls and all other innocent persons held hostage by insurgents.’
After the inauguration we did write, and secured a meeting with the president. Our movement, as well as our girls’ parents, and the Chibok community were warmly received by the president and high-level officials of the federal government, including the vice president, the then national security adviser (NSA) all the service chiefs, etc.
Having made our presentations, he conveyed his concurrence on the urgency of the cause, and therefore the importance for immediate action to salvage an initially poorly managed rescue agenda, which he blamed the previous administration of bungling.
In their 16 July 2014 edition, Foreign Policy magazine gave their third party assessment of the meeting thus:
‘On July 8, Nigeria’s new president, Muhammadu Buhari did something his predecessor considered unthinkable: he sat down with the #BringBackOurGirls activists… The meeting was more than an acknowledgment of what the #BringBackOurGirls campaign stood for when it was founded; it was an acknowledgment of what it had become… #BringBackOurGirls has proven itself to be a grassroots movement …that has increasingly focused on issues that underlie the kidnapping: a right to security, to education, and protection from terrorists, and calling for an end to the corruption and bad governance that experts have found goes hand-in-hand with protracted violent conflict.’
Specific demands we made at the meeting included implementation a system for providing feedback on the rescue effort, especially for the distraught parents, release of investigative committee reports, etc. (Please find details on our http://www.bringbackourgirls.ng/statements/page/2/).
On 13 August, the president gave the newly appointed service chiefs a 3-month deadline to defeat the terrorists. Going by what he defined defeating the terrorists to entail in his inaugural speech, we were enthused, and full of optimism.
On 8 September, he said in a BBC interview about our girls that, ‘They [Boko Haram] have scattered them, and are being guarded at dispersed locations… Both ground and air security personnel in Sambisa forest could spot where the girls are …’
On 29 September, at the 70th session of the UN General Assembly he said, ‘…one of our major aims is to rescue the Chibok girls alive and unharmed. We are working round the clock to ensure their safety and eventual reunion with their families. Chibok girls are constantly on our minds and in our plans.’
On 14 October, the president reassured that ‘Structured attacks by the insurgents have reduced and by the end of the year, we should see the final routing of Boko Haram terrorists as a fighting force.’ (Please recall the benchmark for routing the terrorists in his inaugural speech of 29 May).
Some time in November, we made representation to the vice president about the points the federal government had committed to at our 8 July meeting. And again a few days later when the Chibok parents cried out about being completely in the dark and having a feeling of being abandoned having had no feedback from the government.
Matters Arising from the December 31st Deadline of the Federal Government and the Presidential Chat
It was utterly shocking when the president declared in a BBC interview on 24 December that the terrorists had being ‘technically defeated’ without referencing the rescue of our Chibok girls whom he had set as the benchmark for measuring such success. We however waited for the December deadline to elapse.
During the December 30th media chat, our President stated that the federal government wants all our girls intact adding that ‘If a credible leadership of Boko Haram is ready for negotiation without any condition we are ready to listen to them.’ He further stated that the federal government has no credible intelligence on where our girls are.
We are extremely disappointed that seven months after his strong promise at inauguration and six months after his pledge to the parents, Chibok community and our Movement that he would rescue the 219 daughters of Nigeria, his statement was lacking in urgency and assurance of strategy for result. Further, that the President gave the impression of a reactive approach of “waiting for credible Boko Haram leadership” to tell us whether our girls are alive or not, falls disappointingly short of the proactive feedback we expected.
Our Movement therefore refuses to accept that lack of “credible intelligence on our girls’ whereabouts” as a tenable reason for the evident lack of progress in rescuing our ChibokGirls for at least 4 reasons:
1. On 26 May 2014, no less an authourity than the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Air Marshal Alex Badeh, then Nigeria’s military chief publicly declared that they know precisely where were. This cannot be a statement to be taken lightly.
However, assuming without conceding that the CDS lied, what consequence has he gotten for such a gross offence? None.
2. On 19 May 2015, Kashim Shettima, the Borno governor stated where our girls most likely were held. To what extent has this lead been pursued? It must be noted that Governor Shettima’s updates on the status of Boko Haram and their activities have often turned out to be accurate
3. Mr President’s public declaration on 8 September 2015, and his reiteration at his UN General Assembly address on 29 September as earlier cited could not have been a figment of some imagination, but based on credible intelligence available to him at the time.
4. “POSSIBLE CREDIBLE LEAD “
Yesterday, 31 December, 2015 a journalist staked his reputation by boldly declaring that:
I. Our Chibok girls are alive
II. They widely believed to be within Nigeria’s borders
III. The terrorists are willing to put our girls on the phone with their parents, if the president so wishes
IV. He can provide video evidence of all Boko Haram captives any day the president wishes, even if today
Even worse, that the President failed to offer any persuasive on-going or future urgent strategy for tackling the excuse of “lack of credible evidence” painfully agitates our minds and raised the following questions:
A. What precisely is being done to enhance intelligence gathering?
B. What steps are being taken to acquire credible intelligence?
C. What precisely is being done, and by whom? What timelines are we working with?
D. Is it possible to find closure on this issue, or is the matter of our Chibok girls now open-ended?
The Chibok Community encompassing parents and families of #ChibokGirls and known as KADA makes a number of specific demands which concur with our #BringBackOurGirls movement’s position as well:
1. The federal government should make public forthwith the General Sabo fact-finding committee report on the abduction of our Chibok girls to finally put to rest the ‘doubts’ by naysayers about the unfortunate incidence of 14 April 2014.
2. The federal government should investigate all statements preciously made by state actors and/or high-ranking military officers that ‘we know where the Chibok girls are’, with the view to getting at the bottom of the matter on our girls’ whereabouts.
3. The federal government should immediately set up a search and rescue team to find our Chibok girls.
4. KADA strongly demands that President Muhammadu Buhari gives the rescue of our abducted Chibok girls the priority attention it deserves; as Boko Haram cannot be said to have been defeated (technically or otherwise) without the safe return of our abducted daughters.
We especially noted with great dismay that the issue of rescue of our Chibok girls and other citizens in terrorist captivity did not feature in the president’s New Year address to the nation today. The implication of such a deliberate omission is not lost on us.
Therefore we, #BringBackOurGirls movement, families of our Chibok girls, the Chibok community, and all sympathisers to the cause of these innocent schoolgirls continuously unjustly treated will be marching to re-engage with the president in 2 weeks, on Thursday 14 January 2016 at the State House. This date will be exactly 21 months since their abduction, and 3 months short of 2 full years in captivity.
We shall meet at Unity Fountain as from 8.30 am that day to proceed on the march. We have already despatched a letter to the president, duly acknowledged by State House officials.
We cannot end this address without thanking our friends in the media who have refused to move on to other issues that draw attention but have stayed steadfast to this cause. We appreciate you.
Also, to our gallant troops at the frontlines who are sacrificing day and night to vanquish the terrorists and keep all of us safe. We appreciate you. Your efforts would never be in vain. Same goes for the Civilian JTF, the police and other security agencies.
This 612-day advocacy has been a tortuous and harrowing experience for us, but compared to our girls and their families who do not have a choice than living with this pain and inhumanity, we do. Tormenting, and tasking as this experience is for us, we have decided that we will not give up. We will stay strong, and do right by our girls, and ensure that they are rescued sooner than later and brought home to their families. We have often said that our Chibok girls are the symbol for all the abducted, oppressed, repressed, abused, violated, disadvantaged, hurting people not only in Nigeria but around the world. Human societies are regarded by how they treat their weakest and most vulnerable ones. We cannot let humanity to continually be debased without doing anything.
We will continue to stand in empathy with their families and community sharing the sorrow and pain, while continually demanding until our girls are back and alive!
Thank you, and Happy New Year!
For and on behalf of #BringBackOurGirls
Hadiza Bala Usman