CENTRAL TEXT: ISAIAH 49:24-26 (THE LIVING BIBLE TRANSLATION) –
24 Who can snatch the prey from the hands of a mighty man? Who can demand that a tyrant let his captives go? 25 But the Lord says, “Even the captives of the most mighty and most terrible shall all be freed; for I will fight those who fight you, and I will save your children. 26 I will feed your enemies with their own flesh, and they shall be drunk with rivers of their own blood. All the world shall know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and Redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel.”
Two years ago, on the night of Monday, April 14 to Tuesday, April 15, 2014, Government Girls College in Chibok Local Government Area in Borno State was raided by members of Boko Haram. That fateful night, 276 teenage female students were abducted by the terrorist group and the vast majority of them remain in captivity.
Parents, families and friends of our dear daughters, I am here today not just to speak to you, but to speak to the nation and to the world as one of you. I am here as a father burdened by the captivity of our daughters, and I am here as a friend. I am here to express our frustrations and to speak of our undying hope as we wait expectantly for the return of our dear Chibok girls.
As one family bound by faith, we gather here today in honour of our daughters. We have come to this sacred gathering to share in the fears and doubts that have surrounded their much awaited return. We have also come to express our compounded dissatisfaction in the past two years. While we note and appreciate the effort committed so far, permit us to speak also of our pain, for only in so doing can we find healing even as we wait.
We are not unmindful that the Nigerian state failed to provide security for our daughters as they gathered to write their final examinations despite prior intelligence reports that suggested they were in danger
i. We remember with pain that the government of the day was slow to act after that incident; we also remember that it was only when the horrendous incident generated global outcry that government invested frantic efforts – efforts which were a combination of confusion and helplessness, false alarms of rescue, and false reports of breakthroughs in negotiations
ii. We recall how attempts by the international community to aid in the rescue attempt were met with failure.
We recall also that nothing was done when our daughters were allowed to be carted all the way from Chibok to Sambisa, spending two days on Damboa-Goza Road
iii. Nothing was done when an ‘actionable intelligence report’ was provided by the United States on the location of our girls.
iv. Nothing was done when our daughters were kept in Gonori Primary School and showcased to the world as booties of war. Instead, the nation looked on. The nation looked as our daughters were dispersed; the nation looked on when they could have been rescued.
It is most severely injurious to see that the fate of our daughters has been frequently politicised. Rather than rise to the occasion as stakeholders and custodians of the security and welfare of the citizens of this nation, political parties and politicians have paid lip service, using our pain and the plight of our daughters to score cheap political points. We are not convinced that the matter of our daughters has been given the needed thoughtfulness. We do not believe that those who are in a position to act have taken sufficient action towards addressing this issue or even towards calming our anxiety as waiting parents.
A Yoruba proverb says, “Omo mi ku san ju omo mi so nu lo”, which may be interpreted: “It is better to tell me that my child is dead than to tell me that my child is lost”. There are only three broad possibilities regarding the fate of our daughters: One, that they are all alive; two, that some are alive while some are no more; three, that they are all no more. But we believe they are still alive. Till date there is no evidence, not even satellite photography, suggesting that they are in a mass grave. So we believe that our daughters are alive, and that they can still be rescued alive.
We have heard varied suggestions as to the fate of our girls. We have heard that some have been married off, that some have been sold as slaves, and that some are being held captive as human shields. We have heard that some have been radicalized, and there have been suggestions that they are now being groomed and deployed as suicide bombers. It was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the fictional character, Sherlock Holmes, who once wrote: “…when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth…” What we expect the government to do is systematically analyze the possibilities with a view to eliminating impossibilities.
We appreciate the government for the renewed military offensive and the gains recorded in the fight against Boko Haram. Yet, we had expected that this success would be translated into tracing the whereabouts of our girls or even finding some measure of closure for us, their parents.
If our daughters have been married off,
v, to whom are they married? Who saw them being married off? Where are their husbands? Could those husbands be located in any of the villages and towns that were once under Boko Haram control but have since been taken back by the military? Have investigations been conducted to ascertain or eliminate this possibility as the military reclaimed one territory after another? Could they have been married off beyond the Nigerian borders? Have cross-border investigations been conducted to prove or disprove this possibility? If none of these is the case, then have they been married off to the Boko Haram fighters? If this is the case, what has befallen their captor husbands and what befalls our daughters when their fighter husbands are killed in battle? If our daughters have been radicalized as some have said.
vi, have our military encountered them in combat? Have there been young female Boko Haram casualties in battles between the Nigerian army and the terrorists? If there have been, what was done to their remains? We have more questions than answers.
If they have been sold as slaves, to whom have they been sold? What are the locations of these slave buyers or dealers? Are they in the territories in which our girls had been held captive in the past? What attempts have been made to investigate or eliminate this possibility? Have they been sold beyond the Nigerian borders? What routes are there through which they could possibly have been taken? Have there been deliberate attempts to gather information from residents in the villages and towns along these routes within and beyond the Nigerian borders? If some of our girls have really thus been married or sold off, can they not be rescued from their captor husbands or slave owners? Why do we still have more questions than answers?
If none of these is the case, then could it mean that most of the girls have been taken along with the Boko Haram fighters as they move from territory to territory following their dislodgement by the Nigerian Army? Could it mean that they have been kept in forts embedded in Sambisa forest while their captors engage the Nigerian Army? If this is the case, we understand that rescue would require special tactical military operations, details of which cannot be publicly discussed. However, what stops the government from creating a confidential information channel that will keep anxious parents abreast of the basic facts and show that, at least, this country cares for our daughters, no matter what happens? Who knows, through that constant interaction with decision makers, we may have been able to offer basic information that could aid not only in the rescue of our girls but in the prosecution of this war. While the military continues its offensive against Boko Haram, we may have been able to persuade decision makers not to jettison the carrot aspect of the equation, if only for the sake of our daughters.
We are aware of the story of David and the wounded Egyptian, servant of an Amalekite, after the raid of Ziklag which shows how amnesty for the adversary can aid intelligence gathering towards defeating the enemy and rescuing captives (I Samuel 30:10-19). We may have been able to persuade the government to watch out for genuine windows of non-combative engagement with the captors of our daughters and to take advantage of such opportunities to facilitate the release of our girls. We do not say this to disregard the genuine efforts of the government to see our dreams come true. We appreciate the fact that efforts are being made; we have waited two years to see these efforts yield fruit. Some of us have died waiting, and still – still – we wait.
However, in our waiting, our hope has been struck against the wall by discouraging statements; statements suggesting that there is ‘no firm intelligence’ on the whereabouts or conditions of our daughters.
vii; statements suggesting that our daughters may never return.
viii; statements suggesting that we have been leaning on false hopes and that our optimism over the expected return of our girls is baseless.
ix. Nevertheless, two years from that dark night, in the midst of a seemingly endless dark tunnel, there are those of us who have never lost hope.
We are mothers who, in pain and despair, fulfill the sacred observation that a mother can never forget her suckling child – We have never lost hope! (Isaiah 49: 14 – 18).
We are fathers who demonstrate the stubborn hope of the father in the parable of the lost child who kept his sight on the road from which the child departed hoping to see that child return home someday – We have never lost hope! (Luke 15: 11 – 24).
We are the indefatigable members of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign who, since the 30th of April, 2014, have continued to mount pressure on the government, made Unity Fountain our home away from home, marched the streets of Abuja, Maiduguri, Lagos and other cities in the country, hoping against hope and praying earnestly for the return of our girls – We have never lost hope!
We are the everyday Nigerian who says a prayer for the Chibok girls, who calls on radio programmes to keep the cause alive, who tweets about it and updates Facebook statuses with it; we are the print news houses who put the case of the Chibok girls on the front pages of our newspapers counting the number of days since our girls were taken – We have never lost hope!
We are the gallant Nigerian soldier who risks his life to dislodge Boko Haram from their bases and hideouts; who ransacks the camps of these terrorists, freeing hundreds and thousands of captive girls and women, while desperately hoping that among those precious Nigerians freed from captivity would be our dear Chibok girls, waiting to be rescued and reunited with their families – We have never lost hope!
We are that rare breed of public servants that one meets once in a while, who genuinely cares for the plight of our daughters and would have ordered an immediate military expedition for their rescue but for the fear that the terrorists could use them as human shields; officials who are open to strategies by which this battle can be won and our daughters can be rescued alive. We have never lost hope, and we will never lose hope until our daughters return. We are gathered here today to demonstrate the fact that, until this chapter is closed and matter resolved, we cannot – WILL NOT – lose hope.
In the words of Apostle Paul: “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed and broken. We are perplexed, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going”. (II Corinthians 4:8-9; NLT). And so we charge the government to intensify their efforts and do all that can still be done to bring back our girls – now and alive!
We understand that there is much pressure on the new government, especially on President Muhammadu Buhari. We appreciate the magnitude of the socio-economic challenges with which he daily grapples and we pray that God will grant him the wisdom and strength to steer the ship of the nation through these calamitous waters. We also understand that Mr. President genuinely cares for the plight of our girls and that he desperately hopes that one day, the military commanders will radio his office with the good news that our girls have been rescued. However, in the midst of the numerous national challenges on his table, we appeal to him not to consider the plight of our daughters secondary or tertiary on the scale of national challenges, because our daughters have become the symbols of the soul of our nation. A nation where over 200 teenage female secondary school students can be so easily carted away by terrorists without a trace of their current whereabouts is a nation in dire need of soul searching and national healing.
On the 16th of November, 2014, at The Latter Rain Assembly, on the occasion of the thanksgiving service to mark my 60th birthday, I had the opportunity to speak of the Nigeria of my dreams. I knew then that the Nigerian dream would be incomplete without the return of our daughters, so I spoke of “… a nation of peace and safety reconstructed on the altar of reconciliation and integration, where the returned Chibok girls will grow into accomplished women, and their sons and daughters will sit in the same Nigerian History class as the sons and daughters of the former Boko Haram members who once captured their parents, and both will be taught by a female professor who, as a final year student of Chibok Girls Secondary School, had almost lost all hope of completing her education or of even surviving those dark days that she spent as a captive in Sambisa Forest”
x. I spoke of a nation “…where little children can walk and play safely on the streets without fear of being kidnapped”xi. May God look with mercy on our nation and bring back our captive daughters as He makes real the Nigeria of our dream.
I ask Nigerians in the North, South, East and West, and our friends all over the world, to rise up with us in faith as we give thanks to God, for indeed, in spite of our pain, we have so much to thank God for. We thank God for keeping our hope alive these past two years. We thank God for giving us the fortitude to wait this long. We thank God for giving us a reason to hold on even when all else says “give up”. We thank God who can do the impossible and against whom not even Pharaoh and his host could stand, not to talk of Boko Haram. We thank God who can penetrate the camps of the captors of our daughters to dislodge the enemy without any collateral damage and to bring back our girls now and alive in a way no earthly army can.
And as we give thanks, let us keep hope alive. “Hope”, in the words of Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu, “is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness”. To keep hope alive, we must not permit hate or bitterness to creep into our souls in reaction to the injustice done to our innocent daughters these past two years. We must remember the admonition of Martin Luther King Jr.: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that”.
And so, with hearts filled with love and minds filled with hope, let us lift up our eyes in faith towards God Almighty as we wait expectantly for the return of our dear Chibok girls.
Thank you and God bless you all.
Pastor ‘Tunde Bakare,
The Latter Rain Assembly,
Save Nigeria Group (SNG).
BEING TEXT OF SPEECH BY PASTOR ‘TUNDE BAKARE
ON THE OCCASION OF THE THANKSGIVING SERVICE COMMEMORATING THE 2ND ANNIVERSARY OF THE BRING BACK OUR GIRLS (BBOG) CAMPAIGN
DATE: SUNDAY, APRIL 10, 2016
VENUE: UNITY FOUNTAIN, ABUJA.