29 June 2014

Nigeria: Chibok - Seventy-Seven Days and Counting

April 14, 2014 has continued to hunt Nigeria and Nigerians like a nightmare. In the night of that day, over 200 secondary school girls who had gone to write their senior secondary school certificate examinations (SSCE) at the Government Secondary School Chibok, Borno State, were abducted by gunmen believed to be members of the Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati Wal-Jihad otherwise known as Boko Haram were abducted.

Incidentally for many weeks after the abduction, the officials of the government doubted and debated whether the abduction was real, false or staged to disparage the President Goodluck Jonathan-led administration.

Nevertheless, in the course of this wrangling, videos of the abducted girls appeared on the internet.

Nigeria became the focus of the world as #BringBackOurGirls marches and protests were held across the major cities in Nigeria and outside.

The Presidency had sent a Presidential Fact-finding Committee on the abduction of Chibok Schoolgirls to get an on the ground situation of things. However, not much had been heard on the Mission's findings except for a report that the actual number of the school girls abducted in Chibok, Borno State was 276, out of which about 219 are still unaccounted for.

Sadly, with each passing day, these girls slip further into darkness and the #BringBackOurGirls protests appear to be losing steam and fizzling out.

It has been seventy-seven days now and nobody seems to know what have become of these girls, the future mothers of the nation. The Federal Government can neither account for nor has it volunteered any information on the fate of the over 200 school girls.

Many questions are being asked; very few answers are received and all the news filtering to the public have been at best second-hand information from the press, many of who do not have on the ground assessment of the events of that fateful night and the trails it has left behind.

Consequently, Vision Spring Initiative (VSI) and Echoes of Women in Africa Initiative (ECOWA), two non-profit, non-governmental women's human rights organisations were recently on solidarity visits to some parents and guardians of the abducted girls to at least show them that they care and share in their pain.

At a Press Conference last week with theme: 'Media Dialogue on the Chibok School Girls Abduction' organised with the support of Urgent Action Fund -Africa, the groups told a story of a people who feel abandoned by their government.

According to the groups, if what they saw on ground during their visit is anything to judge by, one could say that "government has not shown enough concern in either dialogue with the parents of the affected girls or made concrete statements on the action it is taking towards finding the girls."

In a statement read by Louisa Ono-Eikhomun, Executive Director ECOWA, they called on the government to rise to its responsibilities by showing more dedicated efforts at finding the missing school girls. In their words, "the eight weeks the school girls have been in captivity could have long term consequences for the girls and their parents "who do not know if their daughters have been trafficked, raped or if they are still alive." They therefore called on the government to "place greater value on the lives of women and girls in conflict and not fail these young Nigerian."

Apart from showing empathy to the parents and guardians of the girls, the groups also took time out to explore what possible factors that may have contributed to the escalating violence in the North East states of Nigeria in particular.

According to them, the investigation also revealed that

They identified poverty and the culture of Almajeri (whereby homeless children live with an Islamic teacher and are sent out to beg around the city). The argument is that the Almajeri system provides a fertile ground for recruitment of these children into terrorism.

They also identified rampant cases of violence against women, which they say both the military and the insurgents partake in.

The investigation according to them also revealed that schools in the region are no longer safe for learning and residents live in perpetual fear.

They also observed that abductions and forced marriages have been common occurrences long before the abduction of the school girls. It was however disclosed that fear of reprisals has kept the people from speaking up against the sect.

Explaining further, Amy Oyekunle of the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND) said that their observations were that the indigenes of Chibok and the surrounding villages are confused at their circumstances because such insurgency has been on-going for a long time.

"What we saw are a people living in poverty and deprivation. It is true that the North has a problem of the Almajeri, but it has been exacerbated by this crisis. A lot of people have lost their livelihood."

She said that although the government at the level claims to be doing things in the areas of alleviating the sufferings of the indigenes, there is no database as to how it was being done.

On his part, Soji Jiba of Vision Springs Initiative said the people in the areas are alienated from reality and "live by the day and government is very far from the people." He also collaborated that government has not really done anything to reassure the people.

Also speaking, Okechukwu Nwanguma, National Coordinator, Network on Police Reforms in Nigeria (NOPRIN) regretted that "the singular act of extra-judicial killing of Mohammed Yusuf is the single major driver of extremism in the country." He wondered how over 200 girls were abducted "in a state where there is state of emergency, where there is huge presence of security forces and seventy-two days after, government has been unable to rescue these girls." According to him, "the failure of government to rescue the girls and the continued abduction of more women and girls has made nonsense of the notion of government."

The VSI and ECOWA which urged the government to "place greater value on the lives of women and girls in conflict and not fail these young Nigerian" called on the government to live up to its responsibility of ensuring the security and welfare of the citizenry as enshrined in Section 14 (2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution.

They demanded that the government should intensify efforts for the immediate release of the girls; put in place robots system to prevent all violence against women and girls in line with the 1999 constitution and its obligations under international law (African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, the Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child among others.

They also demanded the establishment of recovery humanitarian centres for provision of psychological counselling for parents and guardians of the abducted girls; urgent dialogue between the federal government and northern leaders on the most effective means of ensuring peace in the North East.

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