The world is finally outraged. The fact that young girls were abducted from school by Jamāʻat Ahl as-Sunnah lid-daʻwa wal-Ji hād, aka Boko Haram, for over 2 weeks, without any official response from the Federal Government of Nigeria galvanized the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Empathy with grieving parents whose only ‘crime’ is a desire to educate their daughters has captivated children, celebrities, politicians and diplomats everywhere.
However, now that Nigeria has the attention of the world uncomfortable questions are being raised about how this happened and the frequency of abduction of girls in Nigeria.
On February 13 2014, Channels Television reported that Boko Haram had killed 51 people in the Konduga area of Borno. The death toll from the activities of Boko Haram this year alone is already over 2,000 people; this was just one more mind-numbing number to prick our dying sense of outrage. But there was something more tucked inwithin the story – 20 girls had been abducted from the village as well. There were no follow up stories in the media and attempts to find out more failed. Then on March 9 there was an article in Sunday Trust which captured the stories of women in Maiduguri who claimed to have been held in camps by men and sexually abused for months before they escaped or were released when they became ill.
At the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs & Social Development, the unofficial response was that the Commissioner for Women Affairs in Borno confirmed that only 6 girls were taken and the villagers organized and rescued them. Then on March 17 the National Security Adviser unveiled a non-military ‘soft approach’ strategy to tackle terrorism but there was nothing about the abductions or impact of war on women and girls. A few days later, on March 24, the BBC ran a terrifying story about two women and their experiences while being held in Boko Haram’s camp where they witnessed killings and were subjected to marriage proposals.
Alarms should have been going off particularly because during the attack at FGC Buni Yadi on February 25 that left 59 male students dead, Boko Haram allegedly took some of the female students away and warned the girls to stop attending school. Yet there was still no official acknowledgement of the trend.
So, how did over 200 girls get taken from their school? There is the answer that touches on over five years of escalating violence, corruption, the effectiveness of the Nigerian Army, and inter-agency rivalry. But there is also a response which indicates that part of the reason why this operation was successful in its audacity is because Boko Haram had been taking women and girls for a long time and there was no sense of concern or urgency from any quarter, especially not from government and the security agencies. As far back as November 2013, Human Rights Watch reported on the abduction of scores of women and children and in Bama the next month, wives and children of soldiers were allegedly kidnapped. Since the girls were taken from Chibok three weeks ago, another eight girls have been abducted, this time, from their homes.
Considering how long it has taken Nigeria, its citizens and the world to take notice of these abductions, we must not be distracted by the repugnant politicization of our collective loss. If we do not use our collective outrage around the Chibok girls to ensure the rescue of all women and girls being held by terrorists, help them heal from the trauma and terminate this trend, there will be no end to this tragedy.