In the last few weeks, since the much maligned Nigeria Army invaded the dreaded stronghold of Boko Haram, Sambisa Forest, the news has been awash with stories (albeit in a painful way because it never should have happened) of girls and women rescued from the terrorists.
But I’m somewhat disappointed to find that for most people, these rescues do not seem to count for anything. For the most part, they pale out of significance simply because they are not the celebrated Chibok girls. Such is our collective fixation, fueled by international media hype, on the Chibok girls that for many, they are the only girls whose rescue will be worth cheering.
Once the news breaks of girls being freed, the first thing everyone, international media and beer parlour analysts alike wants to know is if they are the girls from Chibok. It is as though they are the only ones that were taken and the only ones we are expecting home. Anyone else freed does not matter. It is nauseating to hear that postscript at the end of the news on tv saying something along the lines of however the rescued girls are not the missing girls from Chibok or it has not been confirmed if the rescued girls are the missing girls from Chibok, as if warning you not to celebrate because it is really not worth celebrating.
In fact, I have seen shocking online posts with accompanying long thread of empty talk, some expressing shock that some other women have been in captivity. I’ve seen some that suggest news of rescues are fraud and military propaganda insofar as the Chibok group is not involved. Some others make like the war on terror equals Chibok girls and once the girls are found the war is over. Folks hiding behind online profiles in far flung places, away from the devastation that has been the Boko Haram crisis, people who care very little for even the Chibok girls and who would not have mentioned them but for the need to exploit the media hype about them for various personal ends, spew such ignorance that one is forced to wonder if they actually understand the real situation.
For such folks I offer this reminder. There has been a war going on mostly in the North East of this country for close to ten years now. Because the details have not been readily available on your CNN like the ISIS insurgency or the developing crisis in Yemen, does not make it less of a war. Many small towns and villages, some too tiny to be located on a map have been overrun by the terrorists and like in every war since human beings discovered hate, women and children have been the biggest victims. Scores have been killed and many forcefully taken hostage. This has been happening long before Chibok made it to a hashtag held up by Michelle Obama and much more has happened since then.
I need not describe what the experience of these women and children in captivity must have been like. The tales of those so far rescued should paint a good picture. In one case it was reported that all of those rescued were pregnant. They have gone through perhaps the most depressing and degrading experience any human being can have.
Hence, the rescue, even of just a single girl, is news worth cheering and should not be any less celebrated. Because she is not from Chibok has not made her suffering – physical and psychological – any less painful. That the news of her capture in the first place and the name of her village never made it onto social media does not mean her story is less legitimate. While I pray and hope the women and girls that will still be freed as the military operations continue will include the girls from Chibok, I believe it is important that we do not deemphasize the gains we have made in recent times in the fight against Boko Haram as belated as it is. We should also not reduce by our statements and reactions, the joy of the women rescued. They are human beings too. They are our girls too. They also matter. What we owe them now as a government and as a people is to do what is necessary to heal their wounds and give them another chance at life. We cannot afford to fail them a second time.
Sylva NzeIfedigbo is the author of the Funeral Did Not End and tweets from @nzesylva
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