On April 14 2014, 234 Nigerian schoolgirls aged 16-18, were abducted from the dorms of their boarding school in Chibok, NE Nigeria. It’s reported and accepted that the Islamic militant group, Boko Haram (meaning ‘Western education is sin’) was responsible, rounding up the girls, driving them deep into the surrounding forest towards neighboring Chad and Cameroon and selling them into sexual slavery. On the ‘drive to darkness’ some of the girls escaped whilst the militants set one of many villages en route on fire. A reported account from one of these girls can reduce a grown person to tears and make them hug their child tightly.
I read an initial news article of this attack via a news link on my Facebook page probably during the Easter weekend. My mouth dried up, my heart sank, my insides flipped over twice. Yet another story of citizens getting needlessly caught in the crossfire of senseless violent campaigns based on religion/politics/tribalism/sectarianism. Yet another story of women and sexual exploitation. Yet another story of child abuse.
And then, I sat back and waited for the news channels to start the rounds, confirm the events, cut to scenes of military swoops into the jungle and enlighten me, educate me on the religious geo-politics of this episode. I waited for the words from international Heads of State denouncing this depraved act. But actually, there was still a plane to find somewhere in the Indian Ocean, a royal visit down under to cover, a celebrity sex tape to publicize and rev up network ratings, and reality TV show shenanigans to drag out to a scandal-thirsty audience. How would the story of faceless African girls from an African country widely acknowledged to be a socio-political mess compete with all that?
But the story wouldn’t go away. My sister found another article and we exchanged Facebook comments. My cousin tagged on to another article I’d shared and we exchanged more Facebook comments. I set out to fill the gaps in my knowledge of this long running Christian-Islam, South-North battle in the most populous and wealthiest African nation – in resources that is. The story makes for gut wrenching reading – this group is ruthless in their campaign, and they seem unhinged in their ideology and methodology as they do not discriminate against whom they kill and how they kill. They have burnt entire villages down and mass-slaughtered mere boys – echoes of the conflict in Bosnia ring loud. But I don’t think we have ever heard of brazen mass abductions of children like this, although Boko Haram have abducted girls before, many of whom were later found pregnant or with children…
The situation raises all sorts of issues that ought to be brought to the table, flipped upside down and inside out, trashed and shredded, including but certainly not limited to the far-reaching tentacles of Islamic extremism, selective media coverage based on socio-economic and racial lines, and ineffectual, apathetic and under-resourced African governments. Not a word of support or of comfort or of hope from Nigerian or other African leaders – even if it’s just for PR purposes! Then there is our own self-made African racism, where a catastrophe befalling a community is excused on the basis that those of said community belong to a tribe deemed unworthy and deserving of such a disaster.
Whilst we rightfully discuss and debate these issues we must take 2 important steps. First we must set in motion some solutions. I say set in motion because we cannot deny the complexities of the situation and none can be resolved overnight either with the wave of a magic wand, or a motion in Parliament, or a UN treaty or a modification of a clause in a Constitution that was dubious in the first place. And we must be committed to keeping up the momentum on these solutions. We must involve like-minded folk and even engage not-so-like-minded individuals because sometimes we will get tired of the push, and will need others to step into the driving seat. We must continue to criticize our leaders, but it has to be consistently and persistently constructive, as much as it burns to be so. We must remember and remind them that they are human just as we are, and must not elevate them to a demi-god like status. We must never lose an opportunity to hold them accountable, because the minute we do – look at the consequences – we’re drowning in them. Dictatorships and autocracies around the world have fallen, and African ones are no exception – we must never for a moment become complacent to that eventuality. We must be committed because it’s going to be a long haul – we are unlikely to reap the benefits of our actions, but we must stay committed and faithful to the fact that subsequent generations must inherit much less of our mess.
Our solutions should be put forward alongside the second but probably the most important and immediate step. As citizens of this planet, with more power than we choose to exercise, we must find some way, any way, from our various corners, to be the voice of those that cannot be heard, or rather that no one listens to. Let our collective sanctified voices speaking on behalf of these girls urge all of our governments to step up. These Nigerian girls must know that we, whatever our color or creed, feel their anguish and are expressing that anguish for them. If by chance they sneak a peek at their abductor’s smart phone or other device, let them catch a glimpse of any of the many social network sites that right now speak for them, petitions signed for them, and protests pitched for them. And let what they see fire their bravery to endure the horrors forced upon them, and sustain their faith that those horrors will end.