#BringBackOurGirls is a hashtag retweeted almost one million times since 353 girls were supposedly kidnapped from a girls secondary school in northern Nigeria on April 15. I say “supposedly” because there have been more questions than answers, including doubts about whether a kidnap actually took place, and the identity of the victims, which till now remain an object of speculation.
The story goes that on April 15, hundreds of gunmen attacked the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, a town in the northern state of Borno in Nigeria. They abducted more than 300 girls, taking along some food, shot the school guards, and set the school on fire before disappearing into thin air. Nobody knows where the girls are, nobody knows who kidnapped them (although a supposed Boko Haram kingpin came on YouTube to claim credit), and nobody knows the names of the abducted girls.
Some of the other questions being asked are: Why did the school, which had been closed due to security fears, suddenly decide to reopen against advice in order to conduct state exams? Was there complicity from the school principal, teachers and state government? Otherwise, why were the daughters of the principal, the teachers and the Chief Security Officer of the state government, who are also students in that school, not kidnapped? Were their parents of these girls complicit in the kidnap, or did they receive advance warning?
Until my voice goes hoarse, I will not stop repeating my sing-song that politics is the reason behind these attacks. Politics is the reason behind Boko Haram (the terrorist group whose name means ‘Western Education is Evil’ – never mind that the products of Western education, including the Internet and social media is the primary medium they use for information. They must have received some Western education to be able to do this).
The more recent insult to our collective Nigerian intelligence was the decision of the federal government to set up a committee to investigate the remote and proximate causes of the kidnap and to help find the girls. It is insulting because it begs the question of what the security agencies were set up to do, and whether a bureaucratic process is the solution to a criminal act.
As I said, one of the most intriguing features of this crisis is the lack of information about anything.
A part of me wonders whether anybody was really kidnapped. Do not call me insensitive. But like readers in the US or UK, even we Nigerians must have faith in third party reports if we do not live in Borno State. Shortly after the reported incident, news was released by the police that they had freed all the kidnapped girls. They had to retract this when they were contradicted by people who knew better on social media.
Since then there have been claims and counter claims. Why does nobody have photographs of the kidnapped girls? Some photos have appeared in the press, but they were obtained second, third or fourth hand, and all captions use the word “allegedly”. If the girls were in school to do an examination conducted by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), a regional examinations body, why has this body not released photographs in its possession which all examinations candidate are obliged to provide?
Forty-three girls are said to have escaped from the bushes where they are being kept. Understandably and following the trend of this story their identity became a mystery. Who are the escaped ones? One or two names leaked out but even the authenticity of those could not be confirmed. Several hours ago, photos were published of several girls, supposedly the escaped ones, being addressed by the wife of a state governor. Those who spoke to the press could barely speak English. Many of us wondered if these were actually secondary school students.
Now the whole world is falling over themselves to promote the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, one of the latest being Michelle Obama who shared a tweet with a photograph of hers holding up a banner with the hashtag. Others are renowned musicians, actors and actresses, all famous people joining the rallying cry in support of freedom for the kidnapped Nigerian girls. Governments are not left out. The US has promised to lend personnel and intelligence support for the search. The governments of UK and China have also promised to help.
I find it interesting to read many Western media accusing themselves and their compatriots of not showing enough concern for the plight of the girls. It’s all very touching but I cannot resist a sense of bemusement. How different is this from the daily realities in Africa we have always tried to get the world to pay attention to without success? Does it need to take a politically correct concept (gay rights, the plight of girls and women – all fitting the news mould of a numbed Western conscience) to get their attention?
Some good will come from all this though. Apart from the release of the girls (I pray God they are found soon, if indeed they were kidnapped), world attention will hopefully expose the truth behind most of the violence in Nigeria – politics. Boko Haram may march under the banner of religion but its ultimate motive is politics. There are politicians using religion as marching song. The Nigerian president himself once admitted that ‘Boko Haram’ is inside his government. Whether that was a metaphor I cannot tell, but by turning the world attention to Nigeria, to the missing girls and to Boko Haram, and by allowing external help, intelligence or personnel, the truth will come out.
Eugene Ohu is a free lance journalist in Lagos, Nigeria.