Public pressure both at home and abroad is keeping hope alive for the safe return of the 200-plus Nigerian girls abducted from a boarding school in a remote part of northern Nigeria by the notorious Islamic fundamentalist Boko Haram group.
The #BringBackOurGirls viral campaign is phenomenal, and it was the brainchild of Ibrahim M. Abdullahi, a managing partner at a law firm based in Abuja, Nigeria. He said, “It’s gratifying that because of the popularity of the hashtag, the whole world has an interest in the abduction of the girls.”
The whole world is watching.
During the South African struggle against apartheid, a slogan was born: “You have touched the women you have struck a rock; you have dislodged a boulder—you will be crushed.”
At one of several New York City rallies on the crisis, Harlem City Council Member Inez E. Dickens told a crowd at City Hall, “If they steal one, they have stolen your child. They have stolen my daughter. They have stolen my sister. And today, we stand united to say, ‘This will not be tolerated.’”
“We want the government to do everything humanely possible and use all the resources to get our girls back,” said Nkechi Ogbodo, who runs Kechie’s Project, a New York- and Nigeria-based nonprofit girls’ mentorship group.
The Nigerian-born activist organized the rally outside the Nigerian Consulate on Saturday. “We look up to our president, and we know he cannot do it all alone, but we need to know that he is there leading us to make sure that we don’t have this type of thing happening again,” she told the AmNews. “He is paying attention. The African leaders are paying attention. We are living in a changing world where news travels fast. Social media is there. Things can no longer be swept under the carpet.”
It took almost three weeks for Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to make a national response that the government will do all it can to bring the girls home. News as of press time was that the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, is bragging that he has converted most of the girls to Islam. In a widely publicized video, about 100 girls between 14 and 16 years old, believed to be part of the kidnapped group, are seen reciting sentences in Arabic as they sit on the ground wearing traditional Muslim chador gowns. Most of the girls were Christian. There are fears that the girls may have been separated, with some sold as child brides in Cameroon and Chad.
Shekau declared that he might exchange those who have not converted for captured Boko Haram militants. Nigerian Interior Minister Abba Moro said no.
Ogbodo told the AmNews,“Someone told me that Boko Haram must be very excited by the attention, but eventually, they are going to pay attention for taking advantage of our young girls and all the killings of our young boys, for all the schools they have burnt down. Nigeria is not an Islamic country. Nigeria’s constitution says that everyone can practice any religion they want to, so why are they killing innocent girls and preachers? … hopefully, we will get these girls back.”
“This is a war; the government should throw everything it has at these people,” said Lookman Moshood, owner of Buka, a Nigerian restaurant in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. “They are not human, taking our children. We have to at this point support our government and President Jonathan. Now he knows the people are behind him, he will do more. It’s a catch-22. This is not the first time for Boko Haram—they have killed and taken so many. The military has to be very careful about the rules of engagement.”
“This is a wake-up call for the Nigerian security apparatus. It is too porous,” said Oguga Iwelu, an entertainment producer and cultural activist based in Brooklyn and Lagos, Nigeria.
Two New York rallies on Saturday brought out the concerned, who demanded the return of the teens. An early morning rally in Marcus Garvey Park had participants marching downtown from Harlem to the Nigerian Consulate. Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Rev. Al Sharpton were among the speakers who told all in earshot and beyond that the world wants the girls to be returned home.
“Boko Haram, the group who attacked them, was not named a terrorist organization until November 2013,” charged Stephanie Arthur, founder of the African Leadership Project. “This may have sent the message to the Nigerian government then that Americans and other foreign investors who are now credited with assisting Nigeria achieve $510 billion GDP [gross domestic product] in 2013 would’ve only been willing to invest provided there were no looming threats of terrorism or civil wars. A huge miscalculation on their part. Instead, ordinary people were able to use Twitter as a tool for a mass social movement, and the story came to light through figures like Michelle Obama, who tweeted pictures holding the #BringBackOurGirls.”
Arthur noted, “The saddest thing about this story is the Nigerian government missed numerous opportunities to be seen as the moral leader of Africa because of the lack of political will to rescue these girls. The abduction took place in the remote Chibok region of northern Nigeria, which may not be of strategic importance to the Jonathan administration … had the girls come from Abuja or Lagos, this may have prompted the government to act … Now Nigeria, who helped neighboring Liberia chase out oppressive Charles Taylor, are being pressured by the USA to help their own people because of their misguided belief that some people’s lives are more valuable than others.”
Since 2010, a year after their inception, Boko Haram have reigned terror on Nigerians, from slaughter, to bombings, to arson, to shootings. While some chatter over the last fortnight has applauded the call for an Israeli and U.S. boots-on-the-ground response, others point to the rumor mentioned three years ago on Nairaland.com that “CIA and Mossad to Divide Nigeria Soon.”
Rallying Nigerians go between a passionate call to find the girls and wanting to expose that overt and covert international operations are afoot. Speaking at the rally on Saturday, importer Adewale, 56, told the AmNews, “We want our children brought home, but at the same time, we are clear that Boko Haram may be an instrument being funded and supported by outside sources who want to destabilize Nigeria. AFRICOM is about taking over Africa. But our eyes are open.”
President Barack Obama has assured Americans that there will be no military component to the intelligence-gathering assistances and work of the “coordination cell.”
Citing WikiLeaks, thenigerianoracle.com asked on July 21, 2013, “Is Boko Haram a CIA covert operation?”
The article states, “We have already been regaled with reports provided by the Wikileaks, which identified the U.S. embassy in Nigeria as a forward-operating base for wide- and far-reaching acts of subversion against Nigeria, which include but are not limited to eavesdropping on Nigeria government communication, financial espionage on leading Nigerians, support and funding of subversive groups and insurgents, sponsoring of divisive propaganda among the disparate groups of Nigeria and the use of visa blackmail to induce and coerce high-ranking Nigerians into acting in favor of U.S. interests.
“But beyond what we know from the WikiLeaks report, what many Nigerians do not know is that the U.S. embassy’s subversive activities in Nigeria fit into the long-term U.S. government’s well-camouflaged policy of containment against Nigeria, the ultimate goal of which is to eliminate Nigeria as a potential strategic rival to the U.S. in the African continent.”
“The Diaspora Nigerians in America organization has applauded the decision of President Goodluck Jonathan to accept the offer of the government of Israel to locate the abducted girls by the Boko Haram terrorist group,” said Chika Onyeani, publisher and editor-in-chief of African Sun Times.
An article on Nairaland.com quotes WikiLeaks, stating, “Nigeria, without support from the West or U.N., led the first-ever African intervention force on peacekeeping mission to Liberia while at the same time engaging Sierra Leone in forced peace combat with predominantly Nigerian troops (over 90 percent) being spearheaded by then military ruler Gen. Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida.
“In this regard, the report further recalled Nigeria’s role in helping to liberate the southern African countries in the ʼ’70s and ʼ’80s in clear opposition and defiance to the interests of the United States and its Western allies, which resulted in setback for Western initiatives in Africa at the time.”
Thus, it was concluded, the website claims, “that the U.S. government, in conjunction with its allies, should seek to contain the growing influence of Nigeria in the sub-region.”
The website continued, “The CIA, while tactically taking advantage of growing sectarian violence in Nigeria, recruited jobless Islamic extremists through Muslim and other traditional leaders offering training indirectly to the group by use of foreign-based terror groups … In December 2011, an Algerian-based CIA wing gave out 40 million Naira as a planned long-term partnership with Boko Haram with [a] pledge to do more.”
“It’s all political. Nigeria is a very complex country,” said Ogbodo. “[President Jonathan] has his own part of the blame, but he is in a very difficult situation because of all the major players that are involved, the different ethnic and religious groups involved. But at the end of the day, he is our president, and the people elected him. I think he is a good man, but others are fueling this crisis and taking advantage of him, trying to reach out to everyone, trying to come together as one. He has been soft, trying to please the north and all over.”
According to Ogbodo, Jonathan has faltered as he has tried to appease opponents and “Boko Haram and those extremist groups in the north. “I believe there are religious and political implications in this, and that is why we are calling on all Nigerians to do their part.”