IDEAs 14th April 2023 …
#BBOG’s Habiba Balogun on the 9th Anniversary of the Chibok Girls’ Abduction.
Ayo Obe said that today’s programme was going to be different from the usual election-related topics that IDEAs had been covering because the 14th of April marks a sad anniversary. It is 9 years since the abduction of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok Secondary School. They were at the school to write their exams and were staying there overnight. That night of 14th April 2014, the school was invaded and 276 of them were abducted. The terrorists took their time driving through Borno with their captives; the girls’ parents were even chasing them trying to get them back until some of the villages through which they were passing warned them to go back. Ayo said that the tragedy of this insurgency was that some of those who perpetrated the kidnapping had themselves been previously kidnapped and forced to join the insurgents. So some of them who were from Chibok had encouraged some of the girls to try and escape, and that was how 57 of them escaped in the course of the kidnapping, leaving 219 in the hands of the terrorists. As today is the 9th anniversary of that abduction, IDEAs has as our guest in the studio, Habiba Balogun, who is a staunch member of the #BringBackOurGirls movement. Ayo said that there was a time when everyone was talking about the concern of the international community over this matter, but that although the eye of the international community may have moved on, we were still here.
Habiba said that yes, nine years later we are still demanding the return of our Chibok Girls. It is nine years since someone whose child had been taken from out of a government school had been waiting. She asked listeners to imagine if it was their child, or sister. We know that these abducted Chibok Girls are still alive, because they are still being rescued. In 2022, 11 had been rescued, and that there has just been a report that another group had been rescued in October last year. According to the parents, of the original 276 who were kidnapped in 2014, we are now down to 92 who are still unaccounted for.
Ayo said that this was why the Chibok Girls remained an issue for IDEAs because it was concerned about Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Accountability, and the government is Accountable for their safety. But, she asked, did the passage of time diminish the obligation to Account?
Habiba said that it absolutely did not. IDEAs is also about Democracy, and in Democracy, there is a social contract between those who are governed, and those who govern: they submit to their authority in return for security, social amenities, education and health. She reminded listeners that the Chibok Girls had been kidnapped from a Government School, and said that the school is Accountable; the Local Government where Chibok is located is Accountable and the State Government is also Accountable. The State Government of Kasim Shettima (who was Governor at the time of the abduction) as well as the current State Government is Accountable because Accountability does not stop when one administration ends.
Ayo picked up on that point, noting that the Chibok Girls were kidnapped in April 2014 under the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, but that when he was sworn in on 29th May 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari had recognised that his administration had inherited the responsibility to Account for the Chibok Girls.
Habiba said she had been so excited that the President had said in his inaugural address – on his first day in office – that the return of the Chibok Girls was what would signify that his administration had really defeated the insurgency.
Asked what could be said about the Integrity of that declaration by the President nine years later, Habiba recalled that the President had moved the Armed Forces HQ to Borno State, and had negotiated the release of first 21 Chibok Girls, and then a further 82. Ayo said, “That was then,” but Habiba continued that the Armed Forces have really pushed forward, and that now we are seeing more of them liberated. 16 were rescued in the last two years: however 92 are still unaccounted for. It is known that some of them had died, because their classmates who have returned have given that information, but that several of the 92 are still alive. One rescued Chibok Girl brought news of a group of about 20 of them who are still together in captivity. Habiba also confirmed that another Chibok Girl still in captivity, Hauwa, had been able to get a telephone and call her father to let him know that there were about 7 of them together. So these girls – now women – are still there and waiting for rescue. They are helpless and voiceless, so we have to stand for them and for their parents, although the parents are not waiting idly, and in fact would be holding a Press Conference at 4.30 on Friday in Abuja at Unity Fountain to mark the anniversary. Habiba said that Government remains Accountable for the security and rescue of the Chibok Girls. We appreciate what Government has done so far, because we can’t stop criminals from engaging in criminal acts, but we expect Government to respond appropriately in accordance with its social contract with us. This administration has until May 29th to Bring Back Our Girls and Habiba said she was sure that they could do it.
Ayo said that what concerns her in respect the Integrity in the President’s declaration, is that while there had been enthusiasm at the beginning of the President’s first term – with negotiations and the 21 and then the 82 had been brought back – it’s as though it is now an embarrassment for the administration to be reminded that there are still Chibok Girls needing to be rescued, as if it wants the issue swept under the carpet and for us to move on. In other words, the very thing that had been criticised in the Jonathan administration is what the Buhari administration is now manifesting.
Habiba referred to the ‘E’ in IDEAs which stands for Ethics, and noted that when we were pressurising the Jonathan administration, the APC was in opposition and was fully behind the demand that the government should Bring Back Our Girls. The #BBOG movement had made it clear that the demand was not a partisan political one, and that now that the opposition is in government, it should know that it is not there for only its supporters, but also for today’s opposition, for those who are complaining about things. #BBOG had access to them when they felt it was in their favour, and for some months after the inauguration, but that now that they feel it makes them look bad that Chibok Girls are still in captivity, all of a sudden #BBOG becomes the enemy. Habiba said that this attitude was something that had to stop, because it was not Ethical to listen to only the voices in your favour, or invite only those who will praise you for consultations and conversations.
Ayo referred to the press statement issued by #BBOG on the 9th Anniversary about those Chibok Girls who had escaped or been rescued more recently as the Armed Forces advanced, but because they had been ‘married off’, the Government seemed to be treating them and their ‘husbands’ as ‘families’.
Habiba said that this was an issue of both Ethics and of Accountability because although this abduction had occurred when the girls or children were minors, they were returning as women, and some had returned with their Boko Haram ‘husbands’ – bearing in mind that some of these Boko Haram ‘husbands’ are victims themselves, having seen their parents killed in front of them then been conscripted into the terrorist group. Although we don’t know the situation, since it occurred when the girls were minors, Accountability is due to the parents. Also, because the girls are now women, as adults they should have agency or control over their own decision making, and she wondered how long they could be kept in any kind of custody.
When Ayo said that under Constitution, one could only be held for a reasonable time without being brought before a court, and that meant 24 hours except over a weekend, Habiba said that some of these girls or women had been held for several months or even over a year. While it could be protective custody, it should be with their consent and their parents should be carried along, but the indications were that the parents were not involved.
Ayo said that as regards the ‘husbands’ and how long that they could be kept in custody, even though Nigerians could be quite hostile to attempts to deradicalize or rehabilitate them, the reality is that there is a limit to the amount of time they could be just detained. So they need either to be charged, tried and convicted, or to be deradicalized and returned to their communities. They could not just be kept in detention indefinitely, no matter how much people would like to lock them up and throw away the key. She noted that even the communities to which they were to be returned were uneasy. This is undoubtedly a difficult issue, but it is both unethical and indeed unconstitutional to just keep people in detention indefinitely.
Habiba agreed that this was a very complex situation, and that going back to the ‘D’ of Democracy, this was why it was important to elect people who had the intellectual capacity and the educational grounding and maturity to consider these complex situations, to know that they should consult widely and make decisions for the benefit and greater good while still obeying our laws and Constitution.
Before closing, Ayo said that while we hope that there could be a beautiful surprise even tomorrow as we mark the 9th anniversary, if it were to happen that we get to May 29th and we still have 92 or 96 Chibok Girls unaccounted for, should we expect something different from the incoming administration? We should bear in mind that the Vice-President-elect, Governor Shettima, had been in charge of Borno State at the time of the abduction, and that many even blame him because of his decision that the examinations should go on at a time when there were open threats from the insurgents that they were going to attack the school since they opposed modern education for girls.
Habiba said that when the new administration comes in, there are greater levers to hold them by. She hoped that people who have their own personal experience from the hotbed where insurgency was introduced into Nigeria and has since spread all over the country and metamorphosised into banditry, that such people will have a better grasp of the problem that we are confronted with. She also stressed that lessons should have been learned from the way that the lack of response and Accountability in the immediate aftermath of the kidnapping had sent signals to criminal elements all over the country. She urged the new administration to ensure that there is no recurrence of such kidnappings, saying that they must really hammer and clamp down on the insecurity that we are facing all over the country.
Habiba and Ayo ended the programme by answering the question: “What are we demanding?” with the response: BRING BACK OUR GIRLS, NOW AND ALIVE!
Let us know your views. Do you think #BBOG is right to continue to demand that Government should bring back the Chibok Girls? Or is it time to ‘move on’?
Please be the first to post your views, or join the discussion below.