Special for Africa ExPress
Abuja, 16 June 2015
Its been more than a year since 200 girls were abducted from their school in Chibok, a rural desert community in Borno State of North East Nigeria. Boko Haram, a radical violent group of Islamic insurgents, were originally accused of the crime. Their leader Shekau accepted responsibility in a video but there are intelligence reports that suggest Ansuara, a splinter group, may be the actual executors of the mission in Chibok.
In the immediate aftermath of the event rumors swirled around the media that no girls had actually been kidnapped. Questions were raised; how did the insurgents move more than 300 girls unnoticed? how could a convoy that size go undetected? In a region where girls education has some of the worst indices in Nigeria it also seemed unlikely that a single community could have that many girls in senior secondary school taking their final exams all at the same time. Secular education’s highly unpopular in northern Nigeria, especially for girls. The illiteracy rate for women in that age group in Borno is 98%
However as the days passed evidence continued to emerge that indeed a school had been sacked and that a cohort of female students had been abducted from the school although the exact numbers remain contested and unconfirmed till date. The Chibok incident brought global attention to Boko Haram’s atrocities against women and girls in their area of operations. Stories soon emerged of abductions and kidnappings going back as far as 2010. #BringBackOurGirls became a rallying cry for action and went viral globally.
Whether there was an incident at Chibok and whether a number of girls were abducted from the school is no longer in doubt. The questions we need to ask is exactly how many girls were taken from Chibok, who took them, where they might be now and why there is so little concrete evidence generally on the people, men and women, boys and girls, that have beeb abducted in northern Nigeria since 2010 when Boko Haram reemerged as violent extremists.
When reports emerged in May 2015 that a number of women and children were rescued from Boko Haram camps in the Sambisa Forest everyone expected to hear it was the Chibok girls and prepared to heave a sigh of relief. It was a surprise that of the over 800 women rescued in recent months not one of them was from Chibok Girls College. So where did the rescued women come from? And why weren’t we looking for them too? Didn’t someone notice they were missing? And where are the Chibok girls? Some of the rescued women claimed they heard stories of the Chibok girls but no one has said that they encountered any of them.
So we must ask again – did Boko Haram really take the Chibok girls? If not who took them? Most importantly – where are they now? China, UK and US have been unable to provide a specific location despite their superior technical support including drones and satellite imagery. Could these countries maybe know more than we do right now and what aren’t they telling us? And why?
The lack of evidentiary records all round is appalling and unacceptable. Surely there is some record somewhere of the existence and the disappearance of these rescued citizens? This is a after all a modern progrAdd Mediaessive country. The over used line that they may be unregistered and undocumented because of some backward regressive way of life in the north no longer holds water. Surely there must be at least one picture somewhere? Surely someone somewhere reported these disappearances?
The urgency for a National Identification System that works has never been more apparent to me. How can people just disappear without any record of their existence? And then just as suddenly reappear. How can a working state and local government claim not to have records of the comings and going of its citizens? And why are we still accepting that lame excuse more than half a century since it was first made? I have read too many glowing tributes about the centuries old administrative system in the north. Where is it now?
And I think we are all culpable and liable for buying that line all these decades – thats why Nigeria has been unable to conduct a reliable, accurate and credible census since 1956. We are all culpable and liable for the underdevelopment of the north and the resultant insurgency because it has been easier for us to turn away and leave them to their own devices rather than confront them and challenge them to change.
Can we trust Shettima of Borno? He seems too closely involved in the radicalisation of the late Yusuf and the emergence of Boko Haram as a violent insurgency. His statements about the Chibok abduction seem more like political grand standing than empathetic concern. His statements are vague and uncorroborated. Recently he went so far as to suggest the girls could be in underground bunkers. Is he just trying to look smart, peddling rumours or does he have credible intelligence on the abduction of the Chibok girls and their current whereabouts?
Immediate past President Jonathan commissioned two White Papers on the direct and remote causes of the insurgency in north east Nigeria, neither of them has been released. The new President has asked the Defence HQ to relocate to Maiduguri, the theatre of action. The Borno State governor, Shettima has done little more than report unconfirmed figures, demand increasing amounts of assistance to his state and make inflammatory statements to the media.
Meanwhile, the mystery behind the girls abducted on April 14, 2014 from Chibok Secondary School continues to grow.