It has been two weeks since around 230 schoolgirls were kidnapped from their boarding school in northern Nigeria by a militant Islamic group known as Boko Haram which claims ties to Al Qaeda. Boko Haram roughly means “non-Islamic education is a sin” in Hausa and was founded in 2002 to uphold sharia law. Their early transgressions against other Muslims predominantly in Nigeria’s north who do not share their extremist ideology were largely ignored by the Nigerian authorities up until recent years when their activities began to involve bombings, release of state prisoners, and massacres including that of students.
But back to the girls. Ranging in age from 15 to 18, it is not known what the exact number is who were kidnapped nor who are still missing. That in itself is telling of the sheer lack of concern. The girls had been called back to the one school in the region still open despite security fears in order to take a physics examination when they were hauled off into the forest by gunmen. This occurred about two days before the South Korean ferry tragedy which has been dominating the world’s media, inching out the story of the missing Malaysia Airlines 370, but having to give up some air-time to Sterling’s racists comments and the on-going crisis in the Ukraine. Unfortunately, in this high tech world we live in, our wavelengths are not flooded with vivid images from this remote area of northern Nigeria of the pain and anguish on the faces of the parents whose daughters have been stolen.
I remember reading the following day the Nigerian miltary reporting that all but eight of the girls and been found and freed and being impressed only to learn soon after that that was a completely false report on the part of the Nigerian authorities.
“As I am talking to you now, only 14 of the students have returned,” an
aide to Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima said, asking not to be
That was when I begun to really shake my head and purse my lips. It is one thing to largely ignore a terrorist organization raising havoc and a completely different thing to either lie or not have any regard towards the truth. I’m beyond disappointed in the response of the Nigerian authorities. While state soldiers are too scared to go into the forest and retrieve these girls, their parents have reportedly gone into the forest with pooled resources to look for their children only to have to turn back because they are woefully equipped for the task at hand.
Why does the Nigerian army seem incapable of protecting its citizens? Do they owe any allegiance to Boko Haram? Do the politicians? Is this ethnic tension in play? It’s almost as if the only side that has any motivation at all is Boko Haram.
This week, the news that some of the girls have been sold into slavery or forced to marry members of Boko Haram or taken outside of the country all together breaks my heart truly and sorely. As a woman, a West African, and a physician, I cannot imagine sitting for a physics examination as a teenage girl, maybe with aspirations to be a science teacher, a pharmacist, a doctor, or an engineer, only to have that opportunity snatched from me because I dared to dream that I a girl-child could be any of those professions. Not that my parents decided it wasn’t worth it to educate me, or that they rather have a dowry, but that complete strangers think my worth in society is to be raped, to be mated, to breed, and to serve. I do not want to envision the torture both physically and emotionally that these children must be enduring. I cannot imagine the anguish and despair of the parents who know that their daughters are out there somewhere yet see no action on the part of their government or the global community in finding them. Parents who have to pool together their meager resources and go find their daughters on foot or on motorbike with farm equipment as their mode of defense only to be forced to turn back by the darkness of the night. Parents whose only recourse now is to march and protest to demand resources from someone (anyone) who will listen so they can find their children themselves since no authority seems to want to do anything. Imagine?!
I cannot say that the media has ignored the situation, for how else would I know about each developing event. But I wonder where the proponents and defenders of the girl-child are. If not the Nigerian army, then ECOWAS, the African Union, the United Nations (UNICEF, UN Women), or any of a myriad of NGO’s.
It is so disheartening.