It is heartbreaking. News that on April 14th, 234 girls from Chibok were abducted while preparing for their final exams at the Government Girls Secondary School. 18 days since their disappearance, the government of the richest economy in Africa appears unable or unwilling to find the girls. Here’s why.
1. Chibok is a village in Borno state in north eastern Nigeria. Majority of the residents are poor muslims who lack the political clout to even pressure the federal government to provide them with basic amenities like water, access to healthcare or security. Simply put, this is a community so marginalized that their problems don’t stir the hearts of the power brokers in the nation’s capital.
2. Apart from being poor and neglected, Borno state is a stronghold of Boko Haram, a terrorist organization that has a mandate to rid Nigeria of any western influence, especially education. Since 2009, this ruthless sect which is an off shoot of Al-Qaeda, has launched several deadly attacks in Nigeria. In spite of bold statements by the federal government to decimate Boko Haram, the organization has become more effective and the government, despite its resources and formidable army, cannot contain Boko Haram’s activities in Borno.
3. Another reason why the missing students from Government Girls Secondary School are receiving little attention from the government boils down to politics. Chibok is a predominantly muslim community that did not vote for President Goodluck Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party. The residents believe they are being punished for not voting for the PDP. When news first broke that 234 girls had been abducted, the military initially denied the reports and did not send rescuers to track down the kidnappers. Without government assistance, it was the villagers who hopped on motorbikes to hunt down the terrorists . The absence of swift, organized effort to rescue the teenagers has given Boko Haram 18 days to cover their tracks and cart the girls to different locations.
4. Before the residents of Chibok were ignored by the federal government, the local government which administers direct control in the region failed to take simple measures which could have prevented the crisis. Prior to the abduction, the West African Examination Council, WAEC, refused to conduct the exams in Chibok, citing grave security concerns. The council urged the local government to relocate the examination centre to protect the students Unfortunately, the governor of the state, Kashim Shettima refused to relocate the students. Shettima assured WAEC that adequate security measures would be provided however, the ill-equipped guards sent to protect the school were easily overpowered by Boko Haram.
5. Complicating search efforts, a number of people are beginning to question the veracity of the stories coming out of Chibok. A few days ago, Kema Chikwe, a prominent politician and the National Women Leader of the ruling PDP questioned the abduction. “How did it happen? Who saw it happen? Who did not see it happen? Who is behind this…” she demanded at a public event. Even though she claimed her statement was taken out of context, it resonates with conspiracy theorists who find the circumstances surrounding the abduction dubious.
So far, out of the 234 girls who were initially kidnapped, 50 have managed to escape. They did so without the help of authorities. Responding to the wave of backlash on how it has handled this issue, the Nigerian government has now set up a committee to find the rest of the students. Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh has assured Nigerians that they are closing in on the terrorists. First lady Patience Jonathan, has promised to lead a protest to Borno if the children are not returned by Sunday May 4th… More than lip service is required to appease the mother wailing “bringbackourgirls”