By RAYMOND INKABI
ABUJA, Nigeria – In Chibok, north eastern Nigeria, the sun is just a little overhead the community where 276 school girls were infamously abducted by the Boko Haram sect three years ago.
I had gone to Borno to witness first-hand the damage done by the insurgency for a report on internal displacement in the three northeastern states of Nigeria: Adamawa; Borno and Yobe.
As the news filtered in, one by one people started gathering around, with more women coming. At first, they all looked grim and bland, uncertain and not too sure if what they heard was true. Then the men came, and then the children. They had just received the news that 82 of their daughters have been released by Boko Haram and are being taken to Abuja the nation’s capital to meet with the authorities.
There was wild jubilation, singing, as they confirmed it to be true. “We will be invited to Abuja to meet our daughters, and also meet with the authorities.” They said.
However, these parents at the same time were not happy, but had mixed feelings and expressed fears of not being allowed to come home with their daughters. “Our daughters won’t be allowed to come home. The government will keep them. We’ve waited so long to have our children back” they said. While we are happy to receive the good news some have been rescued, it seems the parents are not, because they fear the government won’t let them have their daughters.
Last October, both Nigerian and Swiss Governments with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) secured the release of 21 Chibok girls. And on Saturday, the ICRC acting as a “neutral intermediary” again “facilitated the safe return” of 82 of the kidnapped Chibok girls from Boko haram captivity in exchange for several militant commanders of the jihadist group. This release was confirmed by a press release by Mallam Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on Media and Publicity. This swap came amidst continued calls for action globally by various governments, organizations and individuals.
But the problem remains getting these returnees back home to their families. We have seen this happen before, last year, in Abuja, after the 21 Chibok girls were released in the girls were immediately sequestered and taken to a safe house in an unknown location for fears of their safety. And the only time they came home was a short stay during Christmas.
Rather than trading one form of captivity for the other, the girls need to return to their families immediately, many of whom no longer live in their previous locations where they were kidnapped. It’s only right their families be informed on the reasons for having their daughters held, this time by their own government. If the government can’t keep the girls safe or assure their reintegration into society, it is just because they have not completely succeeded in keeping anyone safe from Boko haram.
The reality is if no one can guarantee the safety of these children with their parents, then no one is actually safe from terrorist attacks. Which raise serious concerns on how much premium placed on security of citizens. We must ensure the government reunites these separated families as soon as possible. As Boko Haram have been known to change tactics to carry out terrorist activities, with the most recent being the use of child suicide bombers which are an increasing threat, with this year having more children; with most of them being underage girls according to UNICEF.
The Bring Back Our Girls campaign has continually mobilized and raised their voices at various times to the government about the Chibok girls. But sadly, the Chibok girls are not the first and only ones to be forcefully abducted, by Boko Haram in the North east. Will they go home to their families? Sadly this question remains answered and uncertain from precedence. A lot of attention has focused primarily on getting the girls back. But getting back home to their families should also be a top priority.
Many men, women and children have been kidnapped in the northeast at different places and times. Some of whom have been rescued by the Nigerian military, but in spite of this effort there are many others who aren’t so lucky and were sold, killed, married off, and sent on suicide missions by the sect. This continues unnoticed or unreported by the media and the government. Till date the north east have been ravaged, deserted, with looming food crises, threat of climate change, loss of livelihoods and millions displaced by the insurgency.
One of the Chibok displaced persons, Mr. Sani Lukaku complained bitterly of the neglect, himself and other IDPs who managed to escape to Abuja and other places are facing from the government, the international relief and aid agencies who have focused mostly all their attention to the North east. He says “they don’t care about us. They all go to Borno but we that survived are still suffering here”
At Durumi IDPs camp in Abuja, where I met with Ms. Carolyn Ronis a Legislative aide who have worked in the US congress and now run a non-profit; the International Coalition for the Eradication of Hunger and Abuse founded in the wake of the Chibok abduction but now focuses primarily on IDPs and other vulnerable populations in Nigeria. “The suffering is too much for these victims and survivors of Boko haram, many who have been displaced, since 2014, the government and well-spirited individuals need to come urgently to their aid” she stated.
There are serious concerns about the state of IDPs outside the north east who live both in camps and host communities.
Abuja alone has about 32 IDPs camps and host communities nestled in the capital, where living conditions are of the lowest unimaginable scales with little or no hope for these survivors. This is the same situation with Lagos, Nigeria’s former capital where most IDPs from the north head to for safety and in search of better life. Many IDPs are found living in uncompleted buildings, under bridges, parks and other open spaces, engaging in all sorts of activities to make ends.
We have to realize that these displaced persons are humans and we owe them a duty, and have to be looked out for, and protected by the government whose responsibility it is to do so. There is a need to look inwards and build stronger institutions, create sustainable peace, and aid to those affected by the insurgency. While tackling the root causes of terrorism.
In this way the triggers and underlying causes of Boko Haram, the cycle poverty and the perpetuation of social violence can be stopped. But firstly, one right step will be allowing the released Chibok girls back home to their families.
By RAYMOND INKABI