Bring back our girls, bring back Nigeria

I watched the first lady of my country, Nigeria, shed tears for the abducted Chibok girls more than two weeks after they went missing. I didn’t actually see the tears fall: she covered her face with a large tissue.

Her husband, President Goodluck Jonathan, went on a political rally in the northern city of Kano two days after the girls were abducted. The 2015 elections are, after all, only a year away. Issues such as addressing the nation over the schoolgirl abductions, and the bomb blast in Abuja days later, which killed 70 people, are obviously less pressing in nature.

Yet on national television last Sunday, the president promised Nigeria: “Wherever these girls are, we’ll surely get them out.” It’s amazing what a little international scrutiny will do. We have discovered the power of the hashtag over the past week. The simple, emphatic demand #BringBackOurGirls has moved across the Twitter time lines of the famous and the unknown, uniting Nigerian housewives and the United States secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.

Protests have spread from Abuja to Lagos, London and Washington; CNN, the BBC, Al Jazeera and other international media organisations have flocked to the protest sites, building momentum. And now US President Barack Obama has called for the world to act against Boko Haram, the terror organisation that kidnapped the girls.

And yet, as elated as I am over the overdue coverage this issue is finally receiving, I cannot help but wonder what comes next. When the girls are released, will they be returned to a country where they are not at the risk of being abducted again? Will they be released to families that are safe from the threat of Boko Haram attacks? Will they come home to a Nigeria where the money meant for their education, their health and their future is not siphoned off into accounts around the globe?

Occupy Nigeria movement
Viewing the events surrounding the Chibok abductions, I am reminded of the Occupy Nigeria protest of January 2012, when thousands demonstrated over the sudden removal of a national petrol subsidy, causing fuel prices to double overnight. Like the #BringBackOurGirls movement, Occupy Nigeria migrated from Twitter through street protests to international coverage.

As the world looked on, causing our leaders to squirm, it was the time for us to call for the Nigeria we wanted, to demand transparency, education and better infrastructure.

Another Boko Haram attack? Nineteen people were killed in a bomb blast at Nyanya bus station on the outskirts of Abuja. (AFP)

But the negotiators were blinkered. They could ask for only one thing: a restoration of the subsidy. And when the petrol pump price was reduced, although not to former levels, it was as if a small victory had been won.

What victory, when our legislators were still the highest paid in the world? When our children were still some of the most illiterate in the world? When our youths suffered one of the highest levels of unemployment in the world?

None of these issues had been addressed, not even when the world was watching and our government, not embarrassed by the plight of its citizens, was shamed under the vast lens of the international media.

Halt the tragedy
We cannot let this opportunity pass a second time, for who knows what even greater tragedy will cause the world’s attention to return to Nigeria?

Now is the time for us to widen our protest; now is the time to ask what country these girls will be returned to.

What happened to the trial of Senator Ali Ndume, alleged sponsor of Boko Haram insurgents? Why, despite the billions allocated to defence, are the insurgents reportedly better equipped than our soldiers? Why do Nigerian girls remain among the most uneducated in the world? Why has polio not been eradicated in Nigeria? Where is the $20-billion that our central bank governor discovered was missing from our treasury this year? And, of course: Where are our girls?

This Friday, I will join hundreds of people in front of the Nigerian high commission in London to protest at the abduction of our girls and the abduction of our country. Mr President, it’s not too late for you to become the leader we elected you to be. Take your eyes off the 2015 elections and focus on the matter at hand. Bring back our girls. Bring back our money. Bring back our country. – © Guardian News & Media 2014

Chibundu Onuzo, a Nigerian writer, is the author of The Spider King’s Daughter.

Nigeria’s mysterious most-wanted man

Abubakar Shekau laughs as he informs viewers he plans to sell almost 300 girls kidnapped by his fighters. “Why is everybody making noise just because I took some girls who were in Western education anyway?” he says, almost giggling, in the video.

The rhetoric is typical of the Boko Haram leader’s brash on-screen persona. But little is known about Nigeria’s most wanted man.

A screen grab from a video showing a man claiming to be Abubakar Shekau, leader of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram. (AFP)

Born in impoverished north-east Nigeria before moving to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, he is believed to be in his early 40s.

A Boko Haram intermediary said Shekau was fastidious about his personal hygience and rejected luxuries. But his controlling personality meant some commanders deserted, and his dictatorial leadership prompted the breakaway Ansaru faction, according to a senior security official.

“He is the craziest of all the commanders. He really believes it is OK to kill anyone who disagrees with him,” the intermediary said. Analysts say Shekau has at least one double. – Monika Mark

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