The Missing Nigerian School Girls #BringBackOurGirls

Written by Ella

It’s my first time ever hearing of the Boko Haram and, like most, I wish I never had. Still, as a human being, I know that I should do something. What can I do? I know I’m not the only one asking myself that question. Whose responsibility is this? What I fear now, is a ridiculously grossing box-office hit, reenacting a story about how no one helped. 

Officially, according to the Nigerian government, Boko Haram is a terrorist group. It began life as a separatist movement led by a northern Nigerian Muslim preacher, Mohammed Yusuf, who decried the country’s misrule. “Boko Haram” is a combination of the Hausa language and Arabic, understood to mean that Western, or un-Islamic, learning is forbidden. In 2009, after Yusuf was killed—executed, it’s all but certain, by Nigerian police—his followers vowed revenge. – National Geographic

I, too, am too late to the battlefield. I too, feel too far removed from the rest of the world. So, unlike some, I rest well at night, never fearing that armies of my enemies will set fire to my home in the middle of the night, herd me into a van and sell me off to be the wife (or sex slave) of men who murder dreams.

        The 200+ kidnapped Nigerian girls (ages 16-18) don’t know me, but since I know of them, is it my obligation to do something? I would suppose so –even if for no other reason than that when I look in the mirror, I remind myself of them. Still, I know nothing of Africa. The one thing I know of some Africans – as expressed by students in groups I attended while in college, is that some aren’t too fancy of Black Americans. Do I make this about myself? Or about us? Perhaps this is one of those moments of bridging the gap and standing beside your brothas, sistas and fellow humans. “This could have been my sister. This could have been my niece. This could have been my cousin,”  Olakunle Fakiyesi, of Morgan State University’s Nigerian Alumni Association said to CBS Baltimore “I believe if these were American girls, the world would have stopped and these girls would have been brought home,” she continued hinting at the larger problem in this tragedy. Morgan State University held a rally where participants shared, prayed and released balloons into the air to symbolize their hope for the girls’ return.  Unfortunately, this only makes me wonder what my alma mater, the Jesuit Loyola University (7 minutes away) did to help. I chose to attend the predominantly white school because it might look better on my resume and because it could teach me certain things: For example, that people’s priorities are arranged by how closely they relate to the issue -for the majority, discrimination is very hard to relate to.

Balloons released at a rally at  Morgan State University - CBSBalloons released at a rally at  Morgan State University - CBS

Balloons released at a rally at  Morgan State University – CBS

      Meanwhile, I sit comfortably at my desk in New York City’s financial district, often unappreciative of my freedom and relative safety. Occasionally, I wonder about an odd bag on the train or being followed in the dark, but bombings are much less frequent in NYC than 9/11 memorials and bumper stickers makes it seem. I’m also sure it’s much more terrifying when your “enemy” looks just like you. You see, this is where the issue of race truly disappears. It’s difficult for the world to arm itself against another Rwanda incident, Africa continues to have a negative light cast upon it, no matter how beautiful. Where I get most lost in terrorism is at the core evil of individuals thinking they’re out to do good. When 200+ girls are kidnapped in Chibok, Nigeria and a 13-year-old boy is shot in the eye on Flatbush Ave in Brooklyn, NY,  we cannot deny that there is a violence that exists in the form of justice. What can we do about it?  Kareem Potomont has been indicted, but what jury is there to rule on the countless members of the Boko Haram? 

           Sometimes I feel like this isn’t my fight; it isn’t my fear. That is what I believe is the greatest issue with individuality. We feel like a fight isn’t ours, so we walk away because we don’t have time to support others. I’ve been declining invites to open mics and showcases –things that I love. Instead, I’ve decided to lend myself the only way I truly know how: to inform and give my opinion while trying (with all of my might) to be a reliable source of information. I  also hope to provide other sources of reliable information -I know I’m not God.

        This tragedy sort-of about race. It is heavily about gender. But it is all about freedom. This is about being able to be a human – freely. When people are kidnapped in the middle of the night, this is everyone’s problem. When young women are kidnapped from their schools because learning is a sin, this is everyone’s problem. Even the NY Times (everyone’s favorite “reliable” source) has stated this:

The best tool to fight extremism is education, especially of girls — and that means ensuring that it is safe to study. The greatest threat to militancy in the long run comes not from drones but from girls with schoolbooks… More than 200 teenage girls have just been enslaved because they had the brains and guts to seek to become teachers or doctors. They deserve a serious international effort to rescue them. – NY Times

This is the worst kind of terrorism, as author Uzodinma Iweala explained in the Washington Post:

A mass kidnapping is in many ways a more terrifying statement than the mass murder of innocent civilians by bombs, because however horrible, an explosion is a finite event. There is a before and an after, during which those who remain are permitted to literally pick up the pieces and reconstruct a new understanding of the world. Kidnapping causes a long-term rupture in the psyche of those kidnapped and of those who wait for their return. It doesn’t end. A person who has been taken is not there, but there is no body to inter for closure, no body on which to build memory. The kidnapped person is so tantalizingly close, kept alive by a devastating hope. Kidnapping or hostage-taking is perhaps the most disturbing form of terror because it turns this hope into a liability that can paralyze. – Washington Post:

So what can we do as individuals? I believe we should never underestimate the power of support. Support is the most essential nutrient to a human being’s growth. If the world doesn’t join forces to say that the Boko Haram’s tactics are wrong, they may as well run the world. Collectively, we decide what should be accepted. While we can’t expect to prevent every single incident, we can work towards a better world – corny as it sounds. Everything takes time, but as thought leaders and celebrities continue to share their concern via social media and other outlets, we should show those who are threatened due to our American/Western influence, that we are behind them. There are problems that are bigger than us individually. When something like this happens, seems we forget the wrongs in support of the greater good; for better or for worse. ABC News even highlighted Chris Brown for his #BringBackOurGirls twitter mention, making him the most prolific woman beater since Ike Turner. My only fear is that this turns into fad where it’s cool to post a photo of yourself with a sign, without any real action behind it… and until it’s not cool anymore. I suppose nothing matters anymore… just #BringBackOurGirls.

      I understand and believe that we cannot physically stop the Boko Haram unless there is also an army ready to fight them. Therefore, the solution lies in the hands of [someone’s/anyone’s] government and armed forces. Unfortunately, the Nigerian people don’t trust their own government. I’m sure this stems from issues you’d only know from living in the country, but it was fueled by the stories of protestors who claimed that First Lady of Nigeria, Patience Jonathan, ordered the arrest of protestors and accused the people of making up the story of the kidnappings only to ruin her husband’s political career (Huffington Post). I can’t say I fault the people for their fear. In 2012, the NY Times reported on Nigeria and the Boko Haram, explaining that the extremists and locals have something in common:

A shared enemy: the Nigerian state, seen by the poor here as a purveyor of inequality.

“People are supporting [the Boko Haram] because the government is cheating them,” said Mohammed Ghali, the imam at the mosque where the two Boko Haram members pray. Imam Ghali is known as an intermediary between the militants and the authorities, and while open backing for the group can put almost anyone in the cross hairs of the Nigerian security services, there appears to be no shortage of Boko Haram supporters here.

“At any time I am ready to join them, to fight injustice in this country,” said Abdullahi Garba, a candy vendor who came into Imam Ghali’s office. – Huffington Post

         Domestic warfare is something I never want to experience. Imagine a bomb going off at 3pm when you’re getting on the bus. Imagine being afraid to sleep. Anyone who knows me knows how much I value education –I couldn’t imagine someone telling me I couldn’t study and be what I want to be. Then there’s the issue of not being able to trust anyone. If your neighbor is Boko Haram, and you’re not… imagine what they might do. Your neighbor might report you or (not sure if it’s worse) take it upon themselves to teach you a lesson. 

Unofficially, in the national collective consciousness, Boko Haram has become something more than a terrorist group, more even than a movement. Its name has taken on an incantatory power. Fearing they will be heard and then killed by Boko Haram, Nigerians refuse to say the group’s name aloud, referring instead to “the crisis” or “the insecurity.” “People don’t trust their neighbors anymore,” a civil society activist in Kano told me. “Anybody can be Boko Haram.”  – National Geographic

I have no idea how it feels. I can only tell you about books I’ve read or movies I’ve seen. I pray to God I never have to go through any of this, nor my children… nor anyone else, for that matter. I’m sorry it’s a reality. As I googled my life away in an effort to understand, my favorite pieces came from Uzodinma Iweala, who is a wonderful writer and uses the word “we”, never forgetting his people. He has an amazing understanding of the Nigerian society – all of it’s beautiful flaws, so I’ll let him close this one out: 

The world — indeed, Nigerians too — often forgets that we are a young democracy, essentially only 15 years old, which has experienced only two successful successive transfers of power. Nigeria shed the last of a succession of brutal military dictatorships in 1997 and adopted a democratic form of government only in 1999. Our elections of 2003, 2007 and 2011 were complicated and fraught with tension, but each one has shown remarkable progress. We are also a young nation, less than 60 years old, comprising almost 180 million people of multiple ethnicities and cultures, still trying to parse the overarching story of our nationhood. The actions of Boko Haram expose a painful truth now alien to those who live in some of the older, more stable democracies of this world: that the journey toward a peaceful political discourse often requires a society to wrestle with its more violent forms of dialogue, and that those least connected to the fight are often the ones who suffer the most…

Hashtags are important. We must #bringbackourgirls. But the Internet is not and will never be an answer to a group committed to blowing up their own bodies in the quest for their tainted vision of governance. As Nigerians, we must hold ourselves accountable to forming an idea of who we are and how we address those who use violence as expression. The international community must stand with Nigerians through this struggle and not turn its head away as we deal with the troubles we will certainly encounter as we march toward this vision.

Together — that is how we will bring our girls back, and ultimately how our girls will bring us back to ourselves. – by Uzodinma Iweala for The Washington Post


PS: United State’s First Lady, Michelle Obama, will give a radio address on Nigeria Saturday, May 10th at 5am. Please listen whenever you’d like 


Take care of yourselves & our world, 


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