•Four years after, group, clerics hold rally, prayers for release of abducted schoolgirls
Friday April 13 was a sad day for members of the Chibok community living in Lagos, it was the fourth anniversary of the abduction of 276 female secondary school students from their school in Chibok, Borno State, by the Boko Haram terror group.
To commemorate the anniversary, the Chibok community in Lagos, the Lagos State chapter of the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) movement and some Lagos residents staged a walk and also offered prayers for the safe return of the rest of the girls.
Though the girls were abducted 1,600 kilometres away, echoes of their pain and trauma were brought to the fore on different banners around the Falomo Bridge, Ikoyi, Lagos.
When it was time for the commencement of the inter-faith vigil to mark the anniversary of the girls’ abduction, members of the BBOG, relatives of the abducted girls and others staged a walk to the United Nations (UN) office, a few metres away, to once again draw global attention to the ugly incident.
Aside from using the event to make the world know it was already four years sinve the abduction, the BBOG also seized the opportunity to remind all about others girls in captivity, including those from Dapchi, Yobe State.
When the walk eventually ended at the venue, the state coordinator of the BBOG, Mrs. Aisha Muhammed-Oyebode, did not mince words while calling for greater efforts to get the girls freed.
Said she: “It is with a deep sense of regret that we commemorate an anniversary that we had hoped never to acknowledge. We are gathered here not to celebrate the long captivity of our dear innocent schoolgirls whose rights and liberty were trampled upon, but to express the deep suffering of our daughters in Boko Haram captivity.
“Their voices may not be heard in the public, but they sound clearly in the heart of their parents, their community and well-meaning Nigerians.
“The commemoration of the anniversary of Chibok girls in Boko Haram captivity is not a mere ritual, nor an annual event that brings people together for merriment, but a gathering of concerned Nigerians who share the pain and who will never sit back to watch Nigerian’s children dehumanised by terrorists.
“In the years since that tragic incident, we had borne witness to the struggles ands efforts of the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) movement to keep the girls alive in the public’s memory, to name them, not let their identities fade into obscurity. We have borne witness to the gratifying return of some of the girls and their heroic efforts to pick up their lives and in the process translate a tale of trauma into one of the triumph of the human spirit. However, our joy is not yet full and cannot be as long as there are other girls in the custody of the insurgents.
“I know first-hand the trauma their families and loved ones pass through every day; the tears that flow from their eyes whenever they recall the memories they can no longer make with their daughters, and the promises, expectation and hopes for a better future, and looking forward to the successful advancement and graduation of their daughters from school.
“These hopes and expectations were painfully truncated without any consideration for the toil these girls and their families passed through, enduring the driving and drenching rain and scorching sun. As a result of the trauma associated with the abduction and the long imprisonment of the girls in captivity, 17 of the parents of the girls have died. With Dapchi, we have another six, even though we are told five died. They were never returned.
“The narrative has become almost a song with the authorities. While we are not unaware of the effort made so far by the government of Nigeria in securing the release of 103 girls from captivity, four years in captivity is too long and totally unacceptable. In fact, on May 4, 2017, we were excepting 83 girls, on May 6, only 82 girls agreed to board the plane to freedom. That one that remained still haunts me till today.
“Saraya Paul, whose father once said to me as far back as October 2015 that God blessed him with eight children, and that they were all obedient children, but that none had honoured him as much as Saraya. It was the same Saraya that opted to remain with captors. We have failed these children and continue to fail their families.
“The abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls and the Dapchi girls is an attack on the soul of Nigeria. The kidnapping of innocent girls from school is totally unacceptable and we demand collective action to fight the monster in Nigeria. The right of children, women and girls must be provided for, protected and promoted as enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“The recent abduction of schoolsgirls from Dapchi serves to highlight the still existing threats to vulnerable people, children and especially girls. It is disheartening that four years after the abduction of Chibok girls, the circumstances that made that crime against humanity possible still exist. Today, we remember Leah Sharibu, the lone Dapchi girl still being held against her will by the insurgents and lift our voices in asking for her immediate release. For us, the imperative is clear. We shall not keep silent until every man, woman and child in captivity is free.”
Touched by the commitment of the BBOG, the Chibok community gave a standing ovation to the movement, even as their leader, Muhammed-Oyebode, daughter of the late former Head of State, Gen. Murtala Muhammed, was accorded special recognition.
Two of the parents of the Chibok girls, Yahi Bwata and Zackarish Galang, recalled the harrowing experience they went through during the incident.
Bwata said though his daughter had been released and is now in university, his joy was not full as other girls remained in Boko Haram captivity.
On his part, Galang lamented that his sister, who just underwent an operation before the incident, was still with her abductors.
Both thanked the BBOG and the media for their support, despite the failure of government to quickly rise to the occasion.
A prayer session, led by Pastor Ituah Igbodalo of Trinity House Church and Imam Tajudeen Adebayo of Falomo Police Station Mosque, was held at the event.
Both offered intercessory prayers for the release of the girls, and also admonished the parents and others to have faith in God that the girls would soon be freed.