The BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) campaigners painted Abuja in a new colour last week at a rally to mark the 1,000th day since the April 14, 2014, abduction of over 200 female students of Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, by Boko Haram fighters.
It was not the first time the BBOG group would take to the streets in protest over the fate of the girls. They have been doing that since 2014.
Negotiations between the federal government and the Boko Haram terror group led to the release of 21 of the kidnapped girls in October last year. Another three were freed by soldiers. Scores of others had escaped on their own. But the insurgents are still keeping 195 girls.
BBOG held a demonstration last Sunday to demand more efforts by government rescue the remaining girls. They marched straight to Aso Rock, the seat of power, but were blocked by security agents. Like it has happened in the past, there was a drama, intrigues and a confrontation between the protesters and government. However, despite security men stopping the campaigners from meeting President Muhammadu Buhari, the President did not keep mum on the issue.
In his message on Sunday, Buhari reasserted the commitment of the Federal Government to securing the release of the girls.
He said, “We are grateful to God that, on this landmark day, we are not completely in the depths of despair, but buoyed with hope that our daughters will yet rejoin their families and loved ones. Three of them have been recovered by our diligent military, while the freedom of 21 others was secured through engagement with their captors. We are hopeful that many more will still return as soon as practicable,” Buhari said.
He restated his pledge, pronounced many times in the past, that government would not spare any effort to reunite the girls with their families: “I salute the fortitude of the distraught parents.As a parent also, I identify with their plight. Days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months, months turned to years, and today, it is 1,000 days. The tears never dry, the ache is in our hearts. But hope remains constant, eternal, and we believe our pains will be assuaged. Our hopes will not be shattered and our hearts will leap for joy, as more and more of our daughters return. It is a goal we remain steadfastly committed to.”
The President added that, “Someday soon, we will all rejoice together. Our intelligence and security forces are unrelenting, and, whatever it takes, we remain resolute. Chibok community, Nigeria, and, indeed, the world will yet rise in brotherhood, to welcome our remaining girls back home. We trust God for that eventuality.”
Two days before embarking on the rally, BBOG had, in a statement, criticised comments attributed to the Senior Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the President, Femi Adesina, concerning the return of a rescued Chibok girl.
The statement, signed by the group’s spokesperson, Sesuh Akume, submitted that the comments by Adesina that the remaining 195 girls would return “one day” was unacceptable and the group anchored its Sunday rally on that point.
The statement quoted Adesina as saying, “The President notes that the recovery raises renewed hope that the other captured girls will one day be reunited with their families, friends and community.”
“Note that he said ‘…will one day be reunited with their families…’ Not ‘as soon as it’s humanly possible,’” BBOG said, “There is no tone of urgency. This confirms our doubts as to the federal government’s rescue mission.”
“Is the strategy that each one would escape of their own accord and be recovered for how long the process takes? This is excruciatingly pitiful.”
The group called on Nigerians to join its protests, which commence January 8, 2017, to put pressure on government to free the girls.
“We therefore go ahead with our #Day1000 activities with recommitted zeal. Activities have been confirmed to hold in New York (four events on the same day January 8), Washington DC, Paris, Lagos and Abuja. Kindly join any close to you or organise one in your location,” the group said.
Amnesty International had also asked the federal government to step up efforts in working for the rescue of the girls .
It said in a statement “One thousand days after the chilling abduction of 276 school girls in Chibok, the Nigerian government must redouble its efforts to ensure the release of the girls, and all other victims of mass abduction”.
“This terrible anniversary is a chilling reminder not just of the tragic disappearance of the Chibok school girls, but also all other individuals – many of whom are also children – who remain captive in Boko Haram’s hideouts across the country. These abductions and other attacks on civilians, many of which constitute war crimes, must stop,” said Makmid Kamara, Acting Country Director for Amnesty International Nigeria.
“While the Nigerian government is making considerable efforts to recover the 195 Chibok girls still in Boko Haram’s custody, we are concerned that victims of less well publicised mass abductions have not benefited from comparable efforts to secure their release.”
“The Nigerian government should also dramatically step up its efforts to ensure the safe release of abductees and provide proper psychological and medical support to those who have already been rescued, released or have escaped captivity”.
The 1000th day anniversary will be remembered by Abuja residents for reawakening the consciousness of Nigerians on the pitiable fate of the remaining 195 Chibok girls in the hands of insurgents .