Is the Chibok Project Abandoned?
Parents of the abducted secondary school girls in Chibok, Borno State have started accusing the state and federal governments of negligence and insensitivity to their plight. This was evident during their interaction with Mrs. Graca Machel, widow of former South African President, the late Nelson Mandela, writes Shola Oyeyipo
As you read this piece today, it is over 580 days since about 219 secondary school girls were kidnapped by members of the Boko Haram sect in Chibok, Borno State. But as each day passes by, the plights of the parents of the girls are also worsening. They feel betrayed and abandoned by government, both at the state and national levels.
Though a majority of Nigerians would have erroneously concluded that considering the media razzmatazz around them, the parents may have adequately catered for, however going by their narration to the widow of former South African president, the late Nelson Mandela and of Mozambican president, Samora Machel, Mrs. Graca Machel, who was in Lagos last week Friday and took time out to share in the pains of the affected parents, it is obvious that not much has been done to ameliorate the agonies of the parents of the missing girls.
Machel, renowned Mozambican politician and humanitarian met with the yet grieving parents of the missing girls at the Federal Palace Hotel and shared in their woes, particularly, the issue of negligence by the Borno State and the federal governments. They also gave some messages for the Nigerian government and the rest of the world.
The meeting held behind closed doors was at the behest of Murtala Muhammed Foundation (MMF), a non-profit making organisation and strong advocate of democracy, human rights, women empowerment, disaster relief and betterment of lives for Africans, led by the daughter of the late former military head of state of Nigeria between 1975 and 76, Mrs. Aisha Muhammed-Oyebode.
It was however an emotion-laden moment as every of the parents, who took turn to speak did in tears and almost inconsolable about their alleged abandonment. They saw Machel’s visit as a rare opportunity for her to help them update the federal government and the rest of the world on their plights as parents of the Chibok girls.
The chairman, Chibok Abducted Girls Movement, Mr. Yakubu Nkeki, who led 23 other parents to the Lagos meeting bemoaned that in spite of the promises, the people have suffered untold hardships without help coming from governments.
One consistent argument among the parents was that since the girls were abducted in the custody of government – in their school, government should come clear about the fate of the girls rather than keep them in perpetual suspense.
Listening to them, aside their material and other needs, it was observed that reliable information as to whether the children are still alive and would ever return to their parents or not, was the main cause of their depression.
“We have been suffering. Now it is 577 (last Friday) days since our children were taken away and we don’t have any reliable information about their fate. The concern is that the military has been rescuing some other abducted persons and we are yet to see even one of the Chibok girls rescued.
“We have been largely abandoned by government, both the state and the federal government. Neither of them has ever come to Chibok to see what we are going through. Chibok is in the forest – we can call it forest. We have buried more than 14 of the Chibok parents. Even if you see some of us today, you will not be able to go near them because some are very sick and they are depreciating; their conditions are pathetic. Some of them still live in IDP camps while many have fled to neighbouring states. We have to cope with all these as we nurse the pains of our missing children.
“Today, in Chibok, sustaining oneself is difficult. We are predominantly farmers but not many can farm nowadays because of the fear of Boko Haram attack on us while working in the fields. We usually pride ourselves with western education for our children but there is no school in Chibok. Another problem is that our younger children are not ready to go to school anymore for fear that the fate that befell their sisters awaits them if they go to school.
“So, with the opportunity that the visit of our mother (Machel) presents, we told her the reality on the ground – that the state and the federal government are not taking care of us, very seriously. Though there were promises that they would assist us but there has been nothing like that. They were abducted from government’s hand and not our hands because we sent them to school, so they should be talking to us to let us know whether they are still alive or not,” Nkeki lamented.
Some other parents who spoke included secretary of the group, Mr. Lawan Zanna (father of Aisha Zanna); Mrs. Mariam Abubakar (mother of Mariam and Hamsatu Abubakar); Mrs. Esther Yakubu (mother of Dorcas Yakubu, Alhaji Maiyanga Askira (father of Halima and Mariam Maiyanga) and one escapee, Ibrahim Sanya.
They all bemoaned the hapless situation of the parents of the abducted Chibok girls and the entire people of the remote village, urging all well-meaning Nigerians to implore government to do more to bring the girls back and to also alleviate the conditions of the grieving parents, especially with up to date information about the well-being of their missing daughters.
Mrs. Yakubu, for instance, asked: “Why lying to us? They should let us know the true state of affairs. They should let us know if the children are never going to come back because it is better to know that your child is dead than to be like this – expecting that they would come back forever.” She was also unhappy about some people, who presumed that the girls were not truly missing at some point, asking, “So, where are the children?”
Alhaji Maiyanga, on his part, is as disturbed as the other parents, but complicating his own plight, his two sons who left Chibok for Lagos for fear that they may be conscripted into the outlawed group, have been in police custody since February on the suspicion that they are Boko Haram.
“If you look around and ask our people, that is the kind of problem each one of us faces. Some are sick, some cannot feed themselves anymore because we cannot farm as we used to do,” Maiyanga noted.
Sanya, who claimed he was abducted when he joined the local vigilante group fighting the sect and later escaped when the insurgents were observing their prayers, seems to have become a kind of ambassador for Chibok people in Lagos; helping them to relocate and start a new life. He is more particular about the displaced persons.
“Being very close to the forest and without adequate protection, Chibok was attacked about 10 times and because of that a lot of our people have scattered all over the places. Our means of livelihood have been distorted. So, we really need help in this regard. Our people living in the IDP camps should be able to return home and start a new life.”
The obviously touched Machel said her resolve to meet with the grieving parents was because she had always shared in their pains since the unfortunate incident took place. She emphasised that she is a mother and a grandmother too and that she understands what the families are presently going through.
“I am a mother and a grandmother. I stand here as a mother like you. I simply live in Mozambique but I’m a parent like any ‘baba’ or ‘mama’ here. When the girls were abducted, I sent a letter, I don’t know if any one of you got it. I said I was there with you; matching with you on every street to bring back the girls. I was with you.
“There were millions of African mothers, who cannot stand with you but we were standing hand-in-hand with you. In our African way of being, when your sister or mother is faced with a challenge like that, we stand together. We don’t know where they are; all we say is that we are with them and want them back.
“I sent a message to the girls. In the letter, I told them that I want them to know wherever they are – inside forest or wherever they are; there are star and that they are stars. I was encouraging them to keep looking at the stars. There are millions of mothers and fathers praying that they should be hopeful, strong and healthy, knowing that there are millions of mother waiting for them to come back.
“My hope is that they would soon come back but now, not all of them may come back. So, in my first opportunity to come to Nigeria, I cannot come without seeing these families, which is what I did when I came into this room; shook hands with everybody. I know it may not reduce your pains but I want you to know that we are with you,” Machel said assuring them that she would convey their messages to the Nigerian government and other humanitarian groups she belongs.
The Aisha Muhammed-Oyebode-led MMF however received commendations from the Chibok parents, who said like some other spirited persons and organisations around the world, the MMF has been working to assist the parents.
Oyebode implored them to remain strong. She also assured the people of continuous assistance from the foundation.
But of all their demands, a very important one resonates; they still want western education. Despite the fact that their children were seized in the school, they want schools closed down reopened and in fact, when the insurgents are eventually chased out, they want schools to be built in Chibok. They also desire government presence that would reassure the siblings of the missing girls that they can return to school.
Culled from Thisday