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I can’t believe that after 10 years, we are still talking about Chibok girls in captivity — Aisha Yesufu

At the forefront of the move to secure the release of the abducted girls, was the BringBackOurGirls group. The group mounted a campaign to put…

At the forefront of the move to secure the release of the abducted girls, was the BringBackOurGirls group. The group mounted a campaign to put pressure on relevant authorities to ensure release of the girls. Daily Trust in this interview, with co- founder of the BringBackOurGirls movement, Aisha Yesufu, sought to know the impact of that drive as well as the future of the group.

 

It’s been 10 years since that abduction; looking back, how did you receive the news?

At that time, honestly, the news was unbelievable. I literally didn’t believe it, because it was reported that almost 300 students had been taken away from their school.  But a few days after the abduction, the military came out to announce that all the girls had been rescued, but for eight of them, only for the families to come out and say that they had not seen their daughters.  That was when I realized that their daughters were still in captivity.  And I tell you that till today, I can’t believe that after 10 years, we are still talking about the Chibok girls in captivity.

Just for you to understand how it was for me; we used to have these wristbands that we made in May of 2014 and the ones we had then didn’t have any inscription on them, so I went to a printer and he said he will have to take them to Lagos and we will get them back in two weeks. I told him that we did not have two weeks, because by two weeks, all the girls would be back. But we are talking about 10 years now, sadly.

 

How does this make you feel?

To answer that question, I am going to talk about something that my daughter, who was 12 years old when the Chibok girls incident happened, said.  She said, “mommy if one of the Chibok girls was an American, they would have been rescued by now”. That was in 2014 and it broke me as a parent, that my 12-year-old daughter understands the fact that the life of an American child is much more than her own. For me, right now, it is a feeling of failure. We have failed our children, we failed our society, I mean, the country has failed everyone.

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It is sad that children were taken away from a school and we could not get together and as a nation to make demands, so as to send a very strong message to anyone, that you dare not touch one Nigerian and that the moment you touch one of us, over 200 million of us will descend on you. People decided to make it about politics, about tribe, about their support for those in government and 10 years after, we are witnessing a lot of abductions.  People have come to realize that we’re all victims waiting to happen.

aisha yesufu2
aisha yesufu2

What prompted you to join the Bring Back Our Girls’ campaign?

For me, it is the fact that I am a mother; I have two children. One was a teenager, the other was a pre-teen at the time it happened and I felt that if it were my own children that were taken, I would not stay at home and do nothing. That was the initial thing that prompted me into making demands for the Chibok girls. But as we went on, weeks into the demands, I realized that I was no longer making demands for them, just because I was a mother. I was making the demands for them because I was once the Chibok girl, because in 1991, I wrote my Senior Secondary Certificate Examination, the same exam that the Chibok girls were writing when they were abducted. Again, in 1991, I was a child of poor parents and in Nigeria, when you are poor; you are faceless, nameless and voiceless. I was one who lived in the ghetto. I lived in Kano, in a place called Kwana-Hudu, so I could relate with the Chibok girls, knowing how it is to want to stay in school and not having anything, because   when I was in secondary school, I would go to school in the morning without breakfast.

There was a Chibok father, who said his daughter was driven away from school because of N500 and he worked for a few days to get the money and send her back to school. It was the very night she returned to school that she was abducted. So it brought back the kind of life that I had lived. If I was the one that was abducted when I was writing SSCE and there was nobody to speak for me, I probably would be dead today.  So for me, I felt that if I failed the Chibok girls, I would have failed the little girl that I was.

 

So did the Bring Back Our Girls’ campaign help in any way?

Absolutely! Without the Bring Back Our Girls’ campaign, I don’t think any of the girls would have been released and as I’m sitting here with you right now, I can tell you that even I wouldn’t have remembered that Chibok girls were abducted. That’s how we are in this country; we’re so much in a hurry to move on and of course sometimes you can’t blame people; they have to protect their sanity. There are a lot of things happening and if you are not careful, you will be emotionally affected. But I must say that one of the things that our movement did, was to bring to the attention of Nigerians and the world, the atrocities that were being committed in the North-east.  People were being killed and the nation just moved on as if nothing was happening. If you remember, the then president would say that the atrocities were happening on the fringes, but the fringe is still Nigeria.  If anything happens to any part of Nigeria, the whole country should take it as one, so we brought the attention and we ensured that the issue of the Chibok girls was not swept under the carpet. It was made a front burner issue and we continued. It was two years after our advocacy, that the first girl escaped and came back home. Before then, we were told that they had died, we should move on; that we were crying more than the bereaved and all sorts of things. But I will tell you that, not just the Chibok girls issue, there are a lot of issues in Nigeria that the Bring Back Our Girls advocacy was able to highlight.

 

Not much is being heard about the group now, what happened?

The Bring Back Our Girls’’ campaign is still on, though there is suspension on the sit-out. From April 30, 2014, all the way to March 2015, every day, members of the group came out and made demands. So when COVID happened and there was the lockdown, of course the campaigns stopped, but the movement on its own still continues. We are still making demands for the girls that are in abduction. One of the things we constantly say is that making demands for Chibok girls is not doing them a favor, we are not helping them, it is not a privilege for Chibok girls to be rescued. It is their right as enshrined in the constitution.

We failed them as a nation by allowing them to be abducted and the next thing that was supposed to have been done was to rescue them immediately. Unfortunately, 10 years after, some of the girls are still in captivity.  On the 1,000th day of their abduction, my daughter wrote an article and one of the things she said was that as long as the Chibok girls are in captivity, we all are in captivity. Sadly, we are still in captivity about a decade after.

There were accusations then that the Bring Back Our Girls’ group was set up to sabotage the government…

For those, who thought so, I pray to God almighty that what happened to Chibok parents happens to them, since their empathy is very expensive and they cannot feel the pain of someone sending his/ her child to school and that child does not return. Let them feel it and when they go through it, they probably will understand what it means. Because I don’t get it, girls went to school, they were abducted and people came out, made demands for them to be rescued and some were talking about sabotaging the government? The government was the one that sabotaged itself, first of all, by allowing girls to be abducted and secondly, for coming out to say that the abduction never happened. It was the  Goodluck Jonathan’s government that came out to say there was no abduction and I remember one of the Chibok mothers said anytime she heard such statement,  she asked herself if her 18-year-old daughter who she sent to school never existed? So when people talked about sabotage I did not understand where they were coming from; did that mean that the lives of the Chibok girls were not important?

You know why, because they are children of the poor. At the time the Chibok girls abduction happened, my daughter and the child of the then vice president, Namadi Sambo, were in the same school here in Abuja, alongside children of governors and senators. If it was from that school that children were taken, I wouldn’t even need to be on the street, because we had people that would have taken on the machinery of the state and ensured that the children were brought back. But because Chibok girls are children of the poor; that’s why some people, even after a decade, are still saying no abduction happened. Until we get to a place in this country were no Nigerian is more Nigerian than the other, we will continue to hear things like that.

 

About 90 of the girls are still in captivity, why do you think this is so?

It is because the government is not interested, there is no political will to bring them back. The government doesn’t care about the lives of the people. And what really surprises me is how citizens don’t understand that as long as Chibok girls are left there, it means if you and I are taken away, the government will not care. So by making them care for those ones that have been taken away, is ensuring that they care for us also.

 

There’s no political will and the government has had an enabling environment, to abdicate its responsibility and not do the needful, which is why terrorists and those who are abducting citizens are now emboldened to carry out more atrocities.

 

They have also seen that citizens do not unite to make demands. Some of them would rather be attacking the members of the Bring Back Our Girls’ group, or anyone who is making demands for the girls to come back. That’s why today, a decade later, we are having kidnappings not just schools, but also from peoples’ houses, even here in Abuja. The thing is that, there needs to be political will, a situation where as a nation we say, nobody should be left behind, nobody should be taken away. In 2015, the Bring Back Our Girls movement designed what was called a missing persons register and we gave the document to the then President Muhammadu Buhari, and a whole lot of other documents as a citizen solution to end terrorism. We needed to have a register where we know how many of us citizens were abducted; let’s know who they are, like the students who were abducted recently. They could say they have all been brought back and you will not know who is not back. So, that’s one of the things we need to do in tackling the insecurity. Also, we need to work on intelligence gathering and you can’t have intelligence gathering without a cordial relationship between the civilians and the security agents. A situation, whereby people take information to the security agents and face retaliation or they are killed, is not good for the country.   There should be a room where people can drop information anonymously so that they’re also protected. We should also ensure that our military are properly equipped.

In 2014, the Iraqi government found out that they had 50,000 ghost soldiers, what has Nigerian government done to ensure that there is a check on the military to find out whether we have ghost soldiers?

For example, in 2014, when the then president said they had sent 20,000 soldiers to the North-east, a lot of the people said they weren’t seeing the soldiers on ground. That is an issue that should be looked into.

aisha yesufu3
aisha yesufu3

Is the Bring Back Our Girls group doing anything behind the scene to ensure the girls are released?

There is nothing like that. We are just an advocacy group; making demands and calling on the people who have the constitutional duty to do their job. What we do is to make demands on the ones who are vested with the authority of the state; which is the government, to go out there and bring them back. Not just the Chibok girls, like we always say, the Chibok girls are just a symbol for those who were taken away before and after them. And at the Bring Back Our Girls’ movement we keep saying that this advocacy is about every Nigerian, because if we don’t do something about that, it is going to continue. When there is failure in governance, what happens is that lives are not protected and they will keep abducting and replacing them.

 

How long will this campaign be sustained?

As long as there are girls in captivity, we will continue to make demands.  Sadly, Nigeria has gotten to a place whereby citizens are constantly being taken away and it is as if there’s no end in sight and it’s really worrying. People don’t understand the emotional damage it does for one to be on the street making demands, listening to parents and seeing heartbroken citizens, whose children have been taken away. We are definitely going to keep on the campaign, until there is no need, until no Nigerian is in the hands of abductors.

 

What are your takeaways from this experience?

Ten years and we are still here. I think one of the things that I learned just going to the Unity Fountain, every day, is that governance is everything and the reason the Chibok girls were abducted was because of bad governance. Bad governance is the reason things are not working in the country, the reason we have the problems; whether it is corruption or whatever. As long as bad governance is not tackled, the country will continue like this. Today, it can be Chibok girls, and tomorrow it will be someone else. So whatever we do, we must understand that bad governance affects everyone.

And it is in our interest to do something.  We should also remember that the youngest of the Chibok girls was 15 going on 16 years of age when they were abducted, so right now, she is 25-years-old and her mother is still waiting for her.  So the next time you want to say that the bring back our girls movement was about politics, remember that there are parents who are still waiting for the children to come back home and that you can also be one of them.

 

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