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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

#Bring Back Our Girls!

On April 14th, Nigerians woke up to news that nearly 300 of our female students in Chibok, a town in North-East Nigeria had been kidnapped by gunmen, now confirmed to be Boko Haram militants.

Who is Boko Haram? 
Boko Haram is an extremist group that was founded sometime in 2002. Although it started out as a local movement, mainly of young disillusioned men, angry at the social inequality and lack of economic prospects in Northern Nigerian, Boko Haram quickly grew to include thousands of followers with strong links to terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda. It is widely believed that Boko Haram funding comes from Al Qaeda affiliates. 

What are they fighting for?
The general meaning of 'Boko Haram' is 'Western education is forbidden'. As a result, many regard Boko Haram as terrorists fighting against the education of Nigerians, especially girls. The frequent attacks on schools, with the most notable being the recent kidnap of the Chibok girls, bolsters this belief. 
Boko Haram claims to reject Western practices such as democracy, fighting for the Islamic State of Nigeria. It is however important to note that Boko Haram has attacked religious institutions including various Churches and Mosques, targeting priests as well as Islamic clerics. This isn't a war on Christians like the Western media has led many to believe, this is a war on Nigerians, a war on Humanity.

How were the girls abducted?
Many have wondered how nearly 300 girls could be abducted in a region under a state of emergency. (The Federal Government of Nigeria had last year placed 3 states with pronounced insurgency under a state of emergency with increased army surveillance). Where were the soldiers supposed to guard the girls? The questions have largely remained unanswered. What we do know is that over a 100 gunmen attacked the Chibok Government School, looted the school's food supplies, razed the school buildings to the ground, and kidnapped about 286 female students.

Did any of the girls escape?
About 56 of the abducted girls are said to have escaped. Some escaped when one of the trucks broke down after the kidnapping. Some others escaped from the Sambisa forest (Sambisa is said to have been the location of the girls in the days following the attack, it is known to be a Boko Haram stronghold), and yet a few others have said to have been "released" by the terrorists for largely unknown reasons.

What is the fate of the girls currently?
There are unconfirmed reports that many of the girls have been married off to Boko Haram militants in neighboring countries Chad and Cameroon. What we are all sure of is that the girls face extreme dangers that include sex slavery and further human trafficking. Many of the girls that escaped have confirmed reports of grave sexual and physical abuse rampant in Boko Haram quarters. Our girls need to be brought back home now!

What is the Nigerian Government doing?
The Nigerian Government has provided few details so far on its efforts to #Bringourgirlsback. However, in a presidential media chat, the President admitted that he would need "superior intelligence, military equipment and soldiers" from the West while assuring Nigerians that he will bring our girls back soon. The President of the USA, Barack Obama, has responded to calls for help by sending in American experts in intelligence gathering and hostage handling. Britain and China have also offered to support Nigeria with air surveillance and intelligence experts. As of now however, there are no "boots on the ground" but Obama assures Nigerians that if there is need for direct military intervention, America is willing to consider it.

What are Nigerians doing?
Nigerians started the #Bringbackourgirls trend on twitter and continue to stage protest marches all over the world. They are demanding that our leaders be accountable to their electorate. These protest marches are spreading and proving productive as the Nigerian Government has been forced to not only publicly acknowledge the abduction, but share its strategy for getting our girls. Nigerians understand that all parts of the strategy can't be divulged for security reasons, but we still demand to be reassured that the Government is working to bring our girls back. Social media and the offline marches have made our Government reconsider its silent approach that left Nigerians in the dark, hopeless and helpless.

What can YOU do?
We are all one. Demand that your leaders get involved in this conversation. Ask them what they are doing to support the Nigerian government.  Keep this issue alive in your local media- newspapers, blogs, TV, radio, everywhere. Stage solidarity marches. Keep the fire burning online and offline. If it affects one of us, it affects all of us. Don't let this fire die until we #bringbackourgirls. But beyond that, ask them what they are doing to check insecurity in your own countries? Are your borders secure? What are they doing to prevent insurgency? Are there jobs and prospects for young people? Desperation breeds insurgency!

In all we do, we must never lose sight of the fact that Boko Haram is the common enemy. And we must all unite to ensure that not only do we bring back our girls, but we put an end to this reign of terror once and for all. Because there is a bigger picture. We should not treat the #bringbackourgirls campaign in isolation, but we must understand that the terror unleashed by Boko Haram needs to come to an end once and for all! Become a part of the conversation to end terrorism in Nigeria (and Africa) and get your leaders to join in too!

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