Chibok: Why is our outrage so muted?


1001 days ago, at least 276 young women were kidnapped from Chibok. It is not the first instance of kidnapping in the area and their return in ‘dribs and drabs’ is an exercise in agony. I spent my birthday weekend surrounded by love, family, safety and assurance of my place and value in this world. Surely that is the bare minimum of life and existence? And yet about 200 of this last group of young women and girls remain captive not only to Boko Haram but also to our silence. Our shared inertia. Our disinterest in stories that do not have fast and happy endings. Our appalling attention span that is further diminished by tweeting and Instagram and yes…Facebook.

I am so frustrated by my own lack of ideas and inability to make a meaningful contribution to bringing these young women home. The state seems to be sleepwalking, the AU seems to be disinterested and ECOWAS has seemingly not yet found the means to do something that ought to have happened 1000 days ago – find these women. How many more days? A 1000 more? Do Black lives and Afrikan lives have so little value even to us? Do Women’s lives and Black women have such little currency? Is this why our outrage is so muted?

I watched as these women were paraded by President Buhari recently, many of them so disoriented, distant and deeply haunted. Many have lost their families who moved away from the volatile Chibok area. Others have been so dislocated that they are unable to re-adjust. Nothing can ever be the same again. One cannot unsee, unfeel and unremember.

Many have come back with children, the product of rape and coercive sex. Few of us want to speak of the stigma and shame that accompanies their return. Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, nightmares, shame, STDs, fear, paranoia and so much more. A pretty dress and a visit to the President do not erase all this. I suppose this is my own attempt to make sense of such a senseless event and to find balance in such a bizarre and violent context. #1000daystoomany.

 

(Photo Credit: TRT World)

For Nigeria and the World, an Anniversary and Much, Much More

A year ago 276 high school girl students were kidnapped from Chibok boarding secondary school located in the state of Borno in the north east of Nigeria. One year later, clearly the national response and global response has been ineffective and disappointing since 219 girls are still missing.

The response from the former President Goodluck Jonathan was slow. Emmanuel Ogebe, a human rights lawyer, showed that the authorities’ apathy was obvious. He interviewed the population and the girls who escaped three months after the kidnapping, and reported that no police or other forms of inquiry had taken place.

Meanwhile, the insecurity is real and affects everyday life in Borno, straining means of subsistence and the region’s social balance. There is massive displacement of the population with 1.5 million forced out of their homes among whom 70% are women and children.

Since the beginning of 2014, over 2000 women and girls were killed in Nigeria.

Although the #BringBackOurGirls campaign got international attention with celebrities involved, a code of silence still sticks to the regular violence against women and youngsters in this part of the world.

While the killings in Paris were shocking and created the movements we know, the killing of 2000 people in Baga, Nigeria did not receive that same attention. BringBackOurGirls along with many activists have not given up. Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize Winner who defends school education for girls, has declared, “In my opinion, Nigerian leaders and the international community have not done enough to help us.”

When women are taken hostages and utilized in a military way, whose patriarchal interest does it serve?

Should we question the lack of clear engagement of some leaders in the region of Lake Chad where important reserves of oil have been found? This oil reserve is shared by Niger, Nigeria and Chad.

Chad’s president, Idriss Deby Itno, has played a very obscure role, sometimes supporting efforts to control Boko Haram and sometimes retreating from the coalition. He also trapped the Nigerian president into a deal to get back the girls, last September, and then nothing happened. Boko Haram’s chief has been seen in armored vehicles made in Israel and used by the Chadian army. The French government has supported Deby, and French companies have also had important interests in the region. Nigerian leaders claim Chad is exploiting Nigerian oil using new drilling methods, while Nigeria is destabilized by Boko Haram’s assaults. The Chadian opposition organization, Mouvement du trois fevrier M3F, sees Deby as a pyromaniac fireman, spreading fire to better control oil exploitation in this area, thus expanding his political and economic control in the region, having already extended his stranglehold on the Central African Republic. Corporations from abroad enjoy a piece of the pie. Boko Haram’s thuggery is aided and abetted by this collusion by governments and corporate interests. And the victims are the school girls, who are still unaccounted for, and the terrorized population.

The questions surrounding the girls’ kidnapping and disappearance are a reminder that women’s lives are subjugated to the interest of a market system that knows no limits in using manipulation and spreading violence.

The exploitation of Nigeria’s oil reserves has a long history. Three decades ago, activists and writers tried to defend the precious Ogoni lands from being exploited by Shell Oil Company. The Nigerian government colluded with Shell Oil, which in turn was strongly supported by both the U.K. and the U.S. Nigeria tamped down the protests by executing the activists, despite international protests. Ken Saro-Wiwa, whose death, he himself predicts in his writing, clearly articulated and challenged the neoliberal corporate and political interests at the expense of the Ogonis. Today his words ring truer than ever as we see the brutal murder of women that mask the transnational neoliberal corporate and political greed to increase the oil fortunes of the one percent.

In this context, Boko Haram’s members maybe viewed as modern mercenaries. Their main targets are women, and to complete their grip on the populations they also target schools, with 900 schools burned in northern Nigeria and some 176 teachers killed. They seek to normalize violence and vulnerability. But resistance continues to be organized and women’s rights organizations have engaged in making these crimes visible. Resistance movements are not giving in. On March 14, one year after the abduction of the girls, a Global School March was organized worldwide. Women are demanding the newly elected Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari who will start his mandate on May 29th to fulfill his promise and to step up the process to save these young women. The movement goes further and demands global protection of women and girls to teach and attend school and to enforce protection of rights. This is a global threat against women and against humanity, which is not poverty driven but driven by vested interests that impoverish and manipulate populations.

We cannot stop marching.

In Pramila Venkateswaran’s “When they Hang a Poet,” poet – activist Ken Saro-Wiwa protests neoliberal exploitation of the Ogonis, and is killed by the Nigerian government. But his words live on, and the protests continue. Try as they might, government and corporations will fail to snuff out the voices raised to preserve democracy free of violence 

When they Hang A Poet…
For Ken Saro-Wiwa

You spoke of a green earth—your dream
a filament of the earth’s desire.
You wrote of Africa pillaging
herself, a prostitute “choosing”
her destiny. I see your blood
in my quiet hands, in the hands
of my country, in the hands
of every human being caught
in the clamor of living,
in the hands of corporate souls
on whom desire sticks like sin;
in the hands of your land, your sentence
is as extraordinary as a poet’s nightmare.

They hanged Saro-wiwa: syllables shock the air
as leaves weep on the cold, cold dirt.
But your words spread like a rain-storm filling
decrepit croplands of the Ogoni.

(published in The Kerf, 1997)

 

 

(Photo Credit: bellanaija.com) (Illustration credits: KR Magazine)

#BringBack: Bring back the thousands, bring back the hundreds, bring back the one

 

January 14 will mark the ninth month since more than 300 schoolgirls were abducted from Chibok. At that time, women organized #BringBackOurGirls to break the national and global silence that covered the atrocity. Those women are still organizing, still mobilizing, still demanding action and accountability. Meanwhile, from the national as well as the global community, the silence has intensified. The Chibok women of #BringBackOurGirls warned, from the outset, that failing to act meant the violence, terror and horror would escalate and expand. This week, their prophecies came to horrible fruition.

Over the past week, Boko Haram is reported to have attacked and razed 16 villages. Baga has been emptied. Many were killed. Others fled to Chad. Many of those who fled drowned in their attempts to cross Lake Chad. Amnesty reports this as “Boko Haram’s deadliest act” thus far. According to survivors, women, children, elders and the disabled were the principal targets. They were hunted as they fled. Now, the landscape is littered with their dead bodies, burnt homes and abandoned villages. The bodies pile up, too many to bury.

Over the weekend, in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, a girl, some say she was ten years old, walked into a busy market. A bomb, strapped to her waist, exploded, killing many, wounding many more. The girl was torn into two halves.

Some say using a child so young is a new phase. It’s not. The schoolgirls of Chibok are the girl-child of Maiduguri. The line is direct. The women of #BringBackOurGirls said so, nine months ago, and no one listened. Will anyone listen now?

Bring back the hundreds; bring back the thousands; bring back the one. #BringBack #BringBackOurGirls #BringBackChibok #BringBackBaga #BringBackMaduguri #BringBackOurGirls #BringBackOurGirls #BringBack

 

(Photo Credit: Premium Times)

#BringBackOurGirls #BringBackOurGirls #BringBackOurGirls

 

April 14, 2014, over 300 schoolgirls were stolen, like so much property, from their school in Chibok, in Borno State, in northeastern Nigeria. Over at Africa Is a Country, Karen Attiah and I wondered, separately, why the coverage was so little so late. We also wondered why the coverage was so bad. For example, it took a long time for the so-called world press to start reporting on women’s organizing efforts, under the rubric of #BringBackOurGirls. Since then, the European and American media have begun to pay attention, sort of.

Meanwhile, women, students, concerned people across Nigeria are organizing, mobilizing, and demanding. They’re demanding stronger and more effective action on the part of the government, and they’re demanding more consultation and more respect. The mothers of the stolen girls, in particular, understand that this is about women’s and girls’ dignity, respect, autonomy. Those girls were stolen partly because they are girls pursuing studies, mostly because they are girls. Reports say they are to be sold into slavery. In Borno today eight more girls were stolen.

Yesterday, Naomi Mutah Nyadar, one of the leaders of the #BringBackOurGirls movement, was or was not arrested. Her colleagues, Lawan Abana and Saratu Angus Ndirpaya, say she was detained. The police say the encounter was “purely an interactive and fact-finding interview.” There’s nothing pure here, and it doesn’t matter. What matter is this: #BringBackOurGirls. #BringBackOurGirls #BringBackOurGirls.

That’s all that matters.

That’s the message delivered today by Fatima Zanna Maliki, a student, a woman, a woman student: “We appreciate the concern and efforts of all the civic society organisations, women groups, leaders and the international communities towards our plight and we are urging them not to relent until our girls are brought back home safely in particular and peace returns back to our country in general. We, the youth and students in Borno State, have endured unimaginable hardship for the past four years and we took it upon ourselves to call upon stakeholders and the President in particular to act urgently… The abducted students of GSS, Chibok are our sisters and colleagues, after 21 days of their abduction, we don’t know their condition, we don’t know how they are faring, we don’t know if they have eaten this morning, we don’t know their health condition, we don’t know there whereabouts, we don’t know! We don’t know!! We don’t know!!!”

Students of Borno have called for a day of sympathy tomorrow, during which no classes or lectures would occur. They also warned the President that if something isn’t done, they’ll be back.  If the girls, all the girls, aren’t back by May 24, 40 days into their captivity, the students and youth of Borno will mobilize students from across the country to gather in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno:  “Students will be brought across the nation if no success is recorded before the 40th day of the abduction, to sit tight on Ramat Square to protest until the schoolgirls are freed.”

I teach and work in a Women’s Studies Program. Every year that I’ve taught, somewhere a group of women students, girl students, has been attacked, for being students, for being girls and women, for being girls and women pursuing education. It’s a long and tragic list that the schoolgirls of Chibok have now joined. Tomorrow, stop at some point at least and do something to acknowledge the schoolgirls of Chibok and the long list of women and girls, of women and girl students, who have suffered the same violence they are now suffering. For women and girls, there has to be something other and better than the work of mourning.

#BringBackOurGirls #BringBackOurGirls #BringBackOurGirls

Bring them all back.

 

(Photo Credit: Tom Saater for Buzzfeed)