Bring Back Our Girls – Day 168: 1 Free, 219 Still Hostage

Bring Back Our Girls

By Honor McGrigor

Susannah Ishaya, one of the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in April, was freed on Friday. She was discovered in a forest, having wandered for 3-4 days prior to being found. She is severely ill and believed to be 4 months pregnant. Susannah Ishaya is now safe, but there are still 219 girls being held by Boko Haram. The girls still in captivity are presumed to be alive and well, although a mediator who was liaising with Boko Haram reported 2 months ago that 2 girls had died of snake bites, and 20 were sick.

As you are all (hopefully) aware, when the Nigerian school girls were taken by Boko Haram in April, there was complete uproar. Michelle Obama, Cara Delevigne and Ellen Degeneres were just a few examples of celebrities who took to Instagram, Twitter and other social media to raise awareness. It was an international resistance, a universal uprising against the terrorist group. However, 5 months on and the girls are still not free. Unfortunately, public interest in the matter has dwindled.

This is not to say the girls have been forgotten. Protests in Nigeria have continued every day, and #bringbackourgirls has been retweeted over 5 million times. Among others, Malala Yousafzai (that girl who did that talk on Speech day that was, you know, allright) has been very active, going to visit Chibok (the town the girls were taken from) in July and more recently talking to Ban Ki Moon, the secretary-general of the UN. Interestingly there is now another protest group which goes under the label #releaseourgirls. There have been clashes between the two groups, as they seem to have slightly different ideas on who is responsible for the kidnapping. As aptly noted by one original protestor, #releaseourgirls puts the responsibility with Boko Haram to release the girls, rather than pressure on the Nigerian Government as #bringbackourgirls does.

This article is not another attack on the short attention spans of society, as you have all undoubtedly read those before. This is just an update on what’s going on, and, as far as I can tell, progress so far = very little. The Nigerian government was recently in serious talks with Boko Haram about a hostage swap, but this fell through, as Boko Haram wanted to do an even swap, 30 for 30, which President Goodluck Jonathon and his government could not agree to. There has been a lot of international help for the girls – US drones have been searching for them, and for the past 2 months British and US hostage negotiators have been ‘helping their Nigerian counterparts on the ground’. The rough location of the hostages is now known – it is believed that they are being held in the Sambisa Forest – as there have been sightings of both the girls and their captors reported in Cameroon and Chad, countries which share borders with the forest. In August, Nigerian military chiefs claimed to have located the kidnappers hideout – this was soon found to be embarrassingly untrue.

While the girls are still lost, Boko Haram is thriving. A direct translation of ‘Boko Haram’ is ‘Western education is a sin’. The name of the group nicely summarises what it is fighting for. It is closing in on Chibok again, having attacked 2 villages just 6 miles from the town in the past 2 weeks. Although Nigerian security forces are now stationed in Chibok, members of the community are taking part in ‘neighbour hood watch duty’ every night, as they do not feel safe even with the army there. Boko Haram is unquestionably terrifying and a serious threat to all – they do not just target women who support education, on August 11 around 97 boys and men were kidnapped from a fishing village near Lake Chad by Boko Haram. 85 were later freed by the national army there. Some parents refused to give a presidential committee, which was sent to help them, their daughters’ names as they ‘feared the stigma involved’.

What is undeniably frustrating is the lack of information. No one is even sure how many girls are still being held in captivity – 3 different numbers were quoted on BBC News, Girl Effect website and the Huffington Post. President Jonathon imposed a ‘news blackout’ in order to ‘preserve operational security’, so not even those in Nigeria know what is going on. It goes without saying that if something similar had happened in the UK the story would not have disappeared from the news so quickly.

Although progress is slow, I believe that we will, one day, #bringbackourgirls.

Photo from: George Redgrave on Flickr

 

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