by Maryam Uwais
So I have committed to the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, and we, as a coalition, have tried to engage our elected and appointed leaders who swore on the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to protect and secure our lives and our welfare.
On the morning of 15 April 2014, a very distressed guard told me that almost 300 girls from a Government Girls Secondary School were abducted in his hometown of Chibok. I looked at him in disbelief.
How do almost 300 girls get carted into trucks and taken away in one swoop?
Over the next few days my dread and apprehension became inescapable reality. As at the time of writing this, our girls still remain in captivity, 50 days after that awful night. In that period, the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, beginning with one tweet and several protest marches across several state capitals of Nigeria, has focused the attention of the entire world to the plight of these 273 Nigerian girls, who were driven away without a trace into the Sambisa Forest. As a consequence, several countries have offered to support Nigeria in the rescue efforts. Meanwhile, protests continue and prayers are being offered, all over the world, for their safety and swift return.
Terror knows no boundaries; everyone, without exception, is affected by the bombings and killings. For once, Nigerians from all walks of life, irrespective of ethnicity or faith, are united on this singular effort and message. Our citizens have risen in an unprecedented show of unity, to demand that the girls be rescued, while the international community has been galvanized, in an awesome demonstration of human solidarity, to join Nigerians in this quest.
For me, as each day passes, and especially when the sun begins to fade, sobriety overwhelms me. I try to imagine what it must be like for those teenage girls in Sambisa Forest. I think of the descending dark of night enveloping them. I think of poisonous snakes slithering about around them. How do they keep clean and eat? How do they get access to clean water? I imagine them holding onto one another, crying and struggling earnestly to give one another courage.
Then I remember those evil men and my mind draws a blank. I cannot think any further. This must be every parent’s worst nightmare: that their child is kidnapped by armed men, to a place beyond reach, for days unending. I shudder with the thoughts of how the mothers and fathers and the Chibok community must feel; the suspense and the anguish they must be going through.
I resolve again and again that I must do all that I can to keep the issue on the front burner of the national discourse. I cannot sit at home and lament about the situation so helplessly; I must remain engaged and involved. I must find creative ways of collectively and constructively engaging our citizens on security concerns, and our leaders on how we can support them, to make our country a safer and more peaceful place to live in. We cannot allow that the girls be forgotten or sidelined by other ‘breaking news’, for that would amount to abandoning them (and their families) to a fate worse than death.
So I have committed to the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, and we, as a coalition, have tried to engage our elected and appointed leaders who swore on the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to protect and secure our lives and our welfare. These include the leadership of the National Assembly, the Office of the National Security Adviser, the Minister of Defence, the Chief of Defence Staff, the Governor of Borno State and finally, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces.
Our meetings with the National Assembly and the Office of the National Security Advisor were constructive and reassuring. But the disappointing response from the President, read by the Minister of State of the Federal Capital Territory, displayed an unfounded and unnecessary sense of defensiveness. Paradoxically, even though the content of his letter warned against politicizing the Chibok incident, the message from the executive continues to attribute politics to the discourse, in a matter that is so plainly about safeguarding the lives of vulnerable Nigerian citizens.
The narrative that has since emerged from our engagement with the President’s representatives suggests that Nigerians should direct their message to Boko Haram, to ‘release the girls’. The ‘bring back our girls’ message appears to place the blame on government for the incident. As far as the federal government is concerned, since it is not in custody of the girls, the demand should be directed at Boko Haram. Ever since then, our peaceful protests have been a target for intimidation. Women conveyed in government buses come to our place of gathering at Unity Fountain, wearing Release Our Girls t-shirts. They sing, they dance and they do everything they can to drown out our voices.
Thugs disrupted our peaceful #BringBackOurGirls discussions, snatching bags, phones and breaking chairs, without any provocation from us. A government minister accused us of political partisanship, inferring that we belong to an opposition party. We were locked out of parks when we relocate to other public spaces. Determined to remain focused on our singular campaign to bring back our girls, however, we have not reacted with, or allowed ourselves to be provoked into, violence. We continue to meet wherever we can, notwithstanding these distractions, precisely because our girls are still out there, somewhere unknown and in danger, and our purpose for meeting remains unfinished.
We are accused of being opposition, merely because we have dared to ask our elected leaders to be accountable to the people that voted them in. I, personally, have never subscribed to any political party and have striven, all my working life, to assist, wherever I can, to making my country a better place. Our 1999 Constitution guarantees me the freedom to assemble, associate and express myself.
Why must the government be so nervous and react so negatively to the demand that it lives up to its responsibilities? Why should they insist that I direct my questions to Boko Haram? I do not know what the membership of Boko Haram consists of, where they are or how they operate. But I do know my leaders and I firmly believe they are in office to serve Nigerians and Nigeria. A responsible leadership should take steps to assuage and allay its citizens’ fears by being receptive and approachable. This is what we see happening all over the world. Should I not remind our own leaders that they are in office for the purpose of service? Most importantly, the government should not alienate its own people by intimidating and labeling us as enemies of State, especially when all we seek to do is to peacefully exercise our constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms.
Moreover, every Nigerian has the right to demand for answers from their leadership, whether or not politics is our vocation in life. Indeed, as Nigerians, we are each, individually, bigger than the components (of the identities) of the faiths we profess; greater than our vocations (as politicians), roles or professions; larger than our sundry ethnic groups. We are human beings. When we confront our leaders with our security concerns, we do not recall what ethnic group or culture they belong to. We do not recall what language they speak or faith they subscribe to. We do not remember what party platform they utilized to attain office. Can our leaders just please trust that all we want are results and an outcome that is reassuring to us, as citizens?
Yesterday evening, in an inexplicable admission of his incapacity to ‘protect citizens from terror’ (his ostensible justification) within the FCT jurisdiction, the FCT Commissioner of Police finally banned the BringBackOurGirls Coalition from holding protests in public places. In a democratic dispensation! We, as law-abiding citizens, have decided to challenge this violation of our constitutionally guaranteed rights, in a court of law. Perhaps we have been under Military rule for too long, and this is why the leadership should feel a sense of outrage, that citizens should dare to remind them that they have responsibilities towards them.
I had hoped and prayed that when the girls are finally rescued, ALL Nigerians, including our President and members of the Coalition would be able to stand together, on the same platform, to welcome them, rejoicing ecstatically. Sadly, members of the Executive in our Government, by their recent tactics, demonstrate a paranoia that seems to render this scenario mere wishful thinking on my part.
All we want and continue to demand for is that our girls to be brought back, safe and alive. This singular message has been consistent, loud and clear and cannot be different from what the government wants. We all hope for the same. The government must accept that not everyone is out to disparage, blame or denigrate the other. On the contrary, most Nigerians are more interested in living in peace and harmony. We yearn to be assured of security and protection. We crave a leadership that is responsive, accountable, empathetic and results-oriented.
And all we are asking for now is for those in positions of authority to ensure that our girls are brought back, now and alive!
Mrs. Maryam Uwais, MFR, is the Principal Partner at Wali-Uwais and Company, a law firm. This artivle was first published on metropole.com
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.
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