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We are not a franchise, we have no bank account- #BringBackOurGirls protest leader

Despite government’s attempt to eradicate the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, the protesters remain determined to continue their sit-outs at the Unity Fountain, Maitama until the abducted Chibok schoolgirls are rescued.

On June 18, PREMIUM TIMES interviewed Aisha Yesufu, one of the organisers of the sit-outs in Abuja. She spoke about her convictions regarding the campaign amongst others.

PT: Is #BringBackOurGirls a franchise?

Yesufu: First of all, I will need to laugh. We have been called different names. It started with “opposition,” and then we became “a franchise.” What won’t we hear? That’s just what I would say. We have been called by the president, “psychological terrorists,” so, definitely, we are not a franchise. We meet in the open just a few kilometres from the seat of power, so how can we be a franchise when we meet in the open.

PT: Is it true that the #BringBackOurGirls campaigners do it for financial gain?

Yesufu: If it was a money-making venture – truly, truly, we are Nigerians – a lot of people would have been here by now, and it would have been taken over. But the fact that we have been coming here – today makes it 80 days of daily sit-out and what percentage of Nigerians are we seeing here? So, definitely, it’s not a money-making venture. What’s there to make money from? Girls are suffering! It’s just amazing why people can’t just get that; that there are people that have been abducted, and the fact that we are coming out here, we are coming out because of our shear humanity.

If I don’t cry out for somebody, who will cry out for me when I need help? That is just the basic thing. And it’s so amazing that we have reached a stage in this life where people don’t feel as if they need to come out for someone else; that there must be something financial attached to it before we come out. I don’t get it, really I don’t.

Aisha Yesufu and other protesters at the venue of the #BringBackOurGirls protest
Aisha Yesufu and other protesters at the venue of the #BringBackOurGirls protest

PT: There are also claims that #BringBackOurGirls has a bank account and has formed itself into an organisation. How true is that?

Yesufu: First of all, the BBOG is not a registered entity. It’s not registered. And this is a country where you know that before you can register or have a bank account, you have to be registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC. So, how do we get the bank account when we are not even registered? It’s absolutely absurd and I think it’s just the fact that people are just trying to abdicate their responsibility.

The government is trying to abdicate its responsibility, and is going all out to smear the #BringBackOur Girls campaign because they feel like the only reason why the whole Chibok girls issue is still in the limelight is because we have refused to go home. By the time they get us to keep quiet, definitely, the whole thing would be swept away. It would become business as usual. We will all go back and continue with our usual lives. But we can’t have a usual life as long as those girls are abducted.

PT: You’ve been here for more than 80 days and you have become that single voice that keeps reminding everyone in Nigeria that some girls are missing. Do you think this is a threat to the government?

Yesufu: Well, it wasn’t supposed to be a threat. The feeling I have is that the government sees it as a threat. They had a huge opportunity of coming out and embracing the #BringBackOurGirls campaign to say, “Look! As Nigerians, we are all supposed to have taken ownership of this problem.” Even the insurgency, the terrorism, let us all, as Nigerians, collectively take ownership of it and then we send a message to our common enemy that: “Look! We are serious, the government and the people are coming out to say, “Enough is enough!””

But unfortunately for us, I think the government just missed that opportunity and they just decided to look at us as the enemy. Instead of them taking the time out and energy to focus on fighting the real enemy, and then the insurgents are getting the best back. They have just decided to focus on the #BringBackOur Girls campaign.

PT: How did you feel that the government is coming out to say you are a terrorist and you are their enemy?

Yesufu: It made me feel sad. It made me feel ashamed really. The fact that, you know, our government can come out and actually say this to the Nigerian people. It means that they do not have any respect for our intelligence because that’s the only way I see it. For me, as I’m standing here, we have got a lot of allegations, insults and all that. It’s not about me; it’s about the Chibok girls. I’m ready to take whatever anybody has to give me, bring it on! So long as the Chibok girls are rescued. That’s the most important thing; whatever they say or they don’t say.

They’ve said many things. They started with “opposition;” God knows what they are going to say next. It’s just sad that instead of the effort to be on the rescue of the girls, it’s just on smearing the campaign group. They are just not getting it. If they want me to just stop being here, all they need to do is to rescue the girls. Today is day 95 (since the girls have been abducted.) How can the girls be abducted? Day 95! Up till now the responsible government is still talking about a group that is advocating for the rescue of the girls.

PT: Do you think this government really has the will and the capacity to rescue these girls?

Yesufu: We’ve had other groups that were sponsored and said, “Oh, why you don’t go to the terrorists?” I believe they have the capacity but right now, if the will was there, the focus won’t be on the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. It would be on the rescue of the girls.

PT: Why do you think the government would rather focus on the campaigners rather than the missing girls?

Yesufu: For me, I think the reason why they have focused on the campaigners is the fact that, if we were not here, the whole issue of the Chibok girls would have been forgotten. And then we would go on with our normal businesses and it’s now left for the people to be bearing the brunt of the fact that the girls are missing. There was an outcry and then the whole world picked it up and we have simply refused to disappear like normal Nigerians would do.

We are this new generation of Nigerians that are asking for unusual things. For me, the reason why they are focusing more on us is because if we get to go away, then the whole problem would be forgotten and then we can move on to other things. But we are saying, “No, we would not go away. There won’t be normalcy until the girls are back and alive.”

PT: People believe #BringBackOurGirls is an All Progressives Congress, APC, infested group and a threat to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP? Is this true?

Yesufu: That’s another angle they are looking at. The fact is that there is nobody funding anybody here. Our needs are small. Is it the t-shirt? Is it the car sticker? We come together and get money from our pockets. I can do 10 t-shirts, somebody else does five. Continuously, we have refused any money from anyone that is not part of the family here. People said they would bring in funds but we have said no, we don’t want anything to do with funds.

For you to be saying that it is APC sponsored, I can’t imagine. It’s not everybody that is willing to sell his dignity. I for one, I have nothing to do with parties. I am not in a party. I am not a member of any flag-carrying party; I have never been interested in that. I was just in my little corner doing my little thing until almost 300 girls were abducted. So for them to think it’s an APC sponsored group is just absurd.

Why should we be a threat to PDP? If they feel that we are a threat, all they need to simply do is to rescue the girls and then we are out of here. By the time we get these girls rescued then you can continue the other business you want to do. I don’t have a problem with that. The only problem I have is the fact that girls are still missing. And like I have continuously said, I see myself in these girls.

If I had been abducted when I was writing my SSCE, the whole Nigeria would move on, nobody will try to get me? I mean where would I be today? What kind of life would I have? I grew up in a place where education wasn’t that important. At 11 years old, a lot of my friends were already married, so what do you expect? Even these girls, where they grew up, education is not that important. But they struggled, they wanted to be educated and then somebody has come to take them away, and then we would move on? For PDP to think it’s because of them we are here, then they are overrating themselves. That’s my own personal opinion.

PT: What does #BringBackOurGirls know about the state of the kidnapped girls? Has there been any development on finding the girls?

Yesufu: Well, basically, we really don’t know much. One of the things that we consistently asked for was information; information that would not in any way hamper the rescue operations. We know there is some information that is sensitive and cannot be shared with the public; we agree with that. When we made our information centre, that was established.

We thought that progress reports would be given to us. Unfortunately, it turned to an avenue where #BringBackOurGirls would be smeared because actually, most of the name calling that we get comes from the information centre. So, we really have nothing. Even when we recently went to the Senate to meet with the leaders there, there was still no information.

The speaker of the House of Representatives said that he doesn’t get direct information. The only thing he got was from the last council meeting he had, and they said they were on top of the situation. What on top of the situation” means, I don’t know.

PT: So you intend to keep meeting till the girls are found?

Yesufu: By God’s grace, we will keep coming out here till the girls are brought back and alive. If you want to get me off here, do it today! If by tomorrow we have breaking news that the girls are out, why not? I want to have a life. I don’t have a life anymore. Right now, I am supposed to be on holidays with my family but I can’t because these girls are missing. My life is on hold. Almost everybody that you see here, our lives have been on hold. So, we too want to move on; let them just rescue the girls. Bring them back and alive and we will get out of their faces.

PT: Tell us more explicitly how you are funded?

Yesufu: We are self-funded. Our needs are very small. That’s what people don’t realise, the fact that we have small needs. First of all, what are our needs? T-shirts, face caps, and the wrist band. In terms of media, we’ve had free media coverage. When we did our vigil, it was broadcasted live. It was free. That’s what people don’t just get. This is a movement that a lot of people are ready to key in to. We didn’t have to pay anybody to lobby for any of these things.

So, all our basic needs are so few that by the time I am ready to pay for 10 t-shirts, somebody else is paying for 50 t-shirts, a 100 t-shirts here, I mean, and it gets done. We don’t need any huge resources to start saying, okay we need to go to the media to start paying for campaigns, laundering our image and stuff like that. You don’t need much to keep truth alive. It’s when there is a lie then you would need more lies to make it look good. It’s been simple.

PT: Do you think it is necessary for the government to go hire a Washington based PR firm to help launder their image in regards to how they are handling the Chibok girls’ abduction and the #BringBackOurGirls campaign?

Yesufu: It’s a misplaced everything not just priority. It was something simple that they would have done. Rescue the girls, bring them back and then look like the hero that you want to be. Initially, I told you that it is an opportunity that the government lost by not keying in with us and being part of us. If they had done that and then come all out and rescue the girls, we would have forgotten the inadequacies of the past. Nigerians are forgiving people, we forgive easily.

If the girls had been rescued, all these things wouldn’t have been necessary and all we would have seen is that our government turned out to be the hero. But unfortunately, they missed out on that opportunity and then now they try to launder their image just like that. It’s basically not important. The whole thing that this shows is the fact that the Chibok girls are not the priority. The government thinks its image is more important than the 296 missing girls. It’s sad. It’s really sad!

PT: Is #BringBackOurGirls prepared to withstand more pressure?

Yesufu: I don’t know where the PR firm’s ideology is coming from. The fact that they are ready to collect something and smear other people – because all I have seen them do is call us names, “franchise” and now, “psychological terrorists.” But the thing is we are ready to go all the way. We are not a hired crowd. We don’t go out and pay people to come here. If we were paying, by now, the funds would have run out. We are not government that have endless purses. People come here based on their conviction and that’s what has been keeping us going and our core value is the Chibok girls.

Like I have told you, I am ready to be insulted, whatever they need to do, do it. As long as it is for the Chibok girls, I don’t take it personally. Even the fact that I have been called a psychological terrorist, a franchise; I am not taking it personally. I know it’s all for the Chibok girls. Where am I going to? Nowhere. So by the time they come back and I am walking on the street and somebody calls me a psychological terrorist, then I would take that seriously. But for now, it’s all about the Chibok girls and that’s what we are focused on and the fact that we are all here based on our own conviction. I mean, we’ve been coming for 80 days so we are ready to go the long way.

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