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Tunde Leye: Critically Needed, Your Influence #BringBackOurGirls

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In June 2009, two American journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, were detained in North Korea for crossing into the country without official permission. They were tried and sentenced to 12years labour in a North Korean concentration camp. Never mind that some of the actions of the journalists bordered on recklessness. The official channels were being explored by the government of the United States to secure their release but because of the various issues with the communist country, including a lack of diplomatic relationship between the two countries, this was not working. It looked like the two women were resigned to a hard fate in the brutal North Korean prisons.

But this would not be so. Former president of the United States, in his capacity as a private citizen, but in recognition of the enormous personal influence that he wielded went unannounced to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, and negotiated the release of the two American citizens. He secured their release one day after he landed in Pyongyang.

We have 234 girls kidnapped from Chibok. The government has clearly failed in responding properly to the situation to rescue the girls and communicate with its citizens. This is the reality we currently face. The social media led #BringBackOurGirls campaign is doing the job of putting pressure on the government to act and act decisively. It exasperates me that we have to recourse to protesting for our government to do the right thing every time. It also bothers me that they have a pathological fear of these protests, unleashing police to shoot teargas on peaceful protests demanding for something as simple as bringing back the kidnapped girls. The government’s performance on this matter has been woeful and deserves to be questioned.

There is another avenue that can however be explored when government fails in its responsibility or is unable to carry them out. In Nigeria, we have people who claim or are acclaimed to have influence. However, it seems that the only use this influence is put to is in contesting elections or delivering vote blocks to contestants. For example, General Buhari is acclaimed to be very influential in the North and this has been proven by how he won 12million largely northern votes using a hastily cobbled together CPC in the 2011 elections. It is time for the General to use that influence in a non-electoral matter, the way Bill Clinton did in the case of the American journalists. He has the pedigree to, is of the religion that the Boko Haram fighters will listen to (in fact, some believe the perception that he is a fundamentalist Muslim has been his Achilles heel in the previous elections. For reaching out to Boko Haram fighters however, this perception is an advantage). Writing an article or press release over this matter is not the extent to which the General should utilize his enormous influence. If he takes the step to reach the Boko Haram fighters and negotiate the release of the kidnapped girls, that will be the best use of his influence, beyond winning any election. In fact, if his party then goes on to use such an act as a campaign tool for him, we would not have any issues with them for it. We will just be happy that he was able to rescue the girls.

All the religious leaders that have influence of the federal government, especially the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, must bring their voice to bear on the campaign to cause decisive action to bring back our girls and not join the cacophony that politicizes Boko Haram and spews hatred. I must remind them that their silence on this matter at this time is an indictment for which they will answer to the One who called them. The prophets in the Old Testament mentored the Israelite kings, but did not bat an eyelid when it became necessary to tell them when they were wrong. They also declared the right way to go and pointed it out to the kings. They were willing to lose their privileged positions in the court of the kings in the pursuit of the declaration of truth, which was their mandate from their Caller.

Citizens are already using the influence that they have on social media, in news media and pieces like this to raise the volume of the calls to bring back our girls. There is no better time for men and women of greater influence to bring it to bear than now. 234 young lives are at stake.

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Tunde Leye @tundeleye is a fiction writer. He believes that the stories written form a priceless resource that is the basis of society, all the other arts (film, music, theatre, visual arts) and hence he is committed to telling stories out of Africa that show it as it was, is, and is going to be.

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