Oby Ezekwesili: Not Without Our Daughters

Today marks 136 days since April 14, when 219 daughters of Nigeria were taken captive from our midst at close to midnight while we all slept. The Presidential Facts Finding Committee on Chibok Abduction which was set up evidently to validate to those who doubted the tragedy, helped confirm that our daughters that went to acquire knowledge were forcibly taken by terrorists. In all, the report stated that 276 school girls were abducted from Government Secondary School on that fateful night and that fortunately, 57 of them courageously took the risk of self-rescue and are since reunited with their families.

After many weeks of tentativeness arising from indifference, doubt, visible irritation and buck passing a rescue effort was finally launched by the Federal Government, supported by countries that include the United States, Britain, France, China, Canada, Israel and Australia. However, after four months and with no news of their rescue nor any slimmer of evidence of actions being taken to bring them back, the desperate reaction of all who empathize with the girls and their families has become “where is the result from the rescue effort?”

For some others, despondent and yet willing to hold on to the tiniest ray of Hope, the demand is that the Federal Government offers Nigeria the whole truth on the matter of their rescue effort. Why so? There have been too many discordant and contradictory information on the status of the rescue of the girls by our government. Those who ask for the truth, therefore do so mindful of the need to not compromise intricacies of operational strategy while yet insisting that our government can act and convey with sincerity a series of confidence inspiring measures it is taking to resolve this massive scale of human tragedy. Like we say in life, parents and other citizens would rather be slapped with the truth than be kissed with lies.

There are after all three well known options that are possible in the rescue of abduction victims- first, military action, second, negotiation/dialogue which may be direct or indirect and third, a mix of both military action and negotiation. Anyone who has mapped and analysed all the statements ever made by our Government since we were informed by the Chief of Defence Staff on May 24 that they had located our girls; cannot but wonder what to believe. In the quest for truth it does not help that when the dots are connected drawing from diverse statements made by our government at various times, dismissing each of the options for one reason or the other; nothing tangible remains. Could it be that the evident complexity of their rescue has led to inertia or paralysis that surely portends grave danger to our #ChibokGirls …our daughters? Could this be the reason many more people now think we should be silent, move on and allow “whatever” is being done about their rescue to “quietly” continue? If it is then there is no better response to give than “Not without our daughters”.

For, indeed, the 219 girls of Chibok are our daughters. Anyone who is a true parent and real human being would admit that it is almost impossible not to think of the fate of these girls in personal terms. It is impossible not to think how deep their agony would be should children sired in their loins or carried in their wombs experience what these innocent young women are suffering. Most of the empathetic gestures given to their cause have been framed especially by women advocates who are mothers, as simple acts of humanity because they do see the faces of their own daughters whenever they look at the picture faces of the abducted girls. They knew they had to lend a voice to the cause once they started seeing and connecting to the girls not just as pieces of news from some remote region of the country or the world, but as flesh and blood that could have been their own daughters. These are the women and men who today out of deep empathy continue to stand and to speak for our girls even after the rest of the world moved on to other issues buffeting our troubled world.

The second resonant point of convergence for those who advocate for the cause of the girls is the sadness that all things considered, these girls are merely victims of a society that failed them. Our Chibok girls are victims in every sense of the word; suffering serious injury for no fault of their own. The sad but true reason our ChibokGirls continue to languish in the den of our common enemies more than four months after their abduction is that many among us see their vicissitude as one of those tragedies similar to what others have suffered in our country.

The known fact is that in the fifty four years of our independence, too many of our citizens have been victims of our society, suffering all kinds of tragedies and situations alone. Victims abounded in events leading up to, during and after the Nigerian civil war. Did we care? No, we simply moved on. We created another set of victims during the decades of military rule. Did we care? No, we again moved on. In the last fifteen years of our nascent democracy since the 1999 transition, we have kept on creating victims. Have we cared? Not really, we have to move on.

Within the last four years that bloody insurgents have launched a most vicious attack against our citizens, abducting, maiming and killing in thousands, have we really cared? Not really. Those it does not affect may not even give a passing thought to the victims just like it was in the past. So, are we just going to keep moving on for as long as each tragedy does not affect us, ignoring the new sets of victims of our society to “take care of their own pain?” I have seen, heard and known how our society victimizes the victim. Can a people survive and sustain this manner of distribution of suffering in which the strong at any point in time disregards the pain of the victim? No. A society where everyone carries the wound of having once been a victim that was abandoned to suffer alone can neither last nor achieve greatness.

How then can we not see that there is something about the present travail of our Chibok Girls that presents us the best opportunity to awaken our deadened souls that have since our coming together missed out on the wholesome value of empathy? How can we not see that the only and true victims in this abduction saga are our 219 daughters of Nigeria? How can we possibly move on without our daughters? We must not move on. We must give everything possible to save them. They can become the symbol of our catharsis – our purging – our cleaning from the accumulated toxin of bitterness and wound spread across our country from all manner of tragedies and injustice of the past.

By all agreeing not to move on without our daughters, we make a statement that as a people, we are determined to confront our common enemy together. By refusing to sacrifice our daughters that we can save, we send the strongest signal to our common enemies that our society will fight to defend our humane values and the right to life of our children, our women, our men, our young and our old regardless of their religion, politics, language and culture. By staying determined to stand with our endangered ChibokGirls, we as Nigerians would measure up to the standard of Ghandi’s words that “The True Measure of Any Society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members”

If we all did everything possible to bring back our daughters from the clutches and den of evil erected by our common enemies within our own territory; our ChibokGirls will become a historical break from our shameful past as an uncaring society of people. It will be a statement of a united people of the kind we see every day we gather for their cause at the Unity Fountain and loudly declare that “we are from Chibok”- regardless of our ethnic, political, religious, ideological persuasion.

When we do so, it is not because we are unaware of past and other present victims. It is that our daughters are in a special category of being alive and can be saved. It is a protest against the idea that the suffering of other people does not matter and can therefore be denied, ignored and even mocked. It is a kick against the lack of empathy that reflects in the poor choices over several decades that have stagnated and kept us as a tottering country that has never fully evolved into a nation. History teaches and research validates that when a country of diverse people evolves into a nation, the probability of achieving development that benefits the largest number is significantly higher.

The combination of these two factors- daughters and victims – should imprint on the mind of everyone, that we could all be the biological parents of children who due to no fault of their own became victims of deadly danger. As one very involved with the formation and leadership of the #BringBackOurGirls advocacy that is championing the citizens advocacy for the rescue of our Daughters, the two factors steadfastly give me perspective regardless of what other people may think or say.

Personally, I have advocated for our ChibokGirls since the 15th April when news of their abduction broke. On the 23rd April a demand one made to have everyone at the UNESCO event inaugurating Port Harcourt as the 2014 World Book Capital, stand in solidarity and demand for their rescue, resulted in our social media hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. The march for them on the 30th April inspired by Hadiza Bala Usman and the daily “sit-out” in Abuja by incredibly sacrificial Nigerians who are there even today for the 120th of such gathering is a testament to the irony of the divine quality of our suffering Chibok Daughter.

These days, when members of our movement are taunted with questions like “when will you realise the futility of your advocacy and stop?” Like the typical Nigerian, we have learnt to answer questions of this sort with some simple questions of our own. Interestingly, one question to which not even the irredeemably heartless has ever been able to answer without shame is “Did 219 girls also willingly offer themselves to be denied their freedom and their lives?” If they did not, why then should we make victims out of children who already are victims? “Would you want us to stop if any of them were your daughter?”

We cannot afford to move on without our daughters. Everyone who can raise a voice to compel action for them should really do so without feeling embarrassed. Everyone who has the power to act decisively and quickly to rescue them must not consider them a secondary priority. The three possible options of rescue are narrowed and clear to all. Until our Federal Government demonstrates that our ChibokGirls are not being abandoned – by showing that it is taking any of the three options- and that we shall no longer move on and forsake victims of our society as we have previously done in the last fifty four years -there will always be voices; if even just one, demanding that our daughters must be rescued from our enemies. So, when next time you hear or read that chant #BringBackOurGirls and ever go on to ask “when will you stop?” there are two answers you can be sure of “#UntilOurGirlsAreBackAndAlive and the better of the two, #NotWithoutOurDaughters!


Obiageli Ezekwesili is a Nigerian chartered accountant. She was a co-founder of Transparency International, serving as one of the pioneer Directors of the global anti-corruption body based in Berlin, Germany. She served as Federal Minister of Solid Minerals and then as Federal Minister of Education during the second term presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo. Since then, she has been the Vice President of the World Bank’s Africa division. Article culled from THISDAY Newspaper.


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