Editor’s note: The Chibok girls have been missing for 518 days. To this day, the Nigerian authorities and the army are working out ways to free the girls who still remain in Boko Haram captivity, as the news about their fates keep rousing the nation. The Legit.ng columnist, ‘Yomi Kazeem, writes on how this ordeal united Nigerians, and the Bring Back Our Girls movement managed not to lose its most loyal followers in over a year.
In April 2014, over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls were abducted in Chibok by Islamist sect, Boko Haram. In the following days, that kidnapping led to a string of events which shook the entire country. Abductions were not entirely new phenomenon, as Boko Haram, in their reign of terror, had reportedly carried several kidnappings in the northeast, but the Chibok kidnap clearly hit a nerve and struck a chord, not just in Nigeria but beyond. Millions called for the release of the girls, and also for the Nigerian government to act.
One of the key developments in the days that followed the kidnap was the birthing of the #BringBackOurGirls movement which quickly caught on across social media platforms. In the early days when the anger and despair was palpable, the rapid spread of the #BringBackOurGirls movement was predictable. But what was not is that more than a year later, and despite the relative lack of progress on rescuing the Chibok girls, the #BringBackOurGirls is still going strong.
Over the years, Nigerians have earned a reputation of fleeting anger and yearning. Something happens, we protest for some time, we move on. But this is clearly different and deservedly so because the kidnap of so many young girls and the abhorrent manner in which it was handled by the then-government the early days is not something we should move on from. A lot of credit for the sustained intensity of the #BringBackOurGirls movement will have to go to key persons who have ensured that the message has stayed visible for all to see. Collectively though, the incident of April 2014 has been a test on many levels and in different ways for Nigeria and Nigerians READ ALSO: Chibok Girls and Unanswered Questions, A Year And A Half Later (Part One)
A test of humanity
Even though Boko Haram ravaged the norteast prior to the kidnap of the Chibok girls, the large-scale empathy that followed in the wake of the event suggested that the abduction jolted Nigeria. Previous sentiments like "it does not affect me," and "as long as the atrocities remain in the North" were relegated to the background. Nigerians came together to show that we can feel the pain of others. The regularity of the Boko Haram attacks may have reduced the lives of innocent people to mere statistics and news headlines, but the kidnap showed that sometimes, certain events can wake us all from our collective slumber. The continuing test though is whether Nigerians will remain vigilant and demand protection of lives, regardless of how far away we might be from the danger zones. Boko Haram is not a northern problem — it is a Nigerian problem, and #BringBackOurGirls reminded us of that. [article_adwert]
A test of activism
Nigeria has an impressive roll call of activists who have, over the years, put the interest of the “masses" ahead of theirs and won the hearts of Nigerians. But with #BringBackOurGirls, there was an ostensible difference. Even though certain persons led from the front and drove the movement, #BringBackOurGirls never felt like “some" fighting for "the rest of us". Instead, it felt like all of us were fighting for all, and that is key. In a country where things do not always work as they should and where a culture of impunity has been dominant in government, it is crucial to know that citizens can join voices and forces to demand action. It might not always yield success or guarantee results but that reality is sure to jar government into action. Oby Ezekwesili has without doubt been one of the driving forces of #BringBackOurGirls, but many other individuals have played a role in ensuring that these girls are not forgotten. An example is Bukky Shonibare who has taken to Twitter every day to remind everyone how long the girls have been gone with powerful picture messages.
Like Bukky Shonibare, there are many others who seize every chance they get to start the #BringBackOurGirls conversation and keep it going.
READ ALSO: Chibok Girls and Unanswered Questions, A Year And A Half Later (Part Two)
A test of responsibility
Over the last months, #BringBackOurGirls has severely tested the Nigerian government. In the days after the kidnap, the response of the government was widely criticized. The incident was one that was of widespread interest, and the Nigerian government has repeatedly tried to step up to the plate with varying degrees of success. While the previous administrations recorded more gaffes than successes, with ex-president Jonathan refusing to meet with #BringBackOurGirls activist groups, the new government appears more receptive on the matter.
Even though the efforts to fight Boko Haram have redoubled, there is still little news on the Chibok girls. While the abduction served Nigerians with a test of humanity, it served the government with a test of responsibility — one which it had repeatedly taken for granted previously.
The big question: will they return?
More than a year after the girls were taken away, their parents continue to wonder if they can be rescued. Some escaped in the early days. There has been talk of the girls being married off or dispersed, but, as the military cranks up its offensive against Boko Haram, the real story should be made clear soon enough.
Until then, as the #BringBackOurGirls movement admirably pushes on, Nigerians and the parents of the Chibok girls have only one weapon: hope. It is all we can do.
‘Yomi Kazeem is a media professional based in Lagos, Nigeria.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Legit.ng, its editors or other contributors.