On Monday, a bomb blast snatched the lives of 48 and wounded 79 more at a school in Potiskum, Nigeria. Officials suspect Boko Haram, the terrorist group that raided a Chibok school and kidnapped close to 300 girls in April of this year, is behind this fresh violence. The brazen attack on Chibok sparked global outrage as millions rallied behind the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. But that movement has fallen widely silent, leaving the girls’ families in Nigeria desperate to save their loved ones.
Kevin Winston, a Charlotte chef, and nDemand business consultants Oscar and Kiya Frazier organized a #BringBackOurGirls rally in May, in Marshall Park uptown. Winston got involved in the movement as part of a national initiative, sparked by a friend in Los Angeles. The idea was to put out “a sort of global amber alert” on the kidnapped girls.
“Our overall goal was to raise awareness, and getting people to sign a petition we sent to the Senate,” Winston says. But once the petition was delivered, months dragged on with no action and interest waned. It’s now been over 200 days since the girls were taken. The Charlotte group is dormant, though the national organization’s Facebook page, is still posting news and has a daily countdown.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian government embarrassed itself last month with a premature announcement Oct. 17 from the office of President Goodluck Jonathan, which stated that a ceasefire agreement had been reached stipulating the return of all of the young women. The announcement was greeted with skepticism amid rumors the talks had occurred with a separate arm of Boko Haram based in nearby Chad, rather than the northern Nigerian group responsible for the assault on Chibok. Many Nigerians had little faith that the government, with its haphazard communications and contradictory reports, ever brokered a deal at all.
Boko Haram released a video denying any agreement to return the 273 Chibok schoolgirls. A man calling himself Abubakar Shekau, the reputed leader of the organization (whom Nigeria claimed was killed in a battle in September), appears on video laughing and saying that the girls will never be returned.
“We have married them off. They are in their marital homes,” he added. “We did not negotiate with anyone ... It's a lie. It's a lie. We will not negotiate. What is our business with negotiation? Allah said we should not.”
Obiageli Ezekwesili, former vice president for the World Bank's Africa region, was pointed in her criticism of the Nigerian government. “Citizens with any moral outrage left in them should be aghast at what seems like a major lie by our government,” she told reporters.
Boko Haram is thought to have captured up to 500 women and girls in numerous raids in the north, and sold or forced many to be “camp wives” for their fighters. Boko Haram virulently opposes Western and secular ideas, but also violates the tenets of Islam with their vicious attacks on innocents. They have cut a bloody swath across the Muslim-dominated north in recent years, targeting secular, Western-styled schools. In February, they threw explosives in student hostels in a government boarding school in the town of Buni Yadi, and last year led an attack on dormitories in Potiskum that killed 40.
Hundreds of the Chibok girls’ relatives and supporters continue to rally daily in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. But the world’s cameras are now trained elsewhere, and international support is low. Oscar Frazier, the Charlotte organizer, is frustrated by the apathy. Concerned citizens have the responsibility to act, he believes, “even when money or prestige is not involved.”
“We live in a time that puts a greater emphasis on what's trending on social media … than the impact world affairs have on people,” he wrote in an email.
It’s time to bring back #BringBackOurGirls.