The campaign for the immediate release of missing Chibok school girls still persists 500 days after their abduction. The event for public outcry took place in New York, USA, as activists pushing for their release took their campaign to the Nigerian consulate in New York City.
The campaigners comprised of advocates from various parts of the world who marched from the United Nations (UN) interfaith Church Center to the Nigerian Consulate with a message for Nigerian government officials in New York City. However, there were no Nigerian officials to address them. “Nigerian officials here should be the first people out to support us,” said Prof. Mojubaolu Olufunke Okome, one of the organisers of the march and a champion of the #BringBackOurGirls movement in New York City.
This is the sixth time that advocates have protested the abduction of the over 200 girls, who were kidnapped on April 15, last year. The protests coincided with the 500th day of their abduction, which sparked demonstrations in Nigeria and other parts of the world.
“We have an administration that clearly stated that it cares, but the representatives here do not model that. We’re highly disappointed. They need to start caring about the fate of these girls. Because until the Chibok girls are rescued, Nigeria is in serious trouble,” Prof. Okome added.
The organisers informed the consulate weeks in advance of the march, hoping to have a Nigerian official address the activists. But despite spending about an hour in front of the embassy, no official came out. “I keep trying to be patient because Buhari appears to be doing the right thing, but there is a lack of connection when we invite Nigerian officials here to come and address us and nobody shows up,” says Evon Idahosa, another organiser of the event and also a champion of the movement. “We are running out of patience, and this is starting to turn into frustration,” she added.
One placard said: “The tears they shed daily is unimaginable.” Another said: “Do you know where your children are? We don’t! It’s day #500.” Yet another said: “Enough is enough!”
After chanting for several minutes, “What do we want? Bring back our girls!” the crowd counted from one to 219 with great agony. Some counted with tears as they thought about each child they had counted.
The advocates consist of a cross section of people, including Nigerians, Jews, whites, African Americans, and immigrants from various parts of the world.
In Lagos, activists staged a walk in Ikeja the state capital which ended with a visit to the seat of government in Alausa where Governor AkinwunmiAmbode received them. The mood at both events was sombre.
The Abuja group, after the march, tied red ribbons and converged on the Unity Fountain where they held a candle light procession. Senior clerics, including John Cardinal Onayekan and Sheik Nura Khalid, the Chief Imam of Apo Mosque in Abuja, joined the march. The two religious leaders promised to unite against Boko Haram, saying people must be prepared to put their lives on the line to prove to the world that Nigeria is prepared to fight against religious extremism.
Sheikh Khalid said Nigerians must tell the world that Boko Haram will never succeed, that they are not winning and Nigeria will win the war. “We as religious leaders are not doing enough; we must begin to do something, so that our girls will be back into our society and secondly, I can’t say that our religious leaders are doing enough when there is no security in our education system. We must start the fight now. We must start to fight for the soul of Nigeria and fight for the freedom of Chibok and other abducted people in Nigeria.
“I want to tell the world that we the Muslims are always ready to unite with our Christian brothers and sisters to fight for the soul of Nigeria. I want to challenge all the Imams that we should use our purpose to fight for the freedom of the Chibok girls. We must tell the world that Boko Haram will never succeed and they are not winning and Nigeria will win this battle. We are peace lovers and we shall die as peace workers. The Cardinal is the symbol of peace and we are working together to bring peace to Nigeria and we will never stop, until we die. Chibok girls are a symbol of peace in Nigeria because their freedom is what symbolises that we are living in peace in Nigeria. In as much as they are there, then Nigeria is at war, even if no one is killed, without bomb, without shooting guns. If Chibok girls are not back to their families, then Nigeria is at war.
“I want to make a promise; I am on my way to a journey in Saudi Arabia and when I come back, I am going to start a voice that you will want to hear; we are going to start telling the world that Boko is Wajib, the word wajib is the opposite of haram, haram is forbidden. Wajib is obligation. So, to us, Boko is wajib, Boko is no more haram. Boko will never be haram.”
Cardinal Onaiyekan said, “it may not be much but we have been praying. Prayer is important. I don’t know if anybody is expecting me to find my way to Sambisa forest to talk to Shekau, I do not think that is realistic, what I think is certainly possible and I am glad to hear that Sheikh Khalid mentioned that the main stream Islamic community in Nigeria is challenged now to do something about this situation. We must do as much as we can to tell them and the rest of us that they are wrong, I have asked the question of why Islamic preachers are not talking loudly enough and I have been told that the practical terms especially out there in the Northeast. It is not as simple as that, that many Imams have been slaughtered for simply preaching in their mosque against Boko Haram I have no right to ask any Imam to go and get himself slaughtered.
“However are we going to remain like this giving them a free hand?, it means that some people must be prepared to put their lives on the line, keep talking and telling the people that this is wrong that is where we stand right now.
“I thought that this place will be congested but I was terribly disappointed. This whole thing doesn’t seem to hit the hearts of Nigerians. This morning when I woke up, I did not have the plans of coming, I was about going to take my bath when a phone call came from Rome, the radio Vatican on the 500 days remembrance of the Chikok girls and I was ashamed to say that I have not seen too much around and I told him that there was going to be a march today and by the grace of God, I was going to be there, so having made the promise to the radio Vatican and to the world it will be a mortal sin not to keep my promise.
“I was telling them on the radio Vatican that I hope that the 500 days will be a symbolic catalyst to move the Nigerian community into recognising we have a serious problem, my heart bleeds for the young lady, the fact that they called me from Rome means that they have not forgotten, it is we that have forgotten.”
Former Minister of Education and leader of the group Dr. Oby Ezekwesilli, stated that the group, had every reason to be discouraged after 500 days but have been standing firm with the hope that the girls will be released. “Waking up this morning, one had to decide 500 days later and with our girls not back if we have wasted our lives, standing for these girls because of the many things we have passed through standing with parents like Rev. Enoch, whose two children were abducted, whose wife is now suffering from hypertension and the 15 parents, who have now died since the abduction of their daughters, one reflected so much and wanted to give up to the emotions that says that 500 days later, they may never return but we are standing strong on hope for our Chibok girls.”
Leader of the #BBOG strategic team, Aisha Yusufu, said: “Your presence here shows a strong signal to the world that enough is enough. We are all friends irrespective of our religious beliefs, the only reason that the terrorists seem to be having an upper hand is because we do not seem to be united. If we come together as a nation and demand for our Chibok girls, they will come back, when we challenge you and tell you that we need you to hear your voices more, we need to see more of you coming out and challenging Shekau because united we shall defeat Shekau.”