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Opinions of Friday, 15 April 2016

Columnist: Abdur Rahman Alfa Shaban

Chibok, #BringBackOurGirls & the power of social media activism


Bastions (if you want) citadels of global political and economic power and diplomacy: New York to Addis Ababa, Washington DC to London, Brussels to Zurich, Abuja to New Delhi, Berlin to Beijing.

Lisbon to Jo'burg, Paris to Marrakech, Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam, Jakarta to Toronto, Accra to Madrid, these and many more cities the world over, centers of tradition, fashion, lifestyle and social status.

Very little or few people will grade these cities any where near the likes of 'elite' northern Nigerian state capitals like Kano, Sokoto, Katsina or Kaduna, much less terror-targeted areas like Yola, Damaturu and Maiduguri, the embattled northeastern trio who have suffered most from the Boko Haram insurgency.

*Question; how then did Chibok make it to global attention and prominence?*

Chibok is/was that unknown Local Government Area (LGA) together with 26 others in Borno State, it's prominence in social, political, security and media circles is unfortunately hinged on pain and gloom.

A pain that befell the very unknown community some two years ago, on April 14, 2014. Those were the brutely brutish days of the deadly Boko Haram insurgency, the days when the insurgents could face-off with the Nigerian army and claim successes; thankfully those days are gone.

But that particular day (April 14, 2014 for purposes of emphasis) was crucial to what has become of Chibok. Unfortunately little has been achieved in trying to assuage the pain of the society till date.

Over 276 to be precise young girls were snatched from a government secondary school in Chibok when Boko Haram invaded the town. They forcefully got the girls into vehicles, the records have it that some 57 of them managed to escape at some point. Till date, 219 remain missing.

It seemed to everyone that like other social crisis situations, which frankly are rampant in Africa's most populous country, it was not going to be long before the 'flame' of demands on the Federal and Borno state governments to rescue these girls would die, not just die; but die a natural death.

Enter #BringBackOurGirls Movement

Died it could have, but that was not to be, thanks to the effective, unflinching and unwavering activities of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, one buoyed by a strong online (social media) activism backed by dedicated and effective campaigners across the globe fuelling the 'flame' and keeping the fire continually burning.

The #BBOG hashtag is credited to one lawyer Ibrahim M. Abdullahi, who sought to back calls by Obiageli Ezekwesili demanding the return of the Chibok girls. His tweet read; ''Yes, BringBackOurDaughters #BringBackOurDaughters #BringBackOurGirls declared by @obyezeks and all people at Port Harcourt World Book Capital 2014.'' Exactly 9 days after the abduction on April 23, 2014 Lawyer Abdullahi tweeted.

With the instrumentality of BBOG Nigeria, the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag 'caught fire' in the wake of the abduction of the girls, #BBOG was tweeted over 400,000 times by people from all over the world. It seemed that the world was looking for the abducted girls.

At the center of the activism, the famous Abuja Unity Fountain ''sit-out'' sessions that pooled together people from all walks of life, irrespective of colour, race, creed, age, educational and social status, constantly and ceaselessly meeting to ensure that the 'pressure is on.'

With the likes of Obiageli Ezekwesili, Aisha Yesufu, Hadiza Bala Usman and others leading the charge, there has been a sustained and very well calculated effort to demand, demand and demand that these girls are found.

The strategy of the BBOG campaign has seen it consolidate its base and reach from the local level through to the State and Federal levels. Beyond Nigeria to the subregional, continental and international levels, the girls of Chibok have entered political and diplomatic circles across the world, thanks to @BBOG_Nigeria's activism.

#BBOG & the Global Solidarity Effect

The BBOG activism, took on so powerful a global clamour and drive that in it's 10th anniversary video piece, @twitter (the micro blogging site) featured a bit of #BBOG, in the 150 seconds compendium, the Chibok girls plight was present between 69th and 82nd seconds.

An activist is seen and heard saying; ''Today marks six since months since our Chibok girls were taken from their school,'' snapshots and tweets scroll on the screen and ends with the famed Michelle Obama tweet demanding the return of the girls.

Undoubtedly, the #BringBackOurGirls vibe and heat must have at best fuelled the use of social media, particularly Twitter, to push for social change and global action. The #FeesMustFall (South Africa) and #Justice4Liz (Kenya) trends among others have followed the lead of #BringBackOurGirls.

It goes without saying that other trends after #BringBackOurGirls could have been beneficiaries of the solidarity and awareness that arose after the Chibok Abduction.

#YesAllWomen (May 2014) became a symbol of solidarity for victims of misogyny and patriarchy and at the same time, a celebration of womanhood.

#BlackLivesMatter (August 2014) was used by African Americans to protest the unwarranted killing of an unarmed teenager in the USA.

#WhyIStayed (September 2014) enabled women to reach out to each another, to show their support and also give people a deeper insight into the complex, often taboo topic of domestic violence.

#OccupyCentral & #UmbrellaRevolution (October 2014) was instrumental as students and other protesters in Hong Kong used umbrellas to protect themselves not only from the incessant rain but also from the pepper spray used by police and so the alternative hashtag

#JeSuisCharlie (January 2015) #PrayForParis #PrayForBassam #PrayForBrussels have also featured in the very recent past, albeit each with a sad narrative backing each one.

Point worthy of note, all these were post-Chibok abduction and thus after the formation of the now global activism vehicle #BringBackOurGirls.

Beyond Chibok Girls: Buni Yadi Boys, Ese Ororu and the Ikorodu Girls

As important as the rescue and safe return of the Chibok girls are to the activism, the group has always made it a point to 'fight' similar social justice causes with the same vim and energy but more importantly, the same relevance and push.

Three major instances are apt to cite at this point, the Buni Yadi massacre where 29 boys in a school were gruesomely murdered by Boko Haram either by being shot or their throats slit.

The BBOG group has made it a point to recount that episode and to keep the issue on the front burner.

The group were again at their vociferous best in the recent past relating to two case of abduction. The ''Ese Ororu gate,'' which involved an alleged case of abduction of a young girl from Bayelsa State to Kano State, the case is currently pending before the courts.

Then the ''Ikorodu Girls" in Lagos where abductors kidnapped three school girls from a secondary school in Nigeria's commercial capital – the Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary.

And when on the sixth day, all three girls were rescued successfully, that was a rare moment of glory for the group's advocacy efforts and their tweet to that effect told it all.

''DAY 6 of #IkoroduGirls kidnap. GREAT NEWS! 3 schoolgirls kidnapped, 3 of them rescued. #BringBackOurGirls,'' the group tweeted.

Last words

The social heartbreak arising from the abduction is real, the security and political headache therefrom is only fair as the ordinary people cannot of themselves provide certain essential services like security and policies allied to communal safety.

It is refreshing to know that there is a Civilian Joint Taskforce (Civilian JTF) that liaises with the military and other agencies to fight off the Boko Haram menace. Lots of lives have been lost, incalculable infrastructure destruction and the pain drain as well.

It seems that even as we all watch a former gun toting, tough-talking braggart in Abubakar Shekau, now somber and sullen in the recent video, there is a lot more to be done relative to rebuilding of infrastructure, emotions and the general Nigerian social structure.

God bless the activism, God bless Chibok, God bless Nigeria.

Abdur Rahman Alfa Shaban