Almost ten months after the abduction of over 200 girls in Chibok Local Government Area of Borno State, the campaign to pressure the government to rescue them persists. This interview features Bring Back Our Girls campaign Strategy Committee member Bukky Shonibare, and she talks to TAP about displacement, government’s role and what she hopes the next four years would bring in terms of improving the security situation in Nigeria’s northeast. She talks about her initiative Adopt a Camp, what ordinary people in more peaceful areas of the northeast are doing to help residents from more troubled regions, and what is needed in the government agencies’ work with displacement communities.
Thank you so for agreeing to speak with me. Please introduce yourself.
My name is Bukky Shonibare. I’m a member of the strategic team of Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) Campaign.
And a very visible member at that. What would you say has been your major motivation to carry on with your activism?
It’s my sense of empathy. It’s difficult to just continue as though everything is just OK when over 200 girls have been abducted I have a biological daughter, a six year old girl, and an adopted daughter that is a 16 year old girl and within the age range of these abducted girls. It’s difficult to not know where my adopted daughter is. Also, my compassion. I’m a deeply compassionate person. I can relate to the pain of the mothers of the missing girls.
What would you say has been BBOG’s key successes as a campaign?
When we started, we developed a strategic plan and phased it out. The first phase was creating the awareness of the issue. I would say we achieved a lot of success with that. The world got to know what was happening, everyone from celebrities to world leaders, and people took turns to identify with us, especially at the early stages of the campaign. I would say in terms of creating that awareness and letting people know that there are Nigerians who are not moving on because our girls have been abducted, there has been some success with that. We’ve done a lot since the campaign started. We’ve done a lot to engage relevant stakeholders and have done a lot of protests. We’ve shouted, we’ve cried, we’ve let the world know that we’re not moving on. The hashtag was trending for awhile. Some would regard that as success, but it only matters if our girls are back.
There’s a lot of different kidnappings even before the schoolgirls from Chibok, and more kidnappings even after that. Why home in on Chibok even as more and more issues have come up since?
Like you rightly mentioned, there have been abductions and unnecessary killings. We were expecting that government would do all things within its power to make sure that Nigerians live in a sane, secure environment. One very gruesome attack was Buni Yadi, and one would expect the govt to shut everything down and make sure there is government representation in Buni Yadi after it happened, but we didn’t see that. To this day, we don’t know what has been done for the parents of the Buni Yadi students. That jolted people, it made us think. Our government can overlook the abduction of the 25 girls [that happened in Maiduguri], and the sale of girls who had been abducted, many for 2,000 naira (About U.S.$12.00) in the northeast, and we were waiting and hoping that our government can do something, more than what citizens can do. When that did not happen, and the insurgents gained more power and increased their level of their attacks to the point that they took 276 of our girls, with 56 of them managing to escape. And if you hear the way some of these girls managed to escape, you’d wonder where they developed that kind of resilience. Some of the girls hung to the trees and waited for the trucks to move away, and jumped down when their trucks moved away. I met Kauna, she escaped by landing on her head. I met her around the 100 days of the abduction, and her neck was still aching her. Another girl Hauwa was telling me how she and her friend were her hiding under the car. These girls should be treated as girls, not soldiers. One should expect that a government does not want its citizens to go through that. It all just made us realise that if citizens do not take their rightful place, these people will take up to 1,000 one day, up to 2,000, God forbid.
What happened in Chibok shows everything that is happening to our country: corruption, insensitivity, impunity, everything that you can think of as it relates to our government and the abducted girls. But it does not mean that when other abductions happened we did not take action. When the Potiskum boys were killed, we mourned them. We wore black t-shirts, we held a candlelight vigil, we went to the Ministry of Education and protested there, and we insisted that we wanted all our schools to be secure. However, the issue of the abducted Chibok girls is our entry point into the conversations.
Thanks for explaining that. President Jonathan’s response has been heavily criticised, from at first saying the girls had been rescued, to then saying nothing when it was revealed that no such rescue effort to happened, to the intimidation of Bring Back Our Girls campaigners. What do you want to see from the President and from Buhari as well? What are you hoping that these people say or do to show they are taking into consideration people impacted by the violence?
It doesn’t matter who becomes President. Anyone can occupy that seat. I just think that whoever wins should not carry on with what Pres. Goodluck Jonathan is doing at this time. Even if GEJ comes back, he should not come back with his insensitivity. I’m expecting a sensitive government and Commander in Chief who knows what responsibility means. You have the mandate of the people. I voted for Goodluck Jonathan in the 2011 elections. People gave their votes, their mandate, their power to him. What it means, according to the constitution Section 14, sub-section 2 is this: the security and welfare of the people shall be the responsibility of the government. What I am expecting is a government that understands its primary responsibility. You lose people today, and we have a president that would go to a social event the day or the next day and be dancing. Can you see any other world leader doing that? Look at leaders of countries Nigerians sleep in embassies to run away to. It is wired in every human being to want a sane and secure environment. Is that too much for a government to give its people? If we put all our effort together and all the billions spent on our security apparatus, we should be able to secure lives and property. However, corruption and impunity are the order of the day. What I’m expecting in addition to education, health, and all other sector reforms, we want to be safe.
Considering Gujba and Buni Yadi, etc, do you think the average Nigerian cares? There have been lots of horrific incidences, but it took 12 people killed in France. Should this quest for empathy stretch to Nigerians as well?
Nigerians care. The empathy and the care that Nigerians have to each other would only be meaningful if we have a responsible government. I’ve had to go to the northeast recently, and the reality on ground is different. An average Nigerian there cares about about an average victim of insurgency. You can see a civil servant who can barely take care of his own 6 or 7 children taking in 30 or 40 or 50 IDPs. Are you going to say such Nigerians don’t care? There are people who opened their doors to fleeing residents of troubled zones and shielded them. So Nigerians care, however, theres a larger percentage of Nigerians who are cut off from the reality. We can put the responses in segments: those in the northeast who are close to what is happening in the northeast, so their empathy is higher. that’s one. There’s also the category of people in the north not necessarily from the region, like those in Abuja or other places that not as affected by the violence. We are also empathetic but not as empathetic as those in the area. There are also those who would say “Are you sure these girls have been abducted?” Somebody tweeted at me saying “Go and sleep, no girls had been abducted.” Even people that are close to us who see these things in the news but don’t believe that anything like this is happening in the south or the west who don’t believe that something is happening in the northeast. One of the BBOG campaigners Aisha Yesufu spent her Christmas in Auchi, Edo State, and she spent time sensitising people and she was asked, “where is this thing happening?” There has been people who only access local media and don’t know something like this is happening. However, our empathy only matters when our government is responsive.
In France, the total death toll was about 15, and their govt marched and joined others to join them in a unity march. Does our government do that? but If you come out to march, they’ll say you’re against the government and say you’re in an opposition party, then send thugs after you and beat you up, snatch our phones and some people get scared. Some would leave after they don’t see any result and others will stay.
In addition to your advocacy on BBOG, you are doing work with IDPs in camps. Can you talk about that.
On September 21st, we visited an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Nasarawa and took relief materials. This opened up a new chapter for me. I realised that other Nigerians, other human beings, were going through this, so I started Adopt-a-Camp. Government should be at the forefront in alleviating IDPs’ plight. In Yola, there is only one government owned camp. In Yola, there are over 600,000 IDPs. They say they’re working on a second camp. Only about 6,500 of them are int he government owned camp. That’s about 1% of the total IDPs in Yola. Even the 6,500 people are not adequately catered for, and even complain of diversion of the relief materials meant for them. So we thought we had to complement governments’ efforts to provide clothing, basic necessities like shelter and food, healthcare, education since the children no longer go to school, and economic empowerment. in Christmas, we reached out to over 1000 IDPs. We don’t want to treat IDPs as victims. They should be able to advance from being IDPs to being responsible members of their host communities.
Permit me to say at this juncture that SEMA, NEMA and all these government agents are doing their best but it would be best if this ‘best” is being backed up with a coordinated, holistic humanitarian framework. I know that basics things like food and shelter are their primary needs at this point, but we need a framework that can even inform the work NGOs like ours are doing.
A lot of people want to help, but don’t know how. Can you show us some resources? How do I know here to provide my assistance?
We at Adopt-a-Camp does a lot of work, but also Modupe Odele is also doing a lot with children IDPs, and a lot of individuals are coming up to see how they can help. A lot of that help came up during Christmas. We are currently working with some other individuals and organisations, and putting ourselves together as an association to have a coordinated framework. In weeks to come, we would be having a conference of organisations coming together to help IDPs. That way, one can easily identify organisations working with IDPs. We don’t have that right now, but we can point people in the right direction.
Thank you so much for speaking with me.