youth

“We have a president that would go to a social event the day or the next day [after an attack] and be dancing”

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.

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“Terrorism has no religion”

Sen. Ali Ndume, a representative from Borno State, address the gathering at the #BringBackOurGirls sit-in at Unity Fountain in Abuja

Sen. Ali Ndume, a representative from the local government in Borno State where 276 girls have been abducted, addresses the gathering at the #BringBackOurGirls sit-in at Unity Fountain in Abuja

Sen. Ali Ndume, a senator from Borno State representing Chibok Local Government where the abduction of 276 girls took place some three weeks ago, addressed a #BringBackOurGirls sit-in at Unity Fountain in Abuja. This  sit-in follows protests against Nigerian government’s seeming inaction following a mass abduction of schoolgirls from a boarding school while they were taking a science exam, and government’s eventual response casting doubt over the number of girl’s abducted.

Sen. Ndume has been accused in the past of funding the militant groups that have wrought havoc in the northeastern part of the country for years. In his address, he cleared the air on the number of girls missing, and gave some background on the community in which the abductions took place. He also addressed the accusations directed at him, and the issue of religion and ethnicity that have politicized the conflict.

This address was recording in writing while the Senator was speaking, and is therefore an edited version of his address. TAP apologizes for the lack of audio of the speech; there was no audio facility available at the time of the address.

I’m very impressed by the conduct of this gathering, as led by Oby Ezekwesili. I think I’ll just call her Oby. Thank you so much for having me.

Let us first start with the numbers, because that has been a focus of recent discussion.  179 girls was used initially because that is the number of girls that were taking the science exam. But you know how girls are, they like to stay together in groups with their friends, so other girls joined the initial number so they can read using the electricity. After the abduction happened, we did a search, but we were not many. Not enough people joined in, and it is a very wide area, so we could not find them.

I visited Chibok on the 21st April to talk to the parents. When we went and addressed parents, 2 people spoke on behalf of all the affected families. That’s when they heard 234 as of 21st April based on their register. I returned [to Abuja] and spoke to Sen Pres. David Mark, who said he’ll start on a motion [in the National Assembly]. But does the number matter? Even if it were just 1 or 5, would it be less of a tragedy? What is being done to get the children back? The 53 we have got are the number who escaped. So let me reiterate, the actual number of girls that have returned is 53. 

They now have confirmed to us the figure 276 as the number of girls abducted in total. Those who returned, 53. So that means 223 missing. Chibok is a small community that communicates within itself very well, so we called all the District Heads [of the local government]. We can confirm from the District Heads that 183 families across the various districts in the local government have missing girls. Government Girls Secondary School (GGSS) is the only school with boarding, and its mixed. For this exam, because of security situation in Gwoza, [the authorities] have joined the schools. Chibok is one of those local governments that is big on education. Again, why would the number be an issue? As I said, distinguished ladies and gentlemen: There’s some things you can do as a group that I can’t do, regardless of my office. The more we tribalize it, the more it gets closer to you and me.

I’m a number one victim of Boko Haram. I’ve been accused of being a sponsor of Boko Haram. Martina and David are both my family. David is in a hospital in Keffi, as he unfortunately had an accident on his way here. 4 in my family are Christians. I was a Christian, too, when I was younger; my name was Samuel. My dad was a Muslim, and my mom who was employed by missionaries, was a Christian. David and Martina and Naomi, my sisters,  are Christians. My mom died a regional Christian leader. My second wife is a Christian; her brother who is a Muslim was killed in his sleep. So you see, this thing is not a religious thing. And I’m not even a Kanuri, just so you know. We need to know this. LRA did same, who were trying to impose Xtianity, employing these tactics: murder, rape, kidnapping. This is not about religion or tribe or any of these things.

Terrorism has no religion, no tribe. We should all collectively fight it.

“Young people have no alternative but to come together to seek ways to be safe”

Yusuf, a youth activist in Maiduguri, speaks to TAP on the ways in which young people are working independently and in tandem with security forces to combat the insecurity in Borno State. He makes interesting observations on the difference in youth-security dynamic in Borno and Yobe States, and the ways in which women contribute to intelligence gathering. You can listen to the interview below. An edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Some of the major issues for young people is obviously safety, but I’m interested in exploring the ways in which young people have been resisting the armed groups.

Now, as young people are under pressure, I think the rest of them that are remaining [in Borno] have no alternative but to come together to seek ways to be safe. You can see young people under the Youth Vanguard willingly submitting their own energy and time to checking the influx of people and looking into the nooks and crannies of their neighborhoods to ensure there are no threats. This gives them the confidence to find people who are partaking in heinous activities that contribute to the insecurity will be exposed.

Are these civilian JTF or smaller, vigilante-like community watch groups?

They have allegiance to other youth in the community even though they are not part and parcel of the main youth volunteer group, but they can still use the opportunity to share information with the Youth Vanguard. They have now dared to give their time and expose anything that is a threat to their community.

How are they managing to share information? Are they using ICT or are they using other methods?

They are using other methods, not solely ICT. It happens at different levels, since they have different political wards. It has been decided that youth residing in a particular political ward should have their leadership structure. With that, the leader will have control over monitoring, checking vehicles and individuals passing on the streets, for the safety of people. They normally monitor 24/7 to make sure that within their own area, nothing wrong happens. If there is any suspicious behavior, you find them exposing things that were not even imagined by even the security forces.

Whats the relationship between these youth groups and the military? In places like Yobe, some interviews that we have people say that they don’t trust the military or police. What’s the level of trust?

The composition of Youth Vanguard is very much focused on Maiduguri, rather than in Yobe. They have civilian JTF very much focused in Borno, but in Yobe the synergy of communication [between youth and security forces] exists between those who have a relationship with the military. The military has ways and means of gathering intelligence from the young ones. But no, the physical presence of civilian JTF does not exist as much in Yobe.

That’s interesting. does the existence of a civilian JTF make intelligence gathering easier for security forces?

That’s for sure.

What’s the role of women in intelligence gathering?

In our environment, there are cultural and religious values that guide the behavior of people, so the role of women cannot be done openly, inasmuch as information that is important and factual is concerned. Women have the opportunity to share their information with people who they know can act on that information. You do not see them featuring so prominently. But there are women who are part of the civilian JTF. There was a religious injunction that women cannot be checked by men, so the cars in which women drive or with women in their purdah, it is the women who will check them. So it means they are cooperating on that level.

Thank you so much for speaking with me.

“I just hope that God would give us the strength to get our house back”

Ahmed, a young man who used to live in Maiduguri but has since left for Abuja, tells TAP how he lost two younger siblings, his family home and a cousin over the past year due to militia violence. He also talks about how communities used to harbor militants, thinking they were working for religious reasons, but how that has now appeared not to be so. He has asked that his voice be altered before posting his testimony.

There were two of my younger ones that we went home to pay for their school fees. At the end of the day, they went to register when those guys struck and killed the two of them and that’s one bitter experience. Some military men were pursuing one of the guys and was holding gun. We entered into one corner. The people of that area, they are the one who took the guy, brought one of the guys into their home and hid him, instead of releasing the guy to the military to arrest him and then maybe persecute. They said that the man is working for them. With the way things are happening in my place before, we thought these guys were out for something like maybe religion, but from what we are seeing its like it is beyond religion. We cannot know what exactly is happening in my area. Everyone is being attacked. There’s no discrimination against religion, sex, or any other thing. they just attack at random.

The second thing is that in May last year, they went and burnt our house down. So these guys burnt our house down, but we give God glory, no life was lost in my family, but the house was razed down completely. Up until now, nothing has been done about the house, and the state government… but I don’t want to speak much about that, because its like there’s a lot of politics about what is going on. I Don’t want to speak much about that. I just hope that God would give us the strength to get our house back.

The last experience the recent one, the attack of FGC (inaudible). That one is not my blood brother, my cousin lost his life among the people that were massacred.

Those are the experiences that I’ve had.

“It’s not what they take, it’s what they do to you that is the problem”

According to Halima, a businesswoman who has lived in her neighborhood in Yola for the past 35 years, robberies and armed violence during curfew hours are becoming more and more widespread. She believes that the displacement and armed violence is causing insecurity and societal distrust throughout the region, even in areas that are not seeing the worst of the violence.

You have young guys that have not been able to go to school, or they have been to school but they don’t have jobs. And because of that they use that opportunity to rob, disturbing people, crime… the problem is that everybody, all of us here, we don’t sleep with two eyes closed. We sleep with an eye open. And also, everyone in the community is concerned about this.

Just recently, some young boys came into my house in the middle of the night around three o’clock. They robbed us. True, they had not touched anybody, but they came in numbers, about 10 of them, and then after coming into the house they broke into the house, after they broke into the house they woke up everybody – in fact, smashing doors, smashing windows, and then they entered, they didn’t touch anybody. And if this kind of things when they happen, even the neighbors, when something happens like that they don’t feel comfortable because you share somebody house being smashed or crashed or people, in the middle of the night, they can’t be free. Nobody will come out and help you, no matter what you do. If you scream, it is useless. If you even call police they would not come. By the time they come, these people have gone. Also, even if I were the one, if something happened to my neighbor I won’t go out. I would be even afraid of calling police, because first of all, we don’t know if they are the ones who are robbing you.

In Adamawa, my state, we have curfew, but imagine if the curfew people are going around breaking into houses. With guns and machetes. Wherever they go, they have these strong torchlights that they use, you’ll think it’s NEPA. They don’t like to see their faces. And if you have on security lights, they will break the lights. Things like that. Everywhere, everywhere I can say in my state everyone is not sleeping peacefully. I have stayed in my neighborhood for 35 years, nothing happened like that. Except now. Now that I don’t even have a husband, I and my children and my partner are all living like this. And the irony of it is that there are rich, rich people with big, big mansions, they don’t go into those kinds of houses, because they know that maybe they have security. They go into poor people’s houses. It’s not what they take, it’s what they do to you that is the problem.

These kinds of things happen in all the three states that they say are emergency states. And sometimes you would see them in something like uniform. They put something on top of it that you don’t get. When you hear People say “don’t tell the police, is it the police that are coming up to come and rob people.” So you see, it’s not easy for somebody to even talk about this. But I’m talking not because I don’t want people to hear, but what I don’t want they have already done to me, so why can’t I come and talk?

And it’s not only Adamawa state; it’s in every one of these local governments and states. So there is a lot of problems that people are facing. Sometimes they think these people that break into your houses, are people that run away from other states. And when they are in your place they will just do that, because they don’t have anything else to do. If you say you’ll call you the police, they would say “don’t call the police because they’re the one’s doing this”. If you say let’s call the soldiers, people they would say, “don’t do this because they are conniving with them to do all this rubbish”.