OpinionOPINION: Comparing Chibok And Yazidi Girls; Ten Years After, The Freed And...

OPINION: Comparing Chibok And Yazidi Girls; Ten Years After, The Freed And Not Freed

April 16, (THEWILL) – It is at times like these that I give serious consideration to thoughts that often cross my mind. It is then that I contemplate delving into my archive of articles, dusting off those that bear resemblance to current realities and contemporising them. Thereafter, I would notify readers that these are old narratives, perhaps a decade or even three decades old, yet their content and context remain largely unchanged.

The justification for this nagging thought process is the realisation that déjà vu moments, such as the kidnapping of school children for ransom or as sex slaves, will continue to make headlines in the mass media for the foreseeable future. That is because little, if anything, has fundamentally changed in Nigeria’s security landscape since the Chibok girls were taken hostage a decade ago.

The assertion above is underscored by the fact that on October 27, 2015, when I wrote and published a piece titled, “ON TERRORISM: COMPARING CHIBOK AND YAZIDI GIRLS.” I did not imagine that ten years after the abduction of the 276 girls from their hostel on April 14, 2014, nearly 100 of the kidnapped Chibok girls would still be in captivity or remain unaccounted for.

Glo

But the sad reality is exactly that, and the parents of the 91 (82 by some account) girls whose fate remains in the hands of Boko Haram are still grieving as they lament the fact that their beloved daughters are still languishing in the den of the obnoxious non-state actors – Boko haram, who have been wreaking havoc on the Nigerian polity. In fact, due to the heartbreak triggered by their loss, about 45 of the parents are said to have also met their untimely death while grieving.

Worse still, since the Chibok schoolgirls’ kidnapping happened, approximately 1,400 schoolgirls and boys have been stolen by kidnappers for ransom, bringing the total number in ten years to about 1,680 in over 70 attacks on schools.

Sadly, 180 of the children and 14 of the 60 staff kidnapped lost their lives. That is according to recent Human Rights Watch statistics, which also state that between February and March of this year, 200 school children have been kidnapped from schools in Kaduna and Sokoto states, but thank God they have been released to their parents.

To contextualise the dire situation of insecurity in our country, I’d like to request readers’ indulgence to allow me to reproduce a significant portion of a decade-old article comparing the similar fate of the kidnapping of both Chibok girls in Nigeria and Yazidi girls in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. This comparison feels fresh as not much seems to have changed in the lives of the victims and the parents who suffered the misfortune in Chibok a decade ago, while Yazidi girls appear to have been rehabilitated.

Here is the view that l expressed and published in the mass media on October 27, 2015:
———————————————
“Just as about 300 Chibok girls were rudely woken up and yanked off their bunk beds in Maiduguri, Northeast Nigeria by Boko Haram terrorists, hundreds of Yazidi girls from Iraq, on the other side of the world were also similarly seized by the terrorist group, ISIS, under comparable circumstances.

Long after, the unfortunate incidents sent a chill down the spines and cuddled the blood of rational humans worldwide, both victims and families have remained overwhelmed by the sad experience of sorrow, tears and blood that have become the regular trademark of terrorists.

Memories are made of images of CNN footage of the rescue of some of the Yazidi girls from Sinjar mountain where some of them fled when ISIS invaded their homes. Very remarkable and commendable are the rescue efforts by Western powers-backed International Coalition Forces and the determination of the girls to flee into safety, demonstrating both the human spirit to survive and the sacrifice of men and women in uniform, who put themselves in harm’s way to save fellow humans.

The assertion above is given a fillip by the fact that some efforts at rescuing victims have resulted in helicopter crashes that led to the fatalities of military men.

Although both sad consequences of terrorism in Nigeria and Iraq have the common denominator of terrorism-inflicted anguish and the sad consequence of human tragedy, the event in Iraq seems to be having a sort of happy ending as some of the Yazidi girls are being rescued and rehabilitated (some have undergone training in photojournalism etc and are being integrated into society as currently being depicted on CNN), while the Nigerian situation remains unresolved as the hopelessness in the prospect of the Chibok girls re-uniting with their families becomes more remote.

The simple reason for the situation described above is the intervention of coalition forces put together by Western powers, leading to the situation of some Yazidi girls being liberated from the clutches of their captors, while the lack of international intervention has left the Chibok girls in captivity.

So in a nutshell, the difference between the salutary outcome in Iraq and the unsavoury result in Nigeria is the level of effort and time invested by the superpowers who possess the financial resources and military muscle to take on the increasingly sophisticated terrorists in Iraq and the lack of interest or commitment by the same Western powers to the cause of the rescue of Chibok girls in Nigeria.

Curiously, the catastrophe that befell humanity and particularly the Chibok girls, who were abducted from their school dormitory, reverberated across the globe, with celebrities like Michele Obama, wife of the U.S. President, Gordon Brown, former prime minister of Britain and Malala Yusuf-Zai, (Pakistani victim of the Taliban terrorists) as well as the movie superstar, Angelina Jolie, amongst a host of other high profile personalities campaigning against the dastardly act with the hashtag ‘BringBackOurGirls’ that went viral in the social media.

Conversely, after the CNN dedicated television coverage that revealed the pathetic conditions of the Yazidis and the nerve-racking and daredevil rescue missions by coalition forces, the superpowers made concerted efforts such as bombing ISIS locations to rescue and rehabilitate the Yazidis, but not so for the Chibok girls despite equally high publicity blitz elicited by the involvement of celebrities and desperate efforts made by Nigerian authorities to seek Western powers assistance in military intervention.

The reason lies partly in the double standards in the U.S. application of the ubiquitous Leahy Law and the lack of value of the Blackman’s life viz-a-viz his or her white counterpart.
So very often, the colour of a man’s skin and not the content of his character, as the foremost USA human rights activist, Martin Luther King, once posited, determines the level of adversities or tragedies he or she faces in life.

The situation persists, whether in the USA where black discrimination has thrived as reflected in the white police officers’ rampant killing of black people for flimsy reasons or the hypocrisy of the Japanese, when a girl of mixed Japanese and black American descent won the Miss Japan beauty pageant and she is being shunned for being of a mixed race.

Another disturbing anomaly in the issue of foreign relations and human rights is the Leahy law prohibiting the sale of lethal military hardware to countries whose military have human rights abuse records.

What happens is that while countries like Nigeria are deemed to be in breach, and are denied access to such weapons to rein in rampaging Boko Haram terrorists and rescue the Chibok girls, countries like Egypt and Israel, whose military have far more horrendous human rights records – Egyptian army under General, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, overthrew democratically elected government of Mohamed Morsi, killed and jailed politicians and the Israelis have practically razed down most Palestinian cities with massive human casualties using American weapons.

The fact is that Egypt and Israel are the U.S. strategic partners in the Middle East, hence the U.S. applies preferential standards by looking the other way when they engage in the obnoxious human rights abuses that have become a sort of emblem of both countries.

The U.S. excuse would be that Israel needed to survive in the light of the threat of annihilation by its violent Arab and Persian neighbours and the Egyptian army needed to nip in the bud the extremist tendencies of the Islamic jihadist Muslim Brotherhood that had seized sovereign power in the hitherto moderate Islamic country.

While those excuses offered by the U.S. for buffeting their Middle East allies may be germane, equally altruistic is the fact that Nigeria -the most populous Black Country in the world is also under the threat of becoming another Iraq or Libya if terrorists like Boko Haram are allowed to continue their reign of terror on innocent victims.

Worse still, the U.S. Army records of human rights abuse stink to the high heavens as evidenced by the recent bombing of a hospital in Kunduz, Iraq killing 22 patients and medical personnel comprising 12 staffers of the humanitarian group, MSF popularly known as Doctors-Without-Borders.

Suppose you add that and a previous fatal drone attack on a wedding party (mistaken for a gathering of terrorists) to the Guantanamo Bay prison atrocities. In that case, the Black Hawk (US defence contractors) wanton killing of Iraqi civilians and the so-called ‘rendition’ in Europe whereby (against the United Nations, Geneva Convention on prisoners of war), many suspected terrorists were tortured, in some cases to death, the U.S. stance against selling arms to Nigeria becomes hypocritical and a case of the pot calling the kettle black as they lack the moral authority to pontificate.

Just like the U.S. could make a mistake as she did in the unfortunate and sad incident in Kunduz hospital for which President Barrack Obama has now apologised and the U.S. defence authorities have suspended military support to the Syrian freedom fighters,(perhaps in the true letter and spirit of Leahy law) what’s the justification for her hard stance against Nigeria’s occasional human-rights infractions, given the difficult conditions under which the military is also operating?

In the wisdom of the philosopher, Carrie P. Snow

“When you think of the long and gloomy history of man, you will find that more hideous crime has been committed in the name of obedience than have ever been in the name of rebellion.”

This perhaps underpins President Muhamadu Buhari’s presumption in his address to USA lawmakers during his maiden state visit to Washington DC, USA, that Western superpowers who fail to assist in providing weapons to rout Boko Haram are vicariously guilty of collusion with or are acquiescing with terrorists to kill and maim innocent Nigerians.

—————————————-Now, as readers might have noticed from the content of the reproduced article, I have always placed the religious insurgency crisis in an international context.

Therefore, it is necessary to contrast what has happened to the Chibok girls with the hopelessness of Nigeria receiving the necessary help to rein in the religious insurgents tormenting Nigerians, such as Boko Haram, which has now metastasized into the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP), violent herders/farmers, bandits, etc., to the current status of the Yazidi girls of Iraq. As would be revealed in the latter part of this article, Yazidi leaders made frantic efforts to liberate the girls, and most have largely been set free from their captors, ISIS, and rehabilitated.

From the narrative based on reporting by NewsHour, a broadcast of American Public Broadcasting Service, PBS, it can be seen that while there have been huge improvements in the plight of the Yazidis in the Kurdish region in terms of freedom from captivity, conversely, the condition of the Chibok girls and the kidnapping and abuse of girls have worsened in Nigeria.

In a piece titled “Freed And Not Freed” by NewsHour special correspondent for PBS, Marcia Biggs, readers can gain a deep insight into how the Yazidi girls in the Sinjar Mountains in the Kurdish region of Iraq, who suffered a similar fate of kidnap and escape as the Chibok girls in Nigeria at the hands of religious extremists, have fared.

Like in the case of the Chibok girls, militants from the Islamic State ISIS group attacked a small ethnic group called the Yazidis. Men taken from the tribe were executed, and thousands of women and girls were abducted as slaves. To put things in perspective, it is proper to give a brief background on the Yazidis.

They are a small community of less than a million people, found primarily in northern Iraq. A private and conservative community, they practice an ancient religion. At about the same time that the Chibok girls were abducted in 2014, members of the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, attacked the Yazidis, whom they consider heretics.

Like the case of the Chibok girls, images of Yazidis trapped on Sinjar Mountain stunned the world.
Narrating their harrowing experience, below is what one of the girls told PBS NewsHour Special Correspondent Marcia Biggs: “They brought everyone to a school, put the women upstairs, and drove the men away. I didn’t want to let my mother go, but they were pulling us from our mothers and beating us. The children were all put in cars. They said, “We’re going to sell you to others, and you will have sex with them.”

Does the narrative above not resemble what happened to our Chibok girls?
Could our 91 Chibok girls (some say 82), who are still unaccounted for, have been sold to buyers outside the African continent? According to NewsHour’s Marcia Biggs, in the months that followed the kidnap, a network of activists sprung up throughout Northern Iraq, an underground railroad of sorts, coordinating rescue efforts.

Their phone numbers quickly spread among captive girls, who used smuggled phones to call for help and give their location. She further stated that: “At times, the Kurdish regional government has stepped in to grease the wheels. She added that KRG envoy, Dr Nouri Othman, told her about two girls who escaped their captors in Raqqa and ran to a nearby house but were turned away by the owner, too scared to take the chance.

Continuing, she pointed out that Dr Nouri Othman, Envoy to Internally Displaced Persons, Kurdish Regional Government, called the person and pleaded with him to keep the two girls at his home for a couple of days. At first, he refused. But he had to promise to pay him. “Nobody is going to risk their life without getting something in return. You have to pay them.”

He then revealed how: “Some families are raising money to buy back their girls, racking up thousands of dollars in debt”. As for whether the government is funding a program to buy back the girls, Dr Nouri Othman responded thus: “I’m not buying them, no. Maybe I’m paying some people. They are helping me get them back… The important thing is, I want these people to be back. They are my responsibility.”

Can we say that our leaders before the incumbent administration, under whose watch schoolchildren were abducted in Kaduna State and all were recovered within a short period, have been as dynamic and determined to bring back the Chibok girls as the Kurdish people and authorities have been with Yazidi girls?

Dr Nouri Othman further told PBS that his government has spent over $1.5 million to rescue the girls. Asked if there are no ethical issues considering the fact that the money that he pays to liberate the girls might somehow get into the hands of ISIS fighters, he responded: “Well, I’m not—not paying ISIS fighters. This is one. Second thing, these are Kurdish citizens. And I don’t care where the money goes personally. I care about how to rescue the people.”

Clearly, he is applying a non-kinetic approach, which is obviously more cost-effective, as evidenced by the number of girls rescued (400), as opposed to the kinetic method that Nigeria has relied upon and which has gulped trillions of naira in military hardware in the past fifteen (15) years of the intrusion of religious extremists into Nigerian polity.

According to Marcia Biggs’s reporting, about 400 Yazidi women and girls are now free. Compare that number to the mere 187 Chibok girls that have been rescued, according to the Punch Newspaper of April 15th.

If the story shared by a 15-year-old Yazidi girl is anything to go by, our Chibok girls may no longer be on the African continent. The assertion above is derived from what the young girl told Garcia Giggs about how “she and her siblings were captured, separated, and, for four months, she was shuttled between towns and cities hundreds of miles apart, even being sent to Syria.”

What that chilling revelation suggests to me is that if our yet-to-be-accounted-for Chibok girls are still alive, they may be very far from the African continent. Otherwise, they could have returned like the ones that have come back home from Cameroon and other neighbouring countries.
Hopefully, it would not take another decade to get the tragedy to a closure.

*** Written by Magnus Onyibe

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