“Bring Back Our Girls”: Meeting With Our President
Jibrin Ibrahim, 9th July 2015
Yesterday, 8th July 2015 was a very emotive and eventful day for the Bring back Our Girls movement when we met and discussed with our President. I use the possessive to bring out what we have always felt as citizens of Nigeria. Our President and our armed forces should feel, without being told by protestors that they have a responsibility to search for and rescue the Chibok girls because they are human, Nigerian and deserve the protection of their State. President Jonathan and his regime however always saw us as enemies out to embarrass him by drawing attention to his total lack of commitment to carrying out his constitutional responsibilities. The most painful thing about President Jonathan was that he never understood what we were about and simply assumed someone was paying us to make trouble for him.
I recall that in May last year, after writing and briefing him about our concerns, we informed President Jonathan that we were coming to visit him for a discussion on the outlined concerns. We got no reply but we all the same marched on Aso rock with an envelope containing our Charter of Demands. Abuja was turned into a police state that day with hundreds of security men fully armed for war. Our only weapon was our envelope. Of course President Goodluck Jonathan was not there to receive us and we were stopped on the streets and could not get to Aso Rock. It was a huge opportunity he lost to start rebuilding his battered credibility by engaging us and showing he as a person and as the President had real concerns about the fate of the girls and was working on a real search and rescue plan. No one in his entourage could explain to the Jonathan regime that the abduction of nearly 300 girls from Chibok was a public relations disaster for the Government not because it happened but because after it happened, the Government and its security agencies did nothing for over three weeks. It was the mothers of the girls who carried out an incredibly important civic engagement to march on the National Assembly to tell the world that the Government was not making efforts to secure the release of the girls.
Yesterday was a completely different experience. When we wrote President Buhari that we wanted to come and discuss with him, he replied and gave us an appointment. When we arrived at the Aso Villa gate, we met, not battle ready troops but air-conditioned buses that drove us into the Villa. In the Villa, the President was on time and listened to all our eight presentations patiently and responded. Yes indeed, we had the feeling that we had a good discussion with our President.
After introductory remarks by Oby Ezekwesili, Maryam Uwais explained to President Buhari that we were seeing him 450 days after the girls had been abducted and that we had been engaged in daily protests for exactly 436 days, a record in the history of Nigerian protest movements. Our concern, she explained is that no State, no society should abandon its citizens in distress for so long. She outlined the history of our struggle and pointed out that it has not been easy sustaining it for this long but we will not, cannot give up because the lives of our people matter. Those we vote for into positions of authority have a responsibility to offer us protection, which was why we came. Looking directly towards the embarrassed looking service chiefs who had earlier labeled us as part of the Boko Haram franchise, Maryam told the President that we came to tell him and the armed forces to carry out their constitutional responsibility of protecting Nigerians in distress.
We then had an address by the President of the Chibok Development Association and two mothers of the Chibok girls in their tears and distress made passionate appeals to the President to rescue their daughters. They told the President that God brought him back to power a second time for a reason, to save Nigerians. Dauda Iliya made a detailed presentation on the travails of the Chibok community which has not only suffered repeated attacks by terrorists but which is today on its knees and on the verge of starvation for the simple reason that they are farmers and can farm no more. Many have left and are today suffering the privations millions of internally displaced persons face and those who remain are living in near total insecurity. He called for the provision of security and improved infrastructure.
Finally, the movement through Aisha Oyebode, Bukky Shonibaire and Yemi Adamolekun, called for a new type of relationship between the State and citizens. The State must learn to listen and engage with citizens. We must collectively develop an accountability matrix in which those who hold positions of responsibility are held accountable for action or inaction that harms citizens. They drew attention to the fact that citizens are in total darkness as to the findings of the commissions of inquiry set up on the North East and this culture of silence must end. In closing the presentations, Oby Ezekwesili and Hadiza Bala Usman called for a symbolic apology by the State to Nigerians on their failures and assured President Buhari that we will not leave him alone until he rescues the Chibok girls and brings peace back to the land.
In his brief and concise response, President Buhari said it was impossible to rationalize government failure and incompetence on the Chibok girls. He assured us that there is now a new resolve to address the issue of insecurity in the country and to rescue the girls. He added that he could not reveal the plans in public but that we shall see results. He saluted the consistency and persistence of the struggle led by the movement and thanked Oby for her “aggression” which today is bearing fruit. He thanked the team for the intellectual rigour of the presentations. To the Chibok community, he assured them that rehabilitation of their community is a right and will be done. To the Boko Haram terrorists, he said that those who kill and destroy in the name of God are not with God and will be destroyed.