#BringBackOurGirls: The Chibok Girls and Nigerian Democracy
I was invited by the Lagos Chapter of the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) campaign to join them at the Marina Waterfront on Saturday, 23rd May 2015, from 11 am to 2 pm. We began with a meeting to discuss what we would like to see the incoming government do about our Chibok Girls. Several suggestions were made, which will be harmonized with those of other BBOG groups and shared with the public in due time. I spoke at 12 noon. We were blessed with lots of rain from start to finish. There was also a fuel scarcity that must have prevented many people from coming. However, it was inspiring and wonderful to be in the midst of such a committed, tenacious, socially committed fellow citizens.
The rain was so much that I abandoned my ipad, which had my prepared talk, and I ad libbed. Here below is the talk, which has a lot of ideas that I'd previously expressed, an indicator of my unrelenting stand. It also includes photos that were kindly taken by Habiba Balogun and Ayo Obe. I copied Ayo's from her twitter account.
Good Morning. I thank the Lagos Chapter of the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) campaign for inviting me to address this august body of some of the most committed Nigerians to the deepening of democracy. I am encouraged to be among fellow citizens who are empathetic, dedicated to a cause concerning people with whom they have no personal connection or relationship, and resolute in their unflagging commitment to the cause. Although I am very sad that our Chibok girls are not among the hundreds of women, girls and children rescued thus far, I am very hopeful that they will be rescued. I join my voice to yours in exhorting the Nigerian government to redouble its efforts to rescue all abducted Nigerians, including our Chibok Girls. It is good that I’m meeting for the first time, many people with whom I’ve communicated virtually, from whom I’ve drawn strength and hope as our girls’ rescue now enters into the 404th day. How I wish we were all here to celebrate the release of our abducted Chibok girls and all our fellow citizens who still remain in Boko Haram captivity! This is not the case yet, but our demonstration is an expression of our hope that their liberation will be accomplished sooner rather than later.
|Ayo Obe is seated to my right. The young men from Chibok are standing with umbrellas, also seated to my left, is a member of BBOG Lagos.|
|Wonderful camaraderie and serious discussion despite the rain.|
These past elections were extraordinarily important. Thus far, they signal that Nigerian democracy is maturing. But at the same time, this country is at a crossroads--the highway to ruin, which is easy to travel, and the twisting, difficult road to reaching its full potential, which all Nigerians, or at least a critical mass of them, would have to commit to walking, for any kind of meaningful change to occur. The president elect has a problematic history. He was a harsh dictator when he first led the country. We'll have to see whether he truly understands how to be democratic. Besides, we have to encourage and put pressure on him and his administration to respect the values and principles of democracy. This is our duty as citizens.
Another problem is the cabal of venal elites that's part of the losing coalition and whether they are weakened enough to allow this administration to succeed. It also remains to be seen whether the rapacious elites in the president elect's coalition would not unite with their natural allies on the other side--the aforementioned venal elites--in order to protect their narrow interests. It is also the duty of all citizens to make sure that we contribute to fashioning institutions that curtail the influence of venal elites. This is necessary if our democracy is to flourish.
(1) The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice.
(2) It is hereby, accordingly, declared that:
(a) sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority;
(b) the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government: and
(c) the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.”
This is in line with the norms about state practice in the world. Standing up and demanding that the state respects the constitution, that it performs this fundamental obligation, is a democratic act. Thus, resolving to stand until our girls are rescued and reunited with their families is not only brave, empathetic and admirable, it is essentially democratic. Hopefully, our stand will inspire more of such courageous action by other Nigerians who tend to be very pessimistic about the chance that anything they do will motivate the government to respond with corrective and effective policies and strategies that address a situation.
|Young men from Chibok who are now IDPs in Lagos. To the left is Mohammed.|
By abducting the Chibok girls and other girls, women, boys, and women, and through the gruesome murders and assassination of citizens of Nigeria and its West African neighbors, Boko Haram is successfully exploiting the weaknesses in the Nigerian political system to push its agenda of forcing its own warped perspective about the proper observance of Islam on all the people it encounters. Boko Haram brooks no resistance. Disagreement with it is met with overwhelming force that aims to obliterate opposition. It challenges the traditional and post-colonial state, as witnessed by its destruction of state-owned infrastructure, battles where until the multinational forces were deployed by the AU and the incumbent administration decided to mobilize and confront it in a more determined manner, it deployed superior firepower against state security forces. It’s safe to say that the terror and mayhem inflicted on the Nigerian people by Boko Haram are unprecedented in the annals of Nigerian history.
|The rain was unrelenting.|
We also have considerable structural challenges that militate against democracy. For example, there is a North-South divide that drives ongoing struggles for access to political goods, including the proceeds from the natural resources produced by Nigeria. Complicating that struggle is the Christian-Muslim divide, the sectarian divides among Muslims, the rampant and grinding poverty of the masses of Nigerians, which is more extreme in the North, the mass unemployment of even educated youth throughout the country, inadequate and atrociously barren educational opportunities of the children of the poor, lack of social welfare for the teeming masses. Increasingly, there is a refusal to accept this as a perpetual fate of the poor.