We can’t forget the Chibok schoolgirls: Aisha Yesufu
We can’t forget the Chibok schoolgirls: Aisha Yesufu
Sunday, August 23, 2015 11:45 pm
Aisha Yesufu, a member of the strategic team and coordinator of the daily sit out of BringBackOurGirls, a group that has been at the forefront of demands for the rescue of over 200 girls kidnapped from Chibok, Borno State in April 2014. He spoke to AYORINDE OLUOKUN on the commemoration of 500 days of the kidnap of the girls.
Q: You’ve lined up a series of activities to commemorate the 500 days since the abduction of the Chibok girls. But do you sincerely hope these girls can be returned to their families?
A: Yes, we do hope so. Every day we come out here is signifying the fact that we are hopeful that our girls should come back because what is the essence of life without hope? When there is no hope, there is no life? We know our girls are out there; it is for us to do what is necessary to bring them back and on Thursday, the 27 it will be 500 days since the girls were abducted, but we are still hopeful that our girls will come back. We have seen people who were abducted for 10 years and they came back, recently in a country, those that have been abducted for 25 years were rescued and brought back home. We don’t want our girls to get to that stage, but we know that definitely, they are outside there somewhere and they need to be brought back home.
Given the conflicting information – there have been speculations that the girls have been married off, transported to other parts of Africa or are being used as suicide bombers- what gives you hope that we can still recover them?
Well, the fact that they have been married off doesn’t mean they are not alive, doesn’t mean they cannot be rescued. If they have been married off, they didn’t get married willingly, they were forced to and we can still get them back to live the lives that they actually wanted. People have said some of them are the people that are being used for suicide bombing, that we should just forget about them. And I say to such people, we have 219 girls, are you willing to take the risk, because if 219 bombs goes off are you sure that one will not get to you or somebody that you know? We are talking about 219 human beings and by the grace of God, we will still get them even if along the way, we lose one or two. But we cannot say that the 219, we should forget about them. What we have said is that these girls should be accounted for. There is a need for accountability, even if anything has happened, let’s know which of the girls is involved and so on. But at the end of the day, we said that as long as those girls are with the terrorists, none of us is safe- it simply tells anybody that want to come in and take anybody away that they can do it and get away with it. So, it in our paramount interest as a nation, as a people, to ensure that Chibok girls are brought back safely and alive.
Are you satisfied with the steps the new administration of President Buhari has taken in regards to the Chibok girls?
So far, what we have had is sincerity of purpose because what we had in the last administration is that the then President Jonathan did not even believe that an abduction took place. It took him 19 days to say anything. And we saw what his wife did to say that the abduction was done to scorn her husband, to make her husband look bad or lose the election. But we’ve see a President who have consistently talked about the Chibok girls, who has make it paramount that it is important that the girls are rescued and remember in his inauguration speech, he mentioned the fact that the war against insurgency could not be said to have been won if the Chibok girls are not rescued. And every time he spoke about the Chibok girls, he talked about them being rescued, rescued to their parents and going back to school. So, that means he is thinking about the future, for them to come back and live the kind of lives that they ought to be living right now.
You met with the President some weeks ago. What would you say are the fruits of that meeting?
Yes, we gave him our ABC of demands and we gave him some of the programmes we have worked out and some of the things that we think can be done for the girls after they are rescued. And in terms of the insurgency itself, there is a document that we called citizens solutions to insurgency which we handed over to him- what can be done about IDPs,we said that there should be a register for missing persons in Nigeria. When people get missing, it should be on that register, the nation should know that so, so a number of people are missing because we saw a situation whereby all of a sudden people were being rescued and the military was telling us that they have rescued over 1000 people. And when we come back, we put in a letter of all that we have got from that briefing and we sent it to the President. We are still waiting for some of those things to happen, although we have seen some government agencies trying to work on some of them like the verification, we have to verify those people when they are rescued from the terrorists and all that. So, we are still watching the government and if need be, we are going to go there to say what is going on? Because at the end of the day, what we really want is the rescue of the Chibok girls and an end to the insurgency.
Did you give a timeline to the President?
We didn’t give a timeline because this is not something that we thought a timeline could be given. The girls have been missing for 409 days before he came; a lot of things have gone wrong. But of course the President has given a timeline and we are watching and if that timelines happen and nothing happens, we are going to hold him responsible.
Are you in touch with the parents of the girls because there is a story that some of them have done funeral rights, taking the girls as dead?
We are in touch with some of them, we do talk with them. We do meetings with them. I think for me, it is so funny that we have got to a stage in this country where we don’t seem to have empathy. We are still struggling to make a living, we are still dazed with all pressures of living, trying to survive that we have lost our empathy. The Chibok girls cry out to us to say we are going through so much; our girls, we have not seen them and some of them said it will be better if they are dead or something. And we Nigerians just went against them. We couldn’t see the cry in that? I am a mother. How would it be for you for your child to be missing for over 400 days? Even, I would prefer my mother to be dead than the kind of atrocities that are being meted on them. And we saw some of the people that have been brought out- there was a girl that was brought out, we even thought she was a Chibok girl- she was mentally deranged, she was four months pregnant, she was HIV positive when Boko Haram drove her away. And the Chibok parents know that their children may be going through the same ordeal- there have been stories of 20 men going to rape somebody at night and so on. So, that was a cry out to us to rally round them, but instead of rallying round them, we kept on castigating them. The parents are there- I spoke to one last night, it was such a sad conversation and what she kept saying was that they are believing in God, hoping that the best thing is done.
How do you feel when you hear that some people still are doubting if there was even any abduction in the first instance?
I just feel saddened for them and there was a term I loved to use which is ‘mental abductees,’ because the Chibok girls are physically abducted and we have a lot of Nigerians who are mentally abducted because I do not see how they will tell you that somebody’s child has been taken away and the first thing you believed is that it is a lie. How can it be a lie? Is it because you can do something like that? But then, former President Obasanjo said something when we went to meet him at Ota. He said the citizens take their narrative from government and of course, the first narrative the government put out was to say it was a lie. So, basically some people have bought into that narrative and up till now they have not been able to get themselves away from it. A Chibok mother came here and she said anytime she heard people say there was no abduction, she asks herself, is it that her 18 year old daughter never came to this world? Because she know she gave birth to a child that stayed with her for 18 years and that child was taken away and somebody is coming to tell her that there was nothing like that that was done. And she can’t find her daughter. Does it mean she is crazy, that she never had a daughter? It’s insensitive of people to be saying that