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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

‘WHAT IF OUR CHIBOK GIRLS ARE FOUND?’ – ANAYO UCHEGBU


It’s been over 365 days and our Chibok schoolgirls are still not back. Outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan, in the weeks leading to the March 28 presidential elections, reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to finding the girls and returning them home to their parents as quickly as possible and, just recently, the National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki, reportedly made a “bold” promise to have the girls rescued before May 29, 2015, which incidentally is the date of handover to President-elect, Retired General Muhammadu Buhari.

General Buhari, in his statement on the anniversary of the kidnap of the Chibok schoolgirls by Boko Haram gave a somewhat honest but grim response to the possibility of bringing back our girls by stating that “we do not know if the Chibok girls can be rescued. Their whereabouts remain unknown. As much as I wish to, I cannot promise that we can find them. But I say to every parent, family member and friend of the children that my Government will do everything in its power to bring them home”.


The honest truth is that even if by some miracle the military can bring back all the still missing 219 Chibok schoolgirls, they cannot bring back their childhood. Call me a pessimist and naysayer all you want, but you should try to wear their sandals for a moment and imagine that the whole world knew your name, face, family and story and have watched you on television sitting behind Shekau – a man who sneers at the camera, threatening to sell you as sex slaves if you were lucky or marry you to terrorists if you were not.

The outgoing government has given assurances that they would provide counseling to rehabilitate our Chibok schoolgirls but I wonder if anyone is actually counseling their parents who have suffered continuing mental torture this past one year. I wonder if firm arrangements are being made with their parents to permit their long kidnapped daughters to return to another government institution for post traumatic stress therapy because believe me, these girls are deeply traumatized and probably scarred for life.

It is critical to ask if the government has set up a rehab centre with trained trauma therapists and counselors on standby so our girls can get instant psychiatric care immediately they are rescued. Has the government bothered to prepare their parents for the support roles they have to play in the rehabilitation process or will we do things the Nigerian way by releasing the girls to their parents only to attempt to take them back for admission to Chibok Girls Rehab Centre weeks after the rescue operation?

What if these girls are pregnant? The creepy thought of conceiving a Shekau jnr. must send shivers down their spines. Could anyone love and nurture such a baby? Or will they end up being thrown away? Try to conceptualize the anguish they would feel carrying for nine months a product of rape and torture. Assume that a Shekau jnr. was born, could anyone marry a Chibok girl? Would you accept if anyone in your family decided to be the stepfather of Shekau jnr? Looking at the innocent child, would you not be consumed with irrational fears that he may be a changeling because they say the apple does not fall far from the tree?

If these girls are pregnant, would we blame them for the pregnancy? After all, only bad girls get raped, right? Should they have chosen to die in Sambisa forest instead of let themselves be taken advantage of? Is this a case of what you were wearing tempted them to rape you? Would we be compassionate and support these girls without trying to be judgmental or worse still, accuse them of being converted into terrorism and behind the spate of female suicide bombings across the country?

Now that we are shamefacedly marking the first anniversary of the kidnap of our Chibok schoolgirls and have recaptured the whole world’s fleeting attention, is this not the right time to address gender issues like female genital mutilation, rape, child marriage, child abuse and all the other rampant vile acts that oppress the rights of the girl child in Nigeria?

The outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan who is still yet to visit Chibok to calm distraught mothers and assure distressed fathers, family and friends of his rescue efforts chose instead to concentrate on politicking. We hope, pray and plead with President-elect Mohammadu Buhari to choose humanity over politics and rescue and rehabilitate our girls. We simply cannot continue to do nothing but protest daily in tears and placards at public places while marking time for the government to #BringBackOurGirls.

Anayo Uchegbu writes from Lagos.

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