TWO YEARS LATER: #BringBackOurGirls !

On April 14, 2016 Nigerian batik artist and activist Tunde Odunlade participated in a forum sponsored by Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson (D-FL24) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) at the Canon House Office Building of the United States Congress.

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Tunde Odunlade, right, with E.J. Hogendoorn, Ph.D. of the International Crisis Group

The forum was held to redirect international attention to the plight of the 276 Chibok girls who were abducted two years previously, on April 14, 2014 by the terrorist group Boko Haram (Boko = book; Haram = forbidden).

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Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs

The girls were taken from their school hostel in Chibok Maiduguri in northern Nigeria. While a few have been located and rescued and are living in safety in host countries around the world, most have never been found.

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In the hearing room at Canon House Office Building, Washington, D.C.

Tunde shared the panel with others who have been active on this issue over the past two years: Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for African Affairs; Emmanuel Ogebe, Esq., International Director of the Education Must Continue Initiative; Malcolm Nance, The Terror Asymmetrics Project on Strategy, Tactics and Radical Ideology; Jana Mason, Senior Advisor for Government Relations at the U.N. High Commission for Refugees; Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Ph.D., Senior Fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies; and Ernst Jan “E.J.” Hogendoorn, Ph.D., Africa Deputy Program Director, International Crisis Group.

Tunde’s personal brand of activism is exemplified by the statement “Art for a Purpose.”

He has collaborated on this #BringBackOurGirls project with the International Coalition for the Eradication of Hunger and Abuse (ICEHA). Founded by Carolyn Ronis, ICEHA’s “Healing Through Art” project works directly with the victims of terror attacks, bringing art projects to children, youth, and women who need healing from the emotional scars of war.


Who Is A Terrorist?

Delivered in Part to the United States Congress / April 14, 2016

A terrorist is one whose business is to terrorize, for reasons best known only to him, and to do so regardless of whose ox is gored. 

The activities of terrorists include suicide bombing, indiscriminate shooting, incessant killing, maiming, torture, traumatizing, displacing; ultimately, in a bid to destroy lives and property.

The prevailing insurgency in my country Nigeria has been ongoing for the past five to six years now. It is not certain either the source or the cause – or even what their true interest is: the media reports that they have killed over 20,000 people and have displaced millions more. Their victims have included scores of women, youths, and children.

The group of terrorists menacing Nigeria is called Jama’Atu Arlis Sunnah Lidda Awati Wal Jihad – popularly known as, Boko Haram. Boko means Book, Haram means Forbidden, which translates as “Western Education is forbidden.” The opposite of Haram is Halal. Astonishingly, they now operate between two names: ISIS of West Africa and/or the West Africa Islamic State. As you can see, it has become a global network. So a multinational approach is imperative.

Their operations largely focus on three Northeastern states of Nigeria: Bornu, Adamawa, and Yola. Every now and then, their operation may spill over to other neighboring states in the North Central Zone, such as Kano, Plateau, etc. It is sad to note that both males and females, and more ridiculously juveniles, are used for suicide bombings. Unfortunately, we reliably gathered that some of the missing Chibok girls may have been used as suicide bombers. As Mr. Emmanuel Ogebe has stated in his testimony during this hearing, today women make up some 35% of suicide bombers, a huge increase from the previous high of 25%.

They attack people at marketplaces, motor parks, rallies, social gatherings, and even at polls where people are exercising their civic rights to vote. More shamelessly, they blow up churches and mosques: a phenomenon that makes one wonder if they are true Muslims. Why attack mosques where other Muslims are worshiping Allah God according to Muslim devotion? 

The leaders of Boko Haram say they are doing this in accordance with the Holy Jihad campaign; a campaign to win souls for Allah. They indoctrinate their followers to believe that men who die for this cause will have seven virgins waiting for them in heaven. What about the women being used? It is said that a woman who dies in this way will have a man with an everlasting erection waiting for her in heaven. Is that to say that life begins and ends with sexual intercourse? To an educated mind, this is gross ignorance and abuse.

Prophet Mohammed, (Sa la la lehu wa salaam) the bringer of Islam, never instructed anyone to kill for Allah. Islam is supposed to be a Religion of Peace. So where is this coming from? Now even “non-infidels” are victims. The big questions are: Where is their command structure? What is their primary goal? Can we dialogue? Why are they afraid to come out and make clear what’s on their minds?

We equally know that some fundamentalists could turn around and give a scripture an interpretation that suites their selfish agenda. So this where one would expect real Muslims to come and condemn these barbaric and image-damaging acts in stronger terms; but I guess they are trying to play safe themselves. However, we can’t afford to be afraid of the truth.

It was exactly two years ago today, on April 14, 2014, that 276 Chibok girls were kidnapped in Nigeria, and as yet we have unearthed no useful clues to their whereabouts. The world joined Nigerians in protesting against the former administration of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the president who was in office at the time of the incident, due largely to his lackadaisical attitude in taking action to rescue the innocent girls, who were in their school hostel in Chibok Maiduguri, the capital city of Bornu, when these armed militants came and whisked them away in a sad and a gross act of wickedness.

A similar occurrence was recorded in a private school in Lagos, just recently. The State Governor Akinwumi Ambode immediately swung into action and all three girls were rescued and turned to their parents and the culprits apprehended.

The #BringBackOurGirls campaign which cut across the length and breadth of the world shows clearly that our world is but one. As a matter of fact, it was the news of the missing Chibok Girls that actually opened up the insurgency’s dastardly acts to the world’s attention. There were protests all over the globe entreating Dr. Goodluck Jonathan to find the missing girls. Even the well-known Afghan icon Malala Yousafzai visited Nigeria in the aftermath of the kidnapping and met with Dr. Jonathan in person.

Boko Haram soon came out with a video allegedly showing those same girls to have adopted Islam, as their faces were covered with the hijabs (scarves) worn by Muslim women according to Islamic orthodoxy. They were also seen in the video chanting the Holy Quran. Some of the parents of these abducted girls have died prematurely as a result of the grief and trauma suffered from losing their children to unknown gunmen.

Regrettably, ex-president Jonathan degraded the crisis to a Nigerian problem. He in fact at first saw it as a gang-up of the Northerners to antagonize his government – and “when you have such a crisis being poorly framed, it can only escalate” said Prof. Albert, and before you know it, it goes through the roof. It soon became a regional crisis, and now has even become a global crisis.

The monumental corruption that has always menaced Nigeria compounded it. Funds earmarked to buy arms and ammunition to fight the insurgency were later revealed to have been shared amongst some government officials; there are multiple cases of corruption alleged against the Chief Security Officer (CSO) of Dr. Jonathan’s regime and others, now in court. Ridiculously, even the few weapons that were procured at all were allegedly fraudulent. You can imagine situations where bullion vans were passed off as armored tanks and swimming jackets were said to be bullet proof vests. According to accusations brought to the attention of the public in our national newspapers, if that was anything to go by, that is simply evil.

President Mohammadu Buhari some few months ago owned up while fielding questions from journalists that there is no intelligence pinpointing to the whereabouts of the missing Chibok girls. This he said out of pain and concern for the parents of the girls, as he apparently mourns and sympathizes with the parents. Though some of the girls managed to escape at the Initial stage, and some are in safe hands around the world getting the qualitative education that the terrorist groups want to discourage in the first place, how we wish others could be rescued too and fulfil their dreams.

The good news, however, is that President Buhari’s administration has succeeded in destabilizing the core base of the Boko Haram, and our army has recaptured all the local governments captured by the insurgency. Still, most of the displaced people that are now returning to their various communities to resettle are returning to emptiness.

“It is not yet Uhuru.” The reality on the ground now is that millions of people remain homeless and displaced. Many have been injured and disabled. Many more may never see their loved ones again who have been taken in captivity.

Since the Sambisa forest is difficult terrain in which to hunt down and uproot terrorists, systematic and strategic efforts will be needed. With the US military’s strategic intelligence capabilities, and the combined efforts of our neighbors Cameroon and Chad, we shall conquer.

Needless to say, the damage and trauma caused by Boko haram innocuous acts especially on their psychic let alone their livelihood, may take an eternity to repair, but one step at a time will do. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”(Chinese adage). However, a step in the right direction

Because the Boko Haram insurgency has become a global issue, it is safe to say it requires a multinational approach to effectively solve the crisis or stem its tide. Boko Haram now claims to have linked to Al Qaeda and ISIS, etc.

Therefore, we need America and other allies of Nigeria to please see this as a crisis that is more than Nigeria’s own problem, in proportion. Together we show them that we are not afraid of them. “We’ve got the power.” There is only one race and that’s the human-race.

Apart from the immediate survival of the affected area and people, the need to not only put an end to the violence in this generation, but to heal the emotional wounds of war – in order to put an end to violence in future generations, is desirable.

Organizations such as the International Coalition for the Eradication of Hunger and Abuse (ICEHA) are working directly with victims of terror attacks, in settlements occupied by thousands of families that are Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs).

The population of these settlements in Nigeria outnumbers the IDP camps that are often recognized among international media outlets.

Ending the violence requires that local stakeholders and members of the communities affected by such violence become the spearheads of the development programs and humanitarian aid that seeks to address the impacts of war.

Training the local population and providing education and funding to locally-owned and locally-tailored programs is crucial to this effort. Local peoples must be the leaders of these programs, not only the beneficiaries.

Finally, these programs must be identified based on local needs as being intrinsically valued and crucial for the health of the community.

ICEHA, founded by Mrs. Carolyn Ronis, embarked on a project tagged “Healing Through Art.” (HTA) Our man on the ground Kunle Adewale, who visits some of the affected areas, could see the eagerness and rays of hope on the faces of these children, youths, and women whom he takes into art classes – hands on – with projects that aim to heal psychic wounds and give them some new skills in the process.

Volunteers in this program receive international training from therapists and psychologists to learn how to recognize and begin treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other emotional afflictions engendered by the experience of war.

The art classes have been therapeutic and I strongly recommend the use of art as a tool to restore sanity. As I’ve always advocated: universal peace lies in cultural rearmament.

Adewale, however, regrets the pitiful state of these people at present. While he was narrating his experience of how five children were fighting over a snack costing not more than five Naira (approximately 3 cents) tears were running down my cheeks. So, they need adequate food, drugs, and other social amenities to keep body and soul together. Please help.

Without question, our Northern border is too porous for a country of 170 million people and a large proportion of the population are not literate, especially in the border areas. As a result, people from all walks of life are exposed to unwanted philosophies and these people are most gullible, due largely to lack of education and their extreme poverty. So anything goes.

As an artist, I advocate the philosophy of “art with a purpose” as opposed to “art for art’s sake.” I strongly recommend the use of art as a tool for healing psychological wounds.

Conclusion:

  • Intelligence gathering is the main strategy against counter terrorism.
  • American interests in Nigeria must not be jeopardized.
  • Also, the interests Nigeria’s allies must be well protected.
  • We need the U.S. government to help in training our soldiers to be more efficient, so they are capable of facing future occurrences in strategic ways.
  • Finally, the Nigerian government must adopt methodologies of empowering its people and invest a great deal in human resources, the wisest resources there can ever be.

Recommendations:

  • Education is key.
  • Poverty must be reduced to the barest minimum
  • Massive Mass Sensitization, Mass Mobilization Creating Awareness towards value to one’s own life.
  • Create institutional structure towards massive economic emancipation for a liberated mind.
  • Investing in people is the wisest investment. Let’s adopt a “Human developmental based agenda” capable of increasing skill acquisition and increased self-esteem and career oriented which can empower people to make them put more value on their lives.
  • Putting in place a well-structured legal system will reduce oppressive tendencies in governments.
  • Well structured social relationships which education brings devoid of unnecessary emotional thinking bred through religious fanaticism.
  • Pressure must be mounted on the Governors or Governments of those less privilege States to create awareness and empower their people so as to combat the many challenges and fallout of environmental hazards that lead to massive disabilities
  • We must employ a holistic model of development that is driven from the bottom up and includes 4 core tenets: intervention, rehabilitation, education, and prevention. This is crucial to ensuring sustainable and locally-tailored movements for change.
  • The best help you can ever render to the needy is by proffering solutions germane to them. For instance, one man in one of the affected communities had a conversation with Professor Isaac Olawale Albert (Peace and Conflicts Resolution Expert, UI Ibadan) it goes thus:

Prof Albert: “Sir, what exactly do you want the government to do for you?: The IDP answered: “All I want is for the government to give me seedlings. I‘ve got land and if they can also feed me for only three months; after that, I’m fine.” Can you see now that it should not be a “one size fits all” approach?

  • Last but not the least, government owns the duty to provide an enabling environment for youths in particular who could potentially be self-employed and blossom to apogee, disabusing their minds from ill-gotten get-rich-quick ideas and the same goes for the entire continent and the world at large. Get them gainfully engaged. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Let’s use our riches to create wealth. Don’t forget, also, that “health is wealth,” and while our youths may not form 100% of our community, they do form 100% of our future.

Tunde Odunlade / Nigerian Artist and Activist / Email: anac_swz@yahoo.com

 

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