Nigerians voted for change, but that doesn't mean their new leader will bring back their girls

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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and you’re tuned to The World. We know a year is 365 days, but to live each of those days without knowing where your child is is to truly know how long a year is. Today marks one year since more than 270 girls were kidnapped from their boarding school in Chibok, northern Nigeria. They were abducted in the middle of the night by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram. Some managed to escape their captors, but today 219 of those girls are still missing despite a year of calls for their release and a hashtag that went viral, #BringBackOurGirls. Today in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, 200 girls paraded through the streets wearing red, representing the missing. One woman at the rally called on her government to do more.

 

Woman: To miss a daughter for a day is a trauma, to miss for 365 days is a lifetime of trauma, and we are calling on the government to put whatever it will take to release, return or rescue these girls back home. They've suffered enough.

 

Werman: But Nigeria’s president-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, says the girls whereabouts remain unknown. “As much as I wish to,” he said in a statement, “I cannot promise that we can find them.” My BBC colleague Nkem Ifejika was at the rally in Abuja today, and he remembers being at the first rallies for the girls right after their kidnapping.

 

Nkem Ifejika: Last year, I was there at the very, very first big protest that they had, and that was almost a very different atmosphere. There was a lot of anger among the demonstrators, they felt abandoned by the government, they marched to the National Assembly to speak to the most senior politicians, senators and members of the House of Representatives, in the pouring rain as it was that day. But over time, over the past year or so, they have met or at least tried to meet every single day to be in solidarity with the girls. So it’s a combination of things, but this is no different to what they’ve been doing before. So it was intense per se, and you also had the police who were there to keep order, clear the route for them, so this was a very well-worn thing.

 

Werman: Did you speak with any of the protesters, and what did they tell you?

 

Ifejika: I spoke to the protesters and they were saying that it’s such a shame that a year on, we’re still where we were last year. Things are somewhat different. I remember speaking to a woman last year at the very first protest, it was quite interesting, she said “If the government does not get our girls released, they will hear our voices at the ballot box,” which brings us to what you were mentioning earlier on about General Muhammadu Buhari said about not being able to guarantee the girl’s return. Last year, people were very angry with the government and that was probably because of security. In fact, something which is worth reminding people about is that on the day that the girls were kidnapped--on the night--during the day there had been a deadly bombing just outside of the capital of Abuja in a commuter town, which killed something like 70 people. So, there was a lot of attention on that, and it was during that melee that the girls were kidnapped. So the insurgency and the kidnapping of boys and girls has been a huge issue in Nigeria over the past year to a year and a half. So hopefully, especially supporters who voted in General Buhari, are hoping that things will change. And that’s what he has said, that “Even though I might not be able to bring the girls back, we shall show our resolve,” because that’s been one of the main criticisms of President Goodluck Jonathan, that there hasn’t been a willingness to show how desperate they are to get these girls back. So the Nigerian government, give them some credit. Over the past six to eight weeks, they have made some progress against Boko Haram, they’ve driven them out of towns and villages in the northeast of the country, and so the new government that will come in will have to consolidate those gains if they’re going to stand any chance whatsoever of finding those girls.

 

Werman: Even so, the words of President-elect Buhari, when he says he cannot promise anything, that can’t be very encouraging for families. Are people kind of resigned now to the possibility that these girls may never return home?

 

Ifejika: It’s a funny situation because people talk about where there is life and where there is no evidence of death, there is hope. So people are still hopeful. In fact, a BBC colleague spoke to people who think they spotted the girls about three weeks ago in a place called Gwoza. Gwoza is a place where Boko Haram made their de facto capital when they declared their Islamic caliphate in the northeast of Nigeria. So there have been some sightings--there have been reports of about three sightings over the past year and, as I said, just as recently as three weeks ago. What President-elect Muhammadu Buhari is doing is, as a military man, tamping down expectations so that people don’t think that he’s a man that’s going to work miracles on day 1. There’s so much expectations from him, so one of the things they’re trying to do straight away even before he gets into office is to manage expectations. So it might not be encouraging for people, but I think it’s in the spirit of being honest and open about what’s happening, which people are thinking it’s different to what’s been going on over the past year under the current administration.

 

Werman: My BBC colleague in Nkem Ifejika in Abuja, the Nigerian capital. Earlier I mentioned the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. A year ago, it was being tweeted by everyone from First Lady Michelle Obama to Ellen Degeneres. Amina Aminu Dorayi was one of the original organizers of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign and one year later she remains committed to the cause.

 

Amina Aminu Dorayi: Up until today, as we speak, we have no concrete good idea as to where these girls are.

 

Werman: The outgoing Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, has been widely criticized for not doing enough to find the girls from Chibok. So now that Muhammadu Buhari has returned as Nigeria’s new president-elect, he’s vowing to take on the militants from Boko Haram. Is this just political talk though? Why do you think Buhari will have more success than Jonathan?

 

Dorayi: The present administration, the present government of President Goodluck Jonathan clearly did not do as much as anyone of us expected. Abduction of human beings would have been better tackled in the first few hours, or few days, or few months if I may say. But we know that after a year now, we are hoping that with a new government in place, because we have heard even during the campaigns of the president-elect, that one of his very critical points or areas of concern would be security, and we all know that one of the areas that we hope that the security plans of the new president-elect is going to tackle is, first of all, to find where the girls are. So he has said that he will try his best but that he is not promising anything at this point, but he is going to try. I think where we need to even begin for the new dispensation is actually to have a kind of report. Before this government actually hands over, I think they need to really truthfully inform the new administration on where we are with the Chibok girls issue.

 

Werman: And even that has not been made clear to the Nigerian public yet?

 

Dorayi: It is not clear. What we hear and what we keep on hearing from the government especially is that they’re trying their best, they’re winning the war against Boko Haram. But as far as we’re concerned, the war against Boko Haram will not even start being addressed without us being able to bring back or rescue over 200 girls. Two hundred is a large number and Nigeria has a vast expanse of land, but I don’t think that we should accept not knowing where 200+ girls are for a year now.

 

Werman: Dr. Dorayi, we’ve been talking about these 200 girls abducted a year ago, but Amnesty International just released a report this week that states at least 2,000 women have been captured by Boko Haram in 2014. So even if these girls do come back, how are people handling the emotional scars of these repeated disappearances?

 

Dorayi: It is a very disappointing situation and most people in the northeast, as you are aware, have even left and fled their homes. They’re in internally displaced camps across Nigeria. So in addition to the emotional distraught and the family breakdown, we also have people from the northeast that have been displaced from their homes, from their businesses, so it is a really big challenge that we’re dealing with.

 

Werman: I know, Dr. Dorayi, you’ve got children of your own. How do you explain to them what is happening in Nigeria?

 

Dorayi: I have a daughter in boarding school also, and when the abduction took place last year, she actually called me from school and asked me if she was safe, and I didn’t really know what to say because if I say she’s safe, maybe I wouldn’t be telling her the truth, and she and her colleagues also heard that girls have been abducted from boarding school. Maybe some of us having daughters too have made us really think twice and understand the pains that the parents of these girls are facing. So it’s not an easy thought at all.

 

Werman: Dr. Amina Aminu Dorayi, one of the original organizers of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign. Thank you very much.

 

Dorayi: You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.