The #BringBackOurGirls campaign has been a huge success in calling the attention of Nigerians and the international community to the abduction of Nigerian school children from their school in Chibok. Thanks to this campaign and to its organizers, the world is now aware of what, in reality, is a savage affront to human dignity, decency and freedoms, symbolized by this act of terrorism against innocent and defenseless school girls! Global reaction to this dastardly act by Boko Haram, a group born from religious extremism and bigotry has been one of shock and outrage. President Obama expressed that sense of outrage and shock clearly in his TV interview on the abduction. Expressions of shock and outrage continue to be heard from all around the world, and understandably too. The abduction and continued captivity of the girls are in utter violation of all international human rights conventions. They also violate all the provisions regarding the protection of civilians in general, and women and children in particular, in situations of conflict. The abduction shocks. The continuing captivity of these innocent girls is both agonizing and sickening. Their captors should hear this loud and clear – all well meaning Nigerians are united with the rest of the world in wanting these girls returned, safe and sound
Like I said at the start of this write up, the campaign and its hashtag #BringBackOurGirls have been successful but I believe that time has come now for another hashtag #ReturnOurGirls to be added to the existing hashtag. The reason is simple. Both in Framing and Focus, the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag fixes attention and minds on government’s (federal and state, but largely federal) responsibility to do all in its power to bring back the girls. There is also the hint of frustration and anger at government’s slow and ineffective response in the immediate aftermath of the abduction, emotions which are also largely understandable and justifiable. However, the largely government focus of the hashtag takes minds and attention away from the perpetrators of this infamy. It takes attention away from this violation of rights, from this act of sheer terror by a bunch of extremists, the Boko Haram, who are willing to burn and butcher and who will stop at nothing to advance a religious agenda.
It is now time for attention to be turned to and focused on this Boko Haram group too. They invaded and took away the girls. We and the entire world shall hold them together with their sponsors, supporters and apologists responsible for any damage done to any of these girls. They should therefore return them, safe and intact. Returning the girls may even obviate the need for any military engagement and any fire fights that may arise in any efforts to secure the release of these girls. Military engagement is a strong option in a #BringBackOurGirls mode. Such a mode leans more towards a “search and rescue” mission approach. Such missions have inherent risks of casualties and collateral damage and history is replete with examples of such consequences and societal reactions to them. We want the girls back, safe and alive. Appealing to their captors to return our girls presents therefore a safer option. Incidentally, It is also a strategically more beneficial route for Boko Haram in the long term in terms of image redemption, pardon and possible reintegration into society.
So whilst we encourage our security forces to #BringBackOurGirls, we should also frame and focus our tweets on Boko Haram and their sympathisers, sponsors and supporters and ask them to #ReturnOurGirls. Let us then adopt this additional hashtag #ReturnOurGirls today and use it not only to appeal to Boko Haram but also to apply pressure on it!