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#BringBackOurGirls Update:… and finally, they Attacked Us: The Site, the Message, and the Diversion

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by: Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim, 28th May 2014

We have been expecting it for some days since thousands of thugs appeared three days ago occupying the site we had been using for #BringBackOurGirls family sittings for 29 consecutive days. They first appeared last Monday 26th May, on the 27th day of our daily gathering at the Unity Fountain and the 42nd day since the abduction day of our girls, we observed a large contingent of a new group that arrived in over 30 Federal Government SURE-P buses with a message that aligned with what we had been told during our meeting with the Federal Government delegation some days earlier.

Obiageli Ezekwesili on Al Jazeera
Obiageli Ezekwesili on Al Jazeera

For three days, they have come to the site we found after they displaced us, chanting and singing where we were. It’s a big space with enough room for everybody but they will always come to where we were. Their main chant has been “Holy Ghost fire, pursue Bako Haram”. Our leader, Oby Ezekwesili knows about Holy Ghost fire after all she is the wife of a Pentecostalist pastor. Today, they were in their thousands and they came with hundreds of new bells that they were ringing to drawn out our voices. They had super motorbikes, which they were revving at full throttle to draw out our voices. And they had hundreds of strong young men flexing their muscles. They had the numbers, they had the money, and we have the message.

….. And then they attacked us. They first went for the foreign and national television crews smashing their cameras with clubs and the cameramen fled for their lives. They then came for us forcibly seizing telephones and handbags of our women. We all stood our ground. They then started forcefully pulling the chairs we were sitting on and throwing us to the ground. They then smashed the chairs. At this point, they lost the script. We were supposed to run for dear life. And Oby stood her ground. Then Hadiza stood her ground. The Amazon sisters, Maryam and Saude stood their ground. Florence stood her ground. Aisha stood her ground. We all stood our ground. We did not fight back, we did not run away. They then withdrew to restrategize on what to do about real citizens who will not run away when confronted with violence from professional thugs. We asked the large police contingent why they are just watching and smiling while violence against us was being perpetrated. They said the other group too are citizens exercising their rights.

Yes, indeed they are citizens. We have a lot of empathy for these thousands of women being paid to come and harass us. If they had jobs, they would not do it. If they were not so terribly poor, they would not do it. They are victims of the system. They are survivors from the 110 million Nigerians suffering from abject poverty. And the young men too. Being a professional thug is demeaning. Taking drugs to attack innocent citizens is not something I will wish for any citizen of my beloved country. The problem is those who sent them. The pity is, as one decamper told us yesterday, her group leader has pocketed her thousand Naira per day and she had not been paid for two days. Very sad indeed.

The issue is the message. It was Margaret Mead who taught the world the “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Our message has been consistently clear and simple. Terrorists have abducted hundreds of girls from their school. We have a Government, we have security agencies. They should perform their constitutional roles, search and rescue the girls. Why is this such a threatening message to the Nigerian Government? We are in a democracy and governments are supposed to be accountable. Citizens are supposed to make demands. We are doing our part as citizens and they send thugs to attack us. There must be something about exercising citizenship rights that frightens certain governments and for us; it’s a call to stay with the message. It’s interesting that their counter-message – Boko Haram: Release Our Girls has not caught on as everyone knows you don’t beg the terrorists, you get your security agencies to rescue the girls and arrest the terrorists.

The site must also be an issue. The Unity Fountain is a major thoroughfare and it’s by the Hilton hotel where so many foreign visitors reside. But that’s not the real issue. The site has been blending unity among Christians and Muslims, among the young and the old, among civil servants and civil society activists and among all ethnic groups on our simple but powerful message – let’s make citizen’s demands for accountability from our Government. This is the process Government is finding so threatening. This is the reason for attacking us. The site is powerful and it is creating traction for our struggle to move Nigeria forward.

Tomorrow, 29th May 2014 is democracy day. Let the struggle continue. Let’s all congregate for a mega event at 3 pm to debate the theme: CITIZENS, ACCOUNTABILITY, AND DEMOCRACY. For this 45th day of the captivity of the Chibok girls, let’s show them respect and solidarity. Let’s continue to make citizens demands that our Government must be accountable to us. And for the site, we shall not abandon it, we return to our site, the Unity Fountain on Friday.

And their diversionary counter message, no sweat, the money flowed, some people got richer, but nobody heard their message. The true message continues to reverberate and shake the world #BringBackOurGirls, now and alive. To our Government, we continue to ask that we want to hear nothing but the truth.

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