Excerpts of a speech by the Serving Overseer, The Latter Rain Assembly, Lagos and the convener, Save Nigeria Group (SNG), Pastor ‘Tunde Bakare, on the missing Chibok girls.
Yoruba proverb says, “Omo mi ku san ju omo mi so nu lo”, which may be interpreted: “It is better to tell me that my child is dead than to tell me that my child is lost”. There are only three broad possibilities regarding the fate of our daughters: One, that they are all alive; two, that some are alive while some are no more; three, that they are all no more. But we believe they are still alive. Till date there is no evidence, not even satellite photography, suggesting that they are in a mass grave. So we believe that our daughters are alive, and that they can still be rescued alive.
We have heard varied suggestions as to the fate of our girls. We have heard that some have been married off, that some have been sold as slaves, and that some are being held captive as human shields. We have heard that some have been radicalised, and there have been suggestions that they are now being groomed and deployed as suicide bombers. It was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the fictional character, Sherlock Holmes, who once wrote: “…when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth…” What we expect the government to do is systematically analyze the possibilities with a view to eliminating impossibilities.
We appreciate the government for the renewed military offensive and the gains recorded in the fight against Boko Haram. Yet, we had expected that this success would be translated into tracing the whereabouts of our girls or even finding some measure of closure for us, their parents.
If our daughters have been married off to whom are they married? Who saw them being married off? Where are their husbands? Could those husbands be located in any of the villages and towns that were once under Boko Haram control but have since been taken back by the military? Have investigations been conducted to ascertain or eliminate this possibility as the military reclaimed one territory after another? Could they have been married off beyond the Nigerian borders? Have cross-border investigations been conducted to prove or disprove this possibility? If none of these is the case, then have they been married off to the Boko Haram fighters? If this is the case, what has befallen their captor husbands and what befalls our daughters when their fighter husbands are killed in battle? If our daughters have been radicalized as some have said, have our military encountered them in combat? Have there been young female Boko Haram casualties in battles between the Nigerian army and the terrorists? If there have been, what was done to their remains? We have more questions than answers.
If they have been sold as slaves, to whom have they been sold? What are the locations of these slave buyers or dealers? Are they in the territories in which our girls had been held captive in the past? What attempts have been made to investigate or eliminate this possibility? Have they been sold beyond the Nigerian borders? What routes are there through which they could possibly have been taken? Have there been deliberate attempts to gather information from residents in the villages and towns along these routes within and beyond the Nigerian borders? If some of our girls have really thus been married or sold off, can they not be rescued from their captor husbands or slave owners? Why do we still have more questions than answers?
If none of these is the case, then could it mean that most of the girls have been taken along with the Boko Haram fighters as they move from territory to territory following their dislodgement by the Nigerian Army? Could it mean that they have been kept in forts embedded in Sambisa forest while their captors engage the Nigerian Army? If this is the case, we understand that rescue would require special tactical military operations, details of which cannot be publicly discussed. However, what stops the government from creating a confidential information channel that will keep anxious parents abreast of the basic facts and show that, at least, this country cares for our daughters, no matter what happens? Who knows, through that constant interaction with decision makers, we may have been able to offer basic information that could aid not only in the rescue of our girls but in the prosecution of this war. While the military continues its offensive against Boko Haram, we may have been able to persuade decision makers not to jettison the carrot aspect of the equation, if only for the sake of our daughters.
We are aware of the story of David and the wounded Egyptian, servant of an Amalekite, after the raid of Ziklag which shows how amnesty for the adversary can aid intelligence gathering towards defeating the enemy and rescuing captives (I Samuel 30:10-19). We may have been able to persuade the government to watch out for genuine windows of non-combative engagement with the captors of our daughters and to take advantage of such opportunities to facilitate the release of our girls. We do not say this to disregard the genuine efforts of the government to see our dreams come true. We appreciate the fact that efforts are being made; we have waited two years to see these efforts yield fruit. Some of us have died waiting, and still – still – we wait.
However, in our waiting, our hope has been struck against the wall by discouraging statements; statements suggesting that there is ‘no firm intelligence’ on the whereabouts or conditions of our daughters; statements suggesting that our daughters may never return; statements suggesting that we have been leaning on false hopes and that our optimism over the expected return of our girls is baseless. Nevertheless, two years from that dark night, in the midst of a seemingly endless dark tunnel, there are those of us who have never lost hope.
We are mothers who, in pain and despair, fulfill the sacred observation that a mother can never forget her suckling child – We have never lost hope! (Isaiah 49: 14 – 18).
We are fathers who demonstrate the stubborn hope of the father in the parable of the lost child who kept his sight on the road from which the child departed hoping to see that child return home someday – We have never lost hope! (Luke 15: 11 – 24).
We are the indefatigable members of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign who, since the 30th of April, 2014, have continued to mount pressure on the government, made Unity Fountain our home away from home, marched the streets of Abuja, Maiduguri, Lagos and other cities in the country, hoping against hope and praying earnestly for the return of our girls – We have never lost hope!
And so, with hearts filled with love and minds filled with hope, let us lift up our eyes in faith towards God Almighty as we wait expectantly for the return of our dear Chibok girls.