How easily the world forgets. It has been only over three months, but it feels like a lifetime since more than 200 Nigerian girls were snatched from their school in the dead of night by the brutal Boko Haram. Vigils and marches around the world marked the girls’ 100 days in captivity, and Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan managed to emerge from his cocoon to finally meet the parents of the abducted girls.
I guess we should thank God for his small mercies. Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in his role as a UN global ambassador, tried to keep up hope for the girls’ return on the bleak anniversary, but his words had a hollow ring.
“The world has not forgotten these girls. Not in a 100 days. Not for one day,” Brown wrote.
Yes it has. The universal outrage that greeted the abduction, and the massive effort to mobilize the global community to confront the terrorists and rescue the girls, has dissipated. Western governments talked tough, promised big, but in the end, did precious little to help save the girls. A world-wide Bring Back Our Girls campaign led by politicians, religious leaders and celebrities swept across continents and energized people. There was hope, but it was only fleeting. Once the sad faces that tugged at our heartstrings disappeared from our TV screens, the outrage faded, and governments moved on to the next crisis in the headlines, promises forgotten. People returned to their busy lives, and the Bring Back Our Girls campaign fizzled.
More than 200 girls are brazenly abducted, and what the world does is to shed a little tear, then shrug its shoulders and move on. It is hard to imagine the horror that confronts these girls every waking moment. The terror, the helplessness and the feeling of abandonment must be excruciating.
But concerned and dismayed as people around the world are, we all can’t just march into the Nigerian rainforest and snatch the girls back. That is the responsibility of the government, and the failure rests entirely with what passes for government in Nigeria. And this failure raises the fundamental issue of what use government really is, in many parts of Africa. Dictators, politicians win elections, rig them or seize power all in the name of the people, but once in, look out for only themselves. Some of them plunder the kitty, leaving the vast majority of people impoverished. Others siphon proceeds from vast natural resources such as oil, gold and timber into personal bank accounts. And still others turn their countries into police states, jailing, torturing and killing their own kind. Now we have a government that shows little regard for the safety of its children.
It is inconceivable that a child would go missing in Canada or say Germany, and the government machinery would not go into overdrive to find this one human being. Yet more than 200 girls go missing for three months and the Nigerian president doesn’t even bother to meet the grieving parents, until Pakistani teenager and child advocate Malala Yousafzai prods him. Nigeria has the largest military in West Africa, and an equally large police and security force. Yet vast stretches of the northeastern part of the country have become no-go areas for government forces. Boko Haram has scared off the military and security forces, leaving towns and villages at the mercy of the heartless thugs.
Since the abduction, dozens, including the fathers of seven of the kidnapped girls, have been killed by the terrorists. When villagers under threat ask for help, their government ignores them. Corruption is rampant, and the soldiers, poorly armed, poorly paid and motivated, have little or no inclination to put their lives at risk.
What’s happening in Nigeria is symptomatic of government in many parts of Africa: self-serving, uncaring and clueless. It is no surprise citizens are in despair. As for the girls, sadly the nightmare continues. All the rest of us can do is to keep praying for a miracle.
Mohammed Adam is an Ottawa writer.