Bring back our girls


A glimmer of hope in Nigeria this week was barely visible before it was swallowed up by the darkness currently holding that country in its grip.

Nigeria had hoped to spend this week highlighting its progress as Africa’s largest economy when it hosted the African meeting of the World Economic Forum, according to The Associated Press. The meeting continued in the capital city of Abuja, despite two explosions there and despite widespread protests of the government’s failure to keep safe its people.

The explosions are blamed on Boko Haram, a radical anti-Western terrorist group believed to be supported by al-Qaida. The group has claimed responsibility for the April 15 kidnapping some 300 girls, most of them from a boarding school.

The hope, limited though it was, was that U.S. and other countries were ready to help the government of President Goodluck Jonathan find the girls. American assistance will be in communications, logistics and intelligence gathering, but will not include military operations, according to the AP. Britain, China and France also will send specialized assistance.

The girls are thought to be somewhere in the Sambisi Forest in northeastern Nigeria, but there is no confirmation of that. Some speculate the girls have been divided into groups and could even be held outside the city; others think they are being held together and could be used in a prisoner swap. Boko Haram has threatened to sell the girls it took for slaves or wives or slave-wives, perhaps for as little as $12 each. In fact, it claims already to have made such deals.

The kidnapping of the girls has united opposition in Nigeria and around the world with the cry, “Bring back our girls.” On Thursday, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, said the abduction of the girls “shocks the conscience of humanity.”

And indeed it does. But Boko Haram has demonstrated that it is not interested in the conscience of the world. Before the kidnapping of the girls, the group had killed as many as 1,500 people while attempting to impose radical Islamic law on all the people in Nigeria, who are split nearly equally between Christians and Muslims.

If the country needed more proof of the lawless villainy of Boko Haram, this week residents of a small town in northeast Nigeria reported militants attacked the town market leaving at least 50 and perhaps as many as 100 dead, many of them burned beyond recognition. Witnesses said it appeared that some people hid in the shops to avoid being killed as they fled the town; then the shops were bombed.

Two weeks after the girls were taken from the school, the world observed Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, the day the world stops to remember what happens when hate is allowed to flourish unchecked, the day the world stops to remember its promise: Never again.

In that spirit of remembrance, the world cannot stand by and let the abduction of these young girls go unanswered. These are not only Nigeria’s girls, they are world’s girls, they are, in a very real way, our girls, and in their future we can read our own.

We would like to see for them a future closer to that playing out for women in Rwanda. As the country rebuilds itself, its women have thrown off the limited roles of the past and replaced them with hard work in the country’s political future.

Sixty-four percent of the country’s lower house of Parliament are women, a higher percentage than any other nation, according to a Thursday report on NPR. Women participate in government from village councils to Parliament. The are credited with helping the country to rise from the ashes of genocide. And if ever a country needed every human soul within its borders to help with the healing, it is Rwanda.

Nigeria has much to recommend it in the modern world. But it needs to stop Boko Haram with its extremist, nihilistic philosophy. It needs to stand and announce, “No one takes our girls. They are our treasures, they are our future. You cannot sell them, force them into marriage or make prostitutes of them. Nor can you take our boys and make soldiers of them. Nor can you close our schools in your attempt to stop the inevitable progress education brings.”

In such a posture and while accepting technical aid from other nations, President Goodluck Jonathan can succeed in his plan to show off his modern nation, by demonstrating it refuses to bend to the will of extremists. If he really wants to be a participant in the world, he must bring back our girls. If he wants to rule a prosperous nation, he must bring our girls back.

The world is waiting. Bring back our girls. Bring back our girls.