Re: What’s Oby Ezekwesili [sic] Up to? -By Sesugh Akume

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4 July 2015
Dear Yemi Adebowale,

I read your piece earlier in today’s ThisDay with the above title, wherein you make 3 key points namely that:

First, that you now agree that Mrs Oby Ezekwesile [sic] who “led” so many #BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) campaigns during the days of President Goodluck Jonathan has gone to sleep ever since President Muhammadu emerged as president.

Second, that you decided to closely observe her for about 5 weeks (post-Jonathan) before reaching a conclusion. You aver that in the last 5 weeks not a single BBOG campaign rally was held in Abuja, or any part of Nigeria. And ask, “Does it mean that we no longer need our abducted Chibok girls? So it was all politics?”

Third, that Hadiza Bala Usman, a BBOG co-convener’s appointment as chief of staff (COS) to the Kaduna state governor left you “disheartened”. And you ask the rhetorical question, “How can some people key into the abduction for political gain? Does it mean that some BBOG campaigners worked for Buhari (using the tragic abduction as a tool) against Jonathan during the presidential campaign as widely speculated?” “This is food for thought following Hadiza’s appointment”, you conclude.
I feel constrained to respond to yours because it is built on fallacy and falsehood. Maybe ignorantly, or deliberately. However it is, the records must be set straight.

It is true that BBOG hasn’t had a street rally in 5 weeks; not just 5 weeks, but 11 weeks to be precise. That is since 14 April, during the one-year commemoration of the unfortunate abduction of 276 schoolgirls of GSS Chibok on the night of 14 April 2014. 57 escaped by their self-effort, 219 remain missing. This sad event sparked public-spirited citizens to cry out calling on the government to ” bring back our girls”. The campaign, it may be recalled crystallised into a unified hashtag #BringBackOurGirls on 23 April 2014, on Twitter and other social media, and resulted in a street march on 30 April. Since then, 431 days ago, a multiplicity of activities and diverse means have been deployed to drive home this message of ensuring that these innocent schoolgirls are rescued, brought home safely, and in time. These activities carried out in cities and towns across Nigeria and around the world include daily sit-outs in Abuja, weekly sit-outs in Lagos, and public engagements in many other cities and towns in Nigeria and across the world; street marches, press releases and other media engagements, engagements with government officials at all levels, etc. As from November last year it included visits to internally displaced persons (IDP) camps and settlements before such activities became mainstream, and a plethora of other activities. It is therefore naive to posit that the movement has “gone to sleep” because there haven’t been street marches in Nigeria.

To be sure, all BBOG marches right from 30 April 2014, have been specifically targeted to provide value for effort. They have all being either going out to engage with a particular office, embassy/high commission; whereby written notices are sent ahead of time and appointments sought and confirmed. Or they have been to create awareness, to ensure that our innocent girls are not forgotten and to stir up the passion to go get them back as soon as possible. As for the latter, they have been held mostly on what are called “milestone days”.

On 25 May 2015, 4 days to the expiration of the outgone president’s term and the inauguration of the new one, BBOG stated clearly that a letter would be sent to the new president within 1 week of settling-in, to seek an engagement with him and his new government, to express anxieties and concerns; and to hear from him what he intends to do to bring back our girls and to end the insurgency. It is important to reiterate that this the BBOG standard procedure, of formally writing to seek audience. Twice, such letters were written to the outgone president, twice his office gave dates but he not only failed to show up, his government used the police to bar us; and rather sent delegations to represent him.

As earlier committed, on 10 June, 2015, we wrote to the new president seeking an appointment to engage with him at his earliest convenience, preferably within 1 week of receiving the mail. And that we eagerly awaited the appointment. This move was communicated to the public, and accordingly reported by various media. Within this waiting time, we received word that the president had accepted in principle to meet with us, but no time was fixed yet. Having waited for weeks, and being forced by the circumstance of the long wait to consider marching with or without a formal appointment, we got official confirmation from the Villa on 30 June, that our appointment was fixed for 8 July, this Wednesday at 12 noon. This is public knowledge, as it has been widely reported in the media. So it isn’t true the BBOG campaign has as much as waned.

In the last 2 weeks alone, we hosted the EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs, and marked both the International Day of the African Child, and the World Refugee Day. BBOG as far as I know was about the only body that remembered the plight of our displaced citizens on that day. Not the president, not the vice president, not the federal government agencies directly vested with the responsibility, not the state governments. Sadly, even the media was asleep that day. Just 4 days ago, we called attention to the falsehood and deliberate misinformation by the defence spokesperson Major-General Chris Olukolade, who on 30 June 2015 announced the apprehension of a Boko Haram operative who played a role in the abduction of our Chibok girls. This is the very same information, he had released word-for-word on 30 June 2014, 1 year prior.

So, it’s important to reiterate that assessing our movement strictly based on street marches is shallow, as those are only a fraction of what we have been doing on a daily basis consistently for 431 days today.

As for Ezekwesili (not Ezekwesile please), she says something about our Chibok girls each and every day on her Twitter account, @obyezeks. Anyone who claims to have observed her advocacy without visiting her Twitter timeline where it all began ought to be ashamed of themselves. Also, a simple online search would confirm her BBOG activities on a daily basis with no loss in momentum whatsoever.
To your third point, maybe some have used or are using the BBOG campaign to work for President Buhari and to position themselves for personal advantage. But like Ezekwesili, Hadiza Bala Usman is not one of them. For starters, none of these 2 needs to have participated in this very tedious cause in order to position themselves for anything. Such thinking betrays a lack of depth and basic understanding. For starters, Ms Bala Usman’s appointment as Governor El-Rufai’s chief of staff for instance was fait accompli so to speak, and an absolute no brainer. She, it’d be noted has been an associate of the governor, working with him on an almost day-to-day basis in various capacities for 15 years now. This, aside from her being a dynamic goal-better and thorough-bred professional woman. Also bear in mind that she has been an active politician, who ran for office on the platform of the now defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in 2011. By April last year, when the abduction took place, she was already deeply occupied with her political and other activities. This unfortunate incidence, and worse off, the conspiracy by the government of the day to sweep it under the carpet and pretend that nothing had happened, as has always been done is what motivated her, out of compassion to sacrifice time and other resources to ensuring that this matter doesn’t die, and the that innocent schoolgirls are rescued and brought back to the loving arms of their parents. This is the common motivation of all BBOG advocates, both those who come out openly, and those who support the cause in various other ways you may not know.

And therefore begs the question, Does it mean that caring, empathy, compassion, responsibility; and being a professional and a politician mutually exclusive? Must we play politics with everything and impute motives for everything? Should we?

“Security and welfare of the citizens shall be the primary duty of government”, so says our constitution. Regarding the unfortunate abduction, the failure of governance is what created room for it to take place in the first place. The same failure of governance prevented the innocent schoolgirls from being rescued within hours or the first few days. For all we care, it is a failure of governance that our innocent Chibok girls are missing today for 446 days. 16 parents have died of trauma, and terrorists attacks and killings continue daily with loss of lives. It is the duty of citizens to hold leaders to account, that is why the meeting with the president is imperative.
You on the one hand have the right to hold any opinion and to express yourself however you wish, but kindly do not resort to gutter journalism. Especially not on a sensitive issue as this. Whoever mocks BBOG or anyone standing up for the oppressed, disadvantaged and downtrodden, mocks the oppressed, disadvantaged and downtrodden. Whoever mocks the downtrodden mocks their Maker. That is why I’d advise to be mindful of what one says and insinuates, especially when shaping public opinion.

Sesugh Akume (@sesugh_akume on Twitter), a member of #BringBackOurGirls, writes from Abuja

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