Where Are the 200 Girls?: A Reflection on Collective Action and Accountability

by Moiyattu Banya

A few days ago, while lecturing to a class of 36 students on the impact of female revolutionaries of color throughout history I asked the question, “Where do we think radical change should come from?” My students responded in a variety of ways. Some thought it should come from those who are directly impacted by the injustice, others thought it was a collective effort where those from outside the community could also be responsible. I am of the belief that if massive change should occur, those who understand the injustices the most have to spark that change, however the multiplying effect of outsiders supporting and championing the cause is also very critical in the latter stages of the revolution.

As I pondered this question, I began thinking of the surge of protests occurring around the world, and how little those have had to do with what’s going on in Nigeria. I reflected on the recent Boko Haram killings in Nigeria of approximately 2000 people. Across my social media platforms, many people expressed their outrage and anger—the main contention being that African leaders themselves had kept silent on the issues. According to The Guardian, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, expressed his condolences for the victims of France’s Charlie Hebdo attacks, but stayed silent on the Boko Haram attacks in Baga, a town in the country he supposedly leads. This is especially hurtful, considering that the Paris attacks have received way more mainstream global news coverage than those in Nigeria. The idea that African lives don’t matter is a message that continues to be sent out, due to the way the media ignores the issues we face.
This was a similar sentiment that arose during the #BringBackOurGirls campaign this Spring, when Boko Haram reportedly kidnapped 200 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok.

The story of the 200 abducted schoolgirls faded from the media and their lives faded from our immediate realities, but not from the lives of their families and loved ones. #BringBackOurGirls was successful and is still on going in Nigeria. The campaign brought light to the plight of young girls in Nigeria under the attack of terrorism, as well as informed the world of the Boko Haram terrorist regime in certain parts of Nigeria.

Both the kidnapping and the recent terrorist attacks have highlighted a strong issue for me: What is the responsibility of people within a community when such issues occur?

I pondered what young Nigerians were doing on the ground to create solutions around these issues, and how they’re holding their communities accountable. Immediately, two friends and colleagues who are invested in this work came to mind. Rotimi Olawande is a colleague of mine, as well as the founder of an international youth network called Youth Hub Africa, which I am also a member of. He has been a very active member of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign, and for him the campaign has never stopped. Rotimi recently shared that he met with key stakeholders in Nigeria to raise awareness and brainstorm possible solutions for the safe return of the girls who were kidnapped. Rotimi’s work with the #BringBackOurGirls movement has to do with finding ways to work with the leaders of the country to address the terrorism that has cost so many lives.

I also think of a sister and colleague of mine, Olutimehin Adegbeye, who recently launched a blog titled, Words of The Stolen. The platform was launched to keep the memory of those families impacted by Boko Haram alive. The site features stories, poems, and essays by writers and artists from all over the world. By continuing to tell these stories and to keep their voices alive, the blog ensures that the girls and their families are not forgotten.

I commend young Nigerians and other Africans who are advocating for the rights of their sisters and brothers. This is the key to affecting radical change.

Still, this has not been enough to return the girls home. So what more can be done? It’s time we recognize what’s happening in Nigeria as a global issue. As much as we need the nation’s leaders to become invested in eradicating Boko Haram’s threat to the livelihood of the country’s citizens, we also need others from across the Diaspora to pay attention. We must stand in solidarity with one another, and stay committed to our collective prosperity.

Until then, "Where are the 200 schoolgirls?" remains an unanswered question.

Moiyattu Banya is a native to Sierra Leone, digital mover and shaker, feminist and writer. She currently teaches women studies courses at Temple University and also does international consulting with social enterprises in West Africa. She is founder of the lifestyle brand, Women Change Africa. Moiyattu is part of the African Women’s Development Fund’s (AWDF) community of African women writers. Follow her on Twitter @WCAWorld.

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