As a women’s rights activist, I deem it necessary to provide an opportunity or platform to talk about the current sad incident happening in Nigeria. I am doing this discussion with a Nigerian, living in Abuja, Nigeria. She works in Sexual Reproductive Health and Development fields for young people, especially, women and girls in her region. I met Kikelomo through the Women Deliver when we were both awarded the 100 Global Young Leaders Award working in women and girls human rights advancement in 2012. We were briefly together in Malaysia for Women Deliver’s 3rd Global Conference on Women.
Oumie: Hey Kikelomo! I am doing a fellowship with the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs and I deem it extremely important to connect with you about the Boko Haram abduction of the Chibok school girls in northern Nigeria. Please give us a brief introduction of yourself.
Kikelomo: I am a young woman with a strong passion to social development issues that affects young people particularly girls. I run a young women’s group called the Passionistas which provides safe spaces for young women to learn, share and inspire. I recently got selected as a Youth Commissioner for the Lancet Commission on Adolescent Health and Wellbeing. I am currently a final year student at the University of Abuja, studying Sociology and volunteering at Population Council Nigeria. I have been living in Abuja for about 10years. I was brought up in Lagos state.
Oumie: How is the situation in Nigeria at the moment?
Kikelomo: The situation in Nigeria is tense. It has always been but more than ever, people are more security conscious. There are a lot more visible security agents. The political atmosphere is also very tense because of the upcoming elections in mid-2015.
Oumie: Interesting. Please provide a brief background about Boko Harram and how its activities have affected girls and women in Northern Nigeria.
Kikelomo: Boko Haram (BH) as we know it is an Islamic sect that we believe is against the Goodluck Jonathan administration. We also know that they are against western education and have been causing havoc by abducting girls in many rural communities, killing people both young and old. In many ways, the harm that they have caused to many families can’t be quantified. Many families have lost their breadwinners, leaving women, girls and children who are mostly dependent on those breadwinners, helpless and hopeless. Today, young girls are afraid of going to school or anywhere else due to fear of being abducted or even killed. These women and girls constantly live in fear of what might happen. In some ways, the boys are also affected too.
Oumie: It seems terrorist groups are exceptionally afraid of the education of girls drawing examples from Pakistan. What can we make out of this claim?
Kikelomo: Well, I don’t think BH is afraid of girl’s education in that sense. I think it has more to do with showing that they are an authority and as such have the power to decide how people live their lives. They certainly do believe they can deny other people the right to live freely. There have been cases of these guys killing over 50 male students in a secondary school somewhere in Northern Nigeria. Sadly, that didn’t get the whole media rave as much as the Chibok abduction.
Oumie: From an ethical point of view, do you think that Boko Haram’s crimes against girls are strategies to register its dissatisfaction with the regime and or the Nigerian society? And why is the group not engaging the regime other than targeting civilians?
Kikelomo: Absolutely! In fact there are rumors that they are being funded by oppositions within the government. There has been news of arrest of several individuals within the government and law enforcement agencies who have been suspected as sponsors/agents of this terrorist group.
Oumie: And the group is using Islam to commit crimes against the citizens of Nigeria, is this justifiable from a religious stand-point?
Kikelomo: No! It is absolutely barbaric! The interesting thing is that other individuals who practice Islam as well are not in support of the activities of this group. They detest it, they don’t support it nor believe in it. So, it’s really conflicting. This has caused a barrier, conflict and division in inter-ethnic/religious interaction amongst Nigerians. Some people don’t even want to be associated with anyone practicing Islam or an indigene of any of the Northern state. This is also prevalent within communities of same ethnic group and religion. There is no religion that promotes denying anyone access to education or killing people for whatsoever cause.
Oumie: Are there Islamic organizations that have publicly condemned the acts of the terror group? If so, what are they doing?
Kikelomo: I don’t know of any Islamic organizations but I do know of many individuals practicing Islam, some of whom are my friends. In fact, one of them was telling me that he is afraid of BH. He made me understand that the Boko Haram group is a community and there are members of the society who don’t necessarily go around bombing or abducting people but believe in what Boko haram believes in.
Oumie: There is a global outrage over the incident and people are doing advocacy for the release of the girls, which is amazing. From a Nigerian perspective, how do you feel about this and what more do you think the world could do?
Kikelomo: To be honest with you, things are not the way they seem. Though I am thrilled by the level of international support and advocacy that this issue has enjoyed but what still baffles me is how the Nigerian government is handling this situation. It’s appalling! The negligence, the rot weakens me. There are so many things I can’t say but I would say the world shouldn’t give up.
Oumie: Now, let’s get deeper into the Jonathan regime. There is news that the regime was aware of the planned abduction but it failed to protect these girls. Is this an allegation out of frustration or there are evidences of truth?
Kikelomo: I honestly do not know but it really can’t be far from the truth. If that was confirmed to be the truth, I won’t be surprised.
Oumie: Okay. It is almost two months since the abduction took place, meaning the lives of these girls have been in danger since then. Have there been clashes between Boko Haram and other terrorist groups over the abduction of the girls?
Oumie: Other than the foreign assistance from the United States, United Kingdom and others, are African governments supportive during this period of immense need from Nigeria and her people?
Kikelomo: These questions are hard to respond to. You know, you can only really help someone who wants to be helped. I don’t know of any African government and I am not surprised.
Oumie: I have heard nothing (other than the Paris meeting); I mean no statements of solidarity or media reports and plans to join the search from both the AU and ECOWAS since the abduction took place. Are you aware of any?
Kikelomo: No! My point exactly! I am even hearing news that this whole Chibok abduction is a Façade. You try to dot the lines. If the government got threats that the girls will be abducted and did nothing, and waited till the abduction story got international media till they took action. Haba! That’s just evil! We are all confused about what the truth really is. I’m sure the AU is not clear on what the true situation is so therefore they can’t say anything.
Oumie: One important thing I want you to talk about is the impact of this abduction on girls’ education in the region. Statistics show that girls in northern Nigeria are more vulnerable to illiteracy than other regions of the country. Is there a likelihood that parents will put girls out of school because of the risk to their safety and the trauma the families have gone through?
Kikelomo: oh yes! That is happening already! Parents are stopping their kids from going to school especially those in remote villages where they are the most vulnerable and affected. Even before the abduction, Northern girls were vulnerable to illiteracy because they practice a culture that doesn’t promote education of the girl child. Even those that manage to make it to school; once they get married they often become full time house wives. In the cities too, parents are now more security conscious about school activities their children engage in.
Oumie: Is the regime planning any mitigation programs to prevent future human rights crisis like this against innocent children of Nigeria? If so, what is said or is been done about it? Or you think it’s too early to talk about such?
Kikelomo: Planning Mitigation? That’s a huge dream that can only be achieved when we have a government that is driven by the needs of the people, accountable, and transparent. Right now, I am sorry but this government is busy with how to secure the leadership seat in 2015.
Oumie: Well that’s somehow typical of African politics. Anyway, kindly conclude the incident from an ethical perspective and how it will shape Nigeria’s domestic and international politics in the near future.
Kikelomo: It is already shaping domestic politics as we speak. The thought of it is scary. Right now in Nigeria, the political atmosphere is tense. We are going to have an election next year and already the politics going on is just messy. Our leaders are literally recycling themselves. It is even more pathetic because the youth who are meant to hold government accountable and drive the change process can’t see beyond taking bribes to meet their immediate needs.
Oumie: That’s a likely backlash on the democratic advancement of the country. Kikeloma, we will continue our “BRING BACK OUR GIRLS CAMPAIGN” online. Finally, what other/new forms of support do you think we can do to accelerate greater action from global leaders to quickly end this crisis?
Kikelomo: Please, ask our President to provide evidence based results of what he has done so far. Tell him to pin point clearly what the outcome of all he has done already on this Chibok case. I think from there, we will know where we are and what we can do differently to move forward.
Oumie: Thank you so much for an in-depth interaction about this “human rights crisis” going on in Africa’s most populous country. Having a perspective from a young person gives us a greater understanding of the domestic security and political climate of Nigeria. It is a pleasure having you around. Good luck!