“Please—rise up and take action now!” cried Comfort Ero, utilizing a megaphone at a May 10 rally in Vancouver to demand that Nigeria and the international community bolster their efforts to rescue hundreds of kidnapped schoolgirls.
“Bring back our traumatized girls and ease the pain and shock of their parents!” continued Eros, president of the Nigeria-Canada Development Association of British Columbia, whose members turned out en masse at a Bring Back Our Girls rally to sing protest songs and pound traditional African drums at Robson Square in the city’s downtown. Another rally is planned for tomorrow morning (May 13) on Vancouver’s Burrard Street Bridge.
On April 14, 276 students were abducted in a midnight raid of a girls’ school in Chibok in Nigeria’s northern state of Borno. Many of the pupils had travelled there to take final exams. The abductors were members of Boko Haram, which means “Western education is a sin.” Initially, the group said it would sell the girls in the marketplace. However, a new video released May 12 showed about 130 of the students, seemingly unharmed, while Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau demanded the release of imprisoned insurgents in exchange for the girls’ freedom. The Nigerian government has been criticized for its ineffectual response to the schoolgirls’ kidnapping.
The 14-year-old terrorist group, bent on creating an Islamic state under Sharia law, began insurgent attacks in 2009. It has terrorized the Sahel region, killing 1,500 people, including school kids and police, and targeted UN headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria. Nigerian-Canadian education consultant Joshua Afuye, who was at the May 10 rally, is worried about Boko Haram’s militarism and believes that the group is linked to terrorist organizations, reportedly al-Qaeda. “It’s an international network,” Afuye said. “They are getting international support.”
Such malicious terrorism requires a coordinated pushback. To this end, a strategy to find and rescue the girls is being undertaken by Cameroon, Niger Republic, the United States, Chad, France, Canada and the United Kingdom. (Canada has offered surveillance equipment to help in the search.) Ero said that, unless the terrorists are stopped, parents will cease sending their girls to school. This would a tragedy for the country, she said. “Nigerians have a saying, ‘If you educate a woman, you are educating the whole nation.’ ”
Burnaby’s Bryne Creek Secondary student Merve, a Turkish immigrant, called the kidnapping of the Nigerian girls “a horrendous act. These girls belong in school and they aren’t for sale.” Her schoolmate Yasmine, a Jordanian-Canadian, added that the kidnapping is a “major blow for the progress of women.”
Nigerian-born Priye Iworima, who came to Canada in 2004 when she was 16, is fearful for the schoolgirls’ safety but refuses to give up hope. “At least there is action now.” But there must be no more delays, Iworima said. “Their lives are at stake. The action needs to be immediate.”