The Search For the Stolen Girls of Nigeria

abduction

 

Nearly a month ago a group of Islamic fanatics kidnapped nearly 300 girls from schools in Nigeria. Estimates vary how many are still held captive, but it may be as many as 276. The world barely noticed. Scratched its belly, yawned and wondered what’s for dinner?

The “reaction” of the international community to the abductions has been a sad, pathetic joke without a punchline. That 276 girls could be kidnapped, probably beaten, possibly raped, thoroughly terrorized and threatened with being sold as sex slaves is an abomination.

The Nigerian government seems inept at best and utterly powerless to force the Islamic extremists of Boko Haram to take a backward step. You can’t negotiate or reason with unreasonable men and this story may not end well. The inability of Nigeria, other African nations and the United Nations to muster anything more than tepid concern and a sluggish response forces the cynic in me to think the only value Africa ever has to the rest of the world is its natural resources first and its people as a secondary matter.

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Veteran journalist Tracie Powell’s All-Digitocracy reports on how the mass kidnapping is being covered:

  • Nigeria-based Vanguard News reports that Boko Haram kidnapped 11 more girls on Monday from a village in Northeastern Nigeria;
  • Allafrica.com carries another Vanguard News story that a coalition of youth and students promise to mobilize a national hunger strike if the abducted Chibok girls are not released by May 24. That date is 40 days from April 14, when more than 370 female students were kidnapped by Boko Haram insurgents;
  • The Associated Press published its interview with a 16-year-old who escaped the abductors in Chibok. Among new details: School guards fought for an hour before fleeing the insurgents;
  • The Washington Post and several other outlets say United States Secretary of State John Kerry called Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan with an offer to send a team of American law enforcement and military experts to find the missing school girls;
  • The Nigerian-based blog 360Nobs posts photos from a #bringbackourgirls rally held outside the Nigeria High Commission Office in London;
  • A 2012 BBC report, “Who Are Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists,” provides background information on the group responsible for the kidnappings;
  • The Washington Post answers eight basic questions about the abduction, the Nigerian government’s response to it, and the Nigerian protests that have led to international outrage.

Another question is Boko Haram has been murdering and terrorizing Nigeria for years now. Why did it take a mass kidnapping before the world finally started to pay attention?

 

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau says he will sell the captive girls into slavery.

 

The real reason for the disproportionate amount of press coverage and outrage this time around, experts say, has to do with a combination of things: the Nigerian government’s tepid response to the missing girls, the international media’s initial indifference, and Nigerians becoming fed up with both.

“The initial assumption was that the girls would be rescued in a matter of days,” Obasi says. But “this tragic situation dragged on, with the Nigerian government seemingly unable to find a solution.” From the start, Nigerian security forces did not appear particularly motivated to find the girls, Mausi Segun, a researcher for Human Rights Watch based in northern Nigeria, told Mother Jones last week. She says the military was not making use of information provided by parents and locals in its rescue efforts. Meanwhile, the government of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has formed no rescue operation, and falsely reported earlier on that some of the girls had been rescued. Jonathan waited 19 days to create a “fact-finding” committee. (Nigerian First Lady Patience Jonathan recently alleged that women protesting in Abuja against the government’s weak response to the Chibok abductions had fabricated the kidnappings.)

Adding insult to injury, the international media largely ignored the massive abduction for the first week or so. In response, some Nigerians lashed out at the Western press for not covering the kidnapping of hundreds of black girls in the way that it likely would have covered the kidnapping of hundreds of white girls, and launched the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. The campaign to rescue the girls spurred the belated outpouring of global press coverage on the abductions and on the origins and motivations of Boko Haram.

The kidnapping and the initial radio silence “hit a nerve in the Nigerian diaspora and among communities of color, and in particular women and girls,” says Adotei Akwei, a former Africa advocacy director for Amnesty International. Christopher Anzalone, an expert on political violence and terrorism at McGill University, agrees. “I think that the media in certain places, such as the United States, which did not initially report much on the most recent kidnapping, may be trying to ‘make up’ for their tardiness.”

Whenever something so terrible as this occurs in a sovereign country, even the most accommodating and earnest offers of aid and assistance must be tempered by how it can blowback with unintended consequences. In the case of African nations and Nigeria’s dilemma in particular, anything the U.S. can offer to facilitate the safe return of the kidnapped girls must be the paramount concern.

Yet it cannot help the Nigerians for the U.S. to walk in and start calling the shots. Destabilizing President Goodluck Jonathan’s government might end up pushing the country into the waiting arms of the Boko Haram extremists whom already seem quite capable to strike at will and act with impunity. The Nigerians have already delayed too long and acted too timidly. Demonstrating to the international community they need the Western powers to come and rescue their daughters may be a cure deadlier than the malady.

Yet, I fear the humanity issues at play here may be far less of a concern for the international community than the economic long-term risk of embarrassing a shaky, but otherwise established oil-producing government.

 

President Jonathan (L) and the Nigerian military are battling the public perception they can’t contain the threat of Boko Haram.

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What If Eric Holder Held A Photo Op and Nobody Came?

Time to go their separate ways?

At the moment the National Association of Black Journalists and I are having our issues.  Serious issues.  Right now we’re in the middle of a trial separation.   It’s touch and go whether it becomes a permanent one.

But every so often NABJ gives me reasons to reconsider.

Richard Prince reported in his Journalisms column:

Citing the stipulation that the meeting would be off the record, the National Association of Black Journalists and the Asian American Journalists Association said Sunday that they would not attend Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.‘s Monday meeting with journalists of color to refine guidelines on dealing with journalists during leak investigations.

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Unity: Journalists of Diversity, Inc., umbrella group have said they would attend.

The Native American Journalists Association, also citing the off-the-record stipulation, has said it would not.

Gregory H. Lee Jr., president of NABJ, said by email, “I asked the board that nabj will not have official reps. If individual board members do attend it will not be under nabj representation. Nabj will not attend in . . . any official capacity.” Lee added by telephone that NABJ believes in freedom of the press and is “not happy with what’s going on at the Justice Department,” as stated in its May 15 statement on the Justice Department’s secret seizure of office and personal telephone records of journalists at The Associated Press.

In 2010, Holder appeared as the honored guest at the NABJ convention.  He took no questions from the audience.   Nobody knew then but the past was prologue.  There has been a sneaky suspicion Holder and the Obama Administration hold the press in barely concealed contempt.   The Attorney General’s dismissive attitude would seem to confirm this.

Many major news outlets rejected Holder’s off the record stipulation as well they should.    With three of the major journalists of color organizations declining to participate in this farce as well,  the ineptitude of the Justice Department has blown up in their faces.

There are times when the profession as “journalist” trumps the racial identifier of “Black.”  This is one such time.

The National Association of Black Journalists should not take part in this off the record “meet and greet” with Attorney General Holder.  Everyone knows the A.G. is engaged in damage control after the chorus of disapproval that has descended upon the Justice Department for their investigations into the phone records of journalists.

If Holder is willing to try to explain and defend his department’s actions he should be willing to go on the record.  It’s one thing for the Obama Administration to say they believe in the freedom of the press.   Quite another to see them walk it like they talk it.

“Look, I said NO QUESTIONS and I meant it!:

NABJ is composed of journalists, not stenographers.  This is nothing but a glorified photo-op with Holder trying to look reasonable and solicitous to a room full of journalists who are writing down and recording NOTHING.   It’s pointless exercise in spin control.

NABJ can get their coffee and bagels elsewhere.  Like where real news is occurring.  I applaud the decision of President Gregory Lee and the board not to attend.

The Attorney General would serve his cause better by opening up and going on the record instead of continuing his distressing habit of only speaking when it serves his own purpose to do so.   This is an approach that has not served Holder well.   For five years President Obama has managed to avoid the sort of serious ethical and legal missteps that have blemished prior administrations.

If Holder, the nation’s highest law enforcement official, continues on his arrogant and autocratic path they may not make a sixth.