As we celebrate the Day of the African Child across the continent today, those in authority in our country must reflect on the travails of our young population, made more poignant by the recent abduction of more than 200 school children in Chibok, Borno State. Against the background that today marks the 63rd day that the girls have been in the hands of the Boko Haram insurgents, it is important that there be more concerted efforts toward their rescue and safe return to their parents.
The Day of the African Child, initiated by the defunct Organisation of African Unity (OAU) now African Union (AU) has been celebrated on June 16 every year within the continent since 1991. It is in honour of the South African students who participated in the 1976 Soweto uprising under the then apartheid regime in South Africa in the course of which several of them were killed. They were protesting the poor quality of education and demanding their right to be taught in their own language before they were mowed down by the South African police, an action that triggered international outrage.
For Nigeria, the Day of the African Child could not have come at a more auspicious time. On April 15 this year, Nigerians woke to the alarming news that more than 200 girls from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok had been abducted in the night by Boko Haram insurgents. To date, most of these girls have not been found, although some of them escaped, through their own efforts. And since their abduction, Nigerians and millions around the world have found it hard to come to terms with the fact that such a huge number of school children could simply vanish into thin air, without a trace.
It is significant that the very act of kidnapping schoolgirls, and the statement by Boko Haram leader that he would sell them into slavery, have since pricked the conscience of many Western countries whose leaders have decided to partner with Nigeria to push out the insurgents. Indeed, political leaders, opinion moulders and global celebrities have expressed anger and shock over the abduction of the girls, some through the social media with posts using the catchy hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. But all the efforts have yet to translate to the recovery of the girls.
The Chibok tragedy remains the clearest indication that Nigeria has become very vulnerable to terror. But it is also a glaring manifestation of the threats that now confront the Nigerian child in the age of terror. The fear and the insecurity that pervade the North -east, arising from these wanton attacks, are bound to discourage parents from allowing their children to go to school and if innocent children can be carted away so effortlessly, for merely attempting to actualise their right to education, what is the hope for the rest of the society?
With Boko Haram standing for “western education is sinful”, the insurgents have waged a brutal campaign against innocent school children, especially in the North -east, first with the massacre of 59 innocent students at the Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, before resorting to abducting female students from schools. The Chibok tragedy, however, has become the defining issue and we hope the authorities will resolve the issue as quickly as possible. Every additional day that the girls remain in the custody of their captors is one day too many. On a day such as this when we celebrate the African Child, we reiterate what most people have been saying for weeks: the girls from Chibok must be urgently rescued and brought home, alive.