Former Vice President of the World Bank for Africa, Obiageli Ezekwesili, said moments after it was announced that 21 of the over 200 schoolgirls abducted from their dormitory one eerie night in April, 2014, have been handed over to the federal government.
It was a sigh of relief from the former Nigerian Minister that mirrored the mood of an entire nation soon after news of the release of a number of the girls, first broke online, Thursday.
Terrorist sect Boko Haram, stormed the school marooned in Chibok — a rustic, sleepy community in the North Eastern state of Borno — corralled the girls into the back of a creaky truck and drove them into the heart of the Sambisa; a dense, massive forest littered with landmines and swarming with blood-sucking insurgents.
It was several days before the world got wind of the abduction, no thanks to poor communication facilities in a restive region where the terrorists have laid waste to life and infrastructure, ripped off limbs and chopped off heads; while bombing everyone and everything in sight.
In the early days, Goodluck Jonathan who was President at the time of the abduction, played down the incident as the handiwork of political opponents. The entire abduction story was given short shrift and dismissed as a hoax by the Jonathan administration.
The administration’s denial found expression in the first family at the time.
First Lady Patience Jonathan summoned the school principal on whose watch the girls were abducted. A few parents of the abducted girls were also invited to the nation’s seat of power in Abuja.
With the TV cameras rolling, they were handed a public dressing down.
“Do you come with two teachers? Enh?”, asked the First Lady, perched on a raised platform and wagging a finger like an angry headmistress. “You were not informed too? Continue…No problem…God will see us…”
Fighting back phony tears and on the verge of a meltdown, Ms. Jonathan belted the lines that would catapult her into a fodder for stand-up comedy sessions and a viral sensation.
“Diaris God….Diaris God in everything we are doing…Those bloods that are shiaring in Borno will answer…What of two teachers that can tell us that they conducted that exam? Do you come with any? Prinspa…No too?
“Na only you waka come? Okay. Now the First Lady is calling you, come I want to help you…find ya missing child…will you keep kwayet? Chai!!! Chai!!!
“Diaris God o!”
The world may have been forgiven for laughing at the then First Lady’s expense, but the mood quickly returned to one of grieving and agitation soon after.
United States First Lady Michelle Obama, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, celebrity CNN anchors Isha Sesay and Christiane Amanpour, global screen stars in Angelina Jolie and Ellen DeGeneres and hordes of other famous names around the world, were photographed holding #BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) placards.
Aso Rock may have been in denial, but the world wasn’t ready to join the seat of power in fiddling with the lives of the abducted girls. Civil society groups across the world latched onto the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag and turned the advocacy into a global struggle.
A movement was born and Ezekwesili was its poster child. She ran the length of the world, granting interviews to the local and foreign press, explaining why it was imperative to expedite military action on the rescue of the girls.
#BringBackOurGirls processions were held in major cities across the world, with daily sit-ins at the Unity Fountain in Abuja, rain and shine no less.
Ezekwesili’s BBOG group ensured the girls were never forgotten, with weekly and monthly milestones hash-tagged and Retweeted.
“Bring Back Our Girls…Never to be forgotten”, the campaigners screamed into the ears of President Muhammadu Buhari who had taken over from the embattled Jonathan.
There have been rays of hopes in the interim: A handful of the abducted girls commandeered their own escape and are now undergoing scholarship courses in the U.S.
In April, 2016, CNN’s “Proof of Life” video, renewed hopes that most of the girls were still alive.
In May, 2016, two of the girls, Amina Ali Nkeki and Serah Luka, were rescued.
And in October, 21 of the abductees are moments away from reuniting with their families.
It’s been more than 900 days since the abduction of the schoolgirls. And it’s been more than 900 days too long.
We can only imagine the agony the girls have been through and the inhumane conditions they were forced to put up with.
Most of the girls will return, psychologically scarred. A few have been put in the family way by the terrorists and many more were doubtless used to satiate the sexual urges of the Boko Haram savages.
As we welcome the 21 back home today, it is instructive that everything is done to rescue the lot still held by the terrorists and to render the best psychological and medical assistance there is, to the freed.
Said Garba Shehu, the President’s spokesperson: “The release of the girls, in a limited number is the outcome of negotiations between the administration and the Boko Haram brokered by the International Red Cross and the Swiss government. The negotiations will continue.
“The President welcomes the release of the girls but cautioned Nigerians to be mindful of the fact that more than 30,000 fellow citizens were killed via terrorists”.
Ezekwesili’s joy however, like those of millions of her countrymen, will not be restrained. Especially because the release of the girls is a culmination of months of being labelled a “hired hand of the opposition”, while enduring brickbats and insults in the social media space and on the streets.
In the face of it all, Ezekwesili believed that someday, the girls will return home in one piece, even at a time most thought she and the campaigners had lost their minds for harbouring those hopes.
“The girls have been splintered into groups and sold as sex slaves…they’ll never be back”, Ezekwesili and her group were derided and reminded over and over again.
Determined and unwavering, Ezekwesili has been over the moon today as you’d expect.
“I can only weep, right now. You know that kind of cry that is a mix of multiple emotions. Lord. Some of OUR Girls ARE BACK!!! B. A. C. K.!! Our BBOG group thank our soldiers in the frontline of battle. You've given and keep giving so much SACRIFICE”, she tweeted.
Surely, Diaris God!