New Internationalist

Words, words and more damned words

US politicians' moment of silence [Related Image]
Words - and moments of silence - are not enough. International leaders need to take action to track down the missing Nigerian schoolgirls. Senate Democrats under a Creative Commons Licence

The news of the 286 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram has provoked universal condemnation. If, sitting safely in our homes, secure in the knowledge that such a thing could never happen to our children, we can feel such a sense of anger and outrage, imagine the plight of the girls and their families. The anguish, dread and frustration of not knowing what will happen to them. The stomach-churning fear that the girls have already been sold and are beyond rescue.

Let’s examine what has happened in the three weeks since the kidnapping on 15 April. Practically nothing, as far as rescue operations or effective action are concerned. Compare this with what happened after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went missing with 239 people aboard. The first phase of the search and rescue mission involved more than 300 aircraft spending 3,000-plus hours in the air, scouring 4.6 million square kilometres of ocean. Twenty-six countries were involved. And this was just Phase 1! Australia has estimated the costs of Phase 2 will have reached $60 million. America’s Bluefin 21 Drone, which was used to scan underwater, cost a staggering $40,000 a day.  Now, what is being spent on the 286 girls who have gone missing? Is the lack of resources being offered because they are African? Or girls? Or just plain dirt poor? I suspect all three. No airline industry reputation to be protected, either. The numbers of missing in each case are close, making it even more ironic. We live in a world where double standards no longer even raise eyebrows.

Three weeks is a long, long time for helpless young girls to live in captivity with ruthless, unscrupulous abductors.

But consider Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s inane response at the World Economic Forum (WEF) he is busy hosting at the nation’s capital. ‘Thank you for accepting to come even at a time we’re facing attacks by terrorists. Your presence helps us in the war against terror. By God’s grace, we’ll defeat the terrorists. I believe the kidnap of these girls will be the beginning of the end of terrorism in Nigeria.’ Some consolation for the girls and their families.   

Reportedly around 6,000 soldiers were sent to protect international WEF dignitaries. The budget, media reports say, for the two-day meeting is twice that of Nigeria’s Federal Initiative for the North East – the plan for enhancing security in northeast Nigeria, where the violence has been constant for some years now. Soldiers are guarding the international meet instead of searching for their kidnapped girls. Does that sound remarkably like Nero fiddling while Rome burnt?

What were world leaders thinking when they decided to come and listen to the Nigerian President’s irrelevant verbiage in the middle of such a life-threatening hostage situation? Are they even slightly ashamed of wining and dining, fine living and pompous verbal diarrhoea while young girls are being raped and killed and Nigerians burnt alive close to their conference? Is there no sense of what’s appropriate? No end to their shamelessness? Reports suggest that even as they talk in the capital, some of the girls are being sold to neighbouring countries.

And then, President, Barack Obama’s grave pronouncement: ‘The Chibok kidnappings may be the event that helps to mobilize the entire international community to finally do something against this horrendous organization that has perpetrated such a terrible crime.’

Seriously, is this a time for mere words? More sound bites? 

It is 25 whole days and nights since the girls were abducted. My mind refuses to dwell on the horrors implicit in their imprisonment. Imagine their plight. Imagine their families. We cannot pretend that as a global society we do not have the resources – human, financial, technological – to search for and rescue these girls. Mere platitudes will not cut it. We need action, not words. And we need it now.

The Nigerian people think so. Unfortunately, their President and our leaders across the globe just continue making speeches.

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