Last week, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court made a historic finding of horrific crimes in Nigeria for prosecution.
The same week the US designated Nigeria a Country of Particular Concern for egregious religious persecution largely due to its failed response to Islamist terrorism after 20 years of CPC recommendations, making 2020 the year of landmark human rights benchmarks indicting Nigeria the most. Then terrorists abducted hundreds of school kids. Again.
In April 2014, the world’s longest running mass abduction occurred when about 300 schoolgirls were taken by Boko Haram in Chibok Nigeria sparking the hashtag “Bring Back Our Girls.” 112 of the girls are still missing and dozens feared dead six years later.
“Where are the boys?” every escaped schoolgirl I interviewed told me was the question posed by the Boko Haram terrorists. When they learnt there were none to be killed, the terrorists spontaneously decided to abduct the girls.
This month’s abduction of hundreds of school boys from Nigeria’s president’s home state while he was there vacationing was certainly more strategically calculated. It is also a signpost of how Nigeria and the world has again failed these innocent school kids.
The BBOG campaign led to
to the defeat of Nigeria’s debonair president Dr. Goodluck Jonathan by an austere ex-military dictator Gen. Buhari but as one columnist put it, “in search of a solution, Nigeria found a problem!”
Buhari’s strategy in power was to institutionalize repression as statecraft. A wall was built around the Unity Fountain in Abuja that had become a memorial for the girls. US Congressional delegations and I have joined vigils there. Police have teargassed, harassed and detained families of the missing.
The media has been shutout of northeast Nigeria while he falsely claims “technical defeat” of Boko Haram.
Abroad, where his predecessor used lobbyists, Buhari has used Nigerian intelligence operations and media influence campaigns to fight human rights advocates for the girls.
In 2016, Nigeria’s embassy in USA orchestrated a Chibok girl “ rescue” -not from Boko Haram captivity – but from a prestigious Virginia school where I had placed a few escaped girls. Bizarrely, but expectedly, Buhari’s PR machinery put out a statement that the girls thanked him for rescuing them from the $35,000 per year high school I enslaved them in!
Then in 2018, the terrorists abducted over 100 girls from a school in Dapchi yet again.
As my investigations found then, “Under… parameters established by the Safe Schools Initiative during the prior administration, vulnerable schools such as GGTS were meant to be closed down. However the Buhari administration disrupted the operations of the SSI…over $22 million in contributions was …used to “reimburse” governors for renovations instead of in fact providing for safe schooling options for students.”
Fortunately 100 of the Dapchi girls were returned in a month except for 14-year old Leah Sharibu the sole Christian among them who refused to renounce her faith. Curiously the original Chibok schoolgirls gone for over six years were predominantly Christians. Leah has remained captive almost three years now.
Buhari’s response was to pour more money for western media image laundry efforts.
In 2018, the Wall Street Journal in a hit piece for the Buhari regime claimed he rescued the Chibok girls I kidnapped and sponsored to schools in America. They did not report that the other girls he didn’t rescue from me graduated from High School in 2017 and community college in 2018 but those Buhari rescued floundered ever since.
Like the petty hack attack on Dr. Jill Biden’s doctorate, WSJ said I was exaggerating the deaths of Christians in Nigeria – impugning a lifetime as a human rights lawyer.
Finally, Buhari’s strategy worked. The most vocal advocate for Nigeria’s persecuted in USA was defamed and destroyed.
My attorneys uncovered the Nigerian ambassador’s memo
denouncing my testimony in “the United States Congress and other public places across the United States (and) Going forward, to prevent Mr Ogebe, who is a Nigerian citizen, from making further derogatory comments that are inimical to the image of Nigeria, Government May consider taking punitive action against him, including withdrawal of his privilege to carry a Nigerian passport.” Still no one was held accountable for this gross violation of US law by retaliating against a congressional witness.
But Buhari’s influence is worse. Prof John Paden arguably the State Department’s top Nigeria adviser wrote a soppy biography on Gen. Buhari early in his presidency. Buhari even sent a high level delegation to the naming of a library after Paden at George Mason University.The coast was clear for Buhari to brazenly rig his re-election in 2019 and in 2020, his troops massacred dozens of dancing #EndSARS youth protesting police brutality – while a top US human rights delegation was in country.
Thankfully the truth can never be muzzled forever. The US’s CPC designation of Nigeria for religious persecution is the culmination of a 20 year effort; the ICC’s, 10 years’. But it is a bittersweet vindication that I was not exaggerating as WSJ claimed.
In congress, after the Chibok girls’ abduction, I lamented that it took, “28 months from first known attack on Americans for US to designate Boko Haram a Foreign Terrorist Organization, 33 months for the UN and 15 months for the ICC.”
My three-year FTO, 20-year CPC and 10-year ICC battles have crystallized into my almost 40-year Wilberforcean moment but there’s no joy in “I told you so” with hundreds of parents in anguish again.
I was in Nigeria last week where MPs were expecting a session with Buhari on insecurity until he suddenly traveled home to Katsina state apparently to avoid it.
The abduction of hundreds of schoolboys from his home state far away from the northeast while he was visiting is a hugely significant show of terroristic force way beyond happenstance like Chibok.
Characteristically, Buhari spent the days after visiting cows on his ranch and not the beleaguered parents. Buhari’s clueless and callous indifference is now the gravest regional security threat. The question now is not “where are the boys?” but “where is the president???”
His government lied that only 10 students were taken while the terrorists confirmed hundreds instead.
It’s deja vu all over again and again and has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory that the same day the International Criminal Court decided to move ahead with prosecuting potential crimes in Nigeria, six years and eight months to the day when terror first came for 300 schoolgirls in Chibok.
They came for the girls, they came for advocates and then they came for the boys. And there was nothing left to be said.
– Ogebe, an international human rights lawyer, is based in Washington