I found the reaction of pretty much all the listeners to the show this morning instructive: unalloyed support for the army’s actions, and that speaks to how socially conservative but also hypocritical we are. Nigerians consider abortion a cardinal sin, yet we support it against people we consider “enemies”.
Having said that, I’m torn about this.
Like too many war stories, this one is full of so many parts, many of which are not clear-cut. Towards the end of the long read, in the section called “For the good of society”, there is something someone said: people would keep insisting, “‘He is a terrorist, he is a terrorist.’ There is power in words. They tend to bounce back on the child.”
I agree with that because I have sat in on an interview with a girl who Boko Haram kidnapped, raped many times, came back pregnant, was ostracised by her family and community, and abandoned. Because of that, she began to yearn for the man who raped her. At least he treated her with some kindness. “Unfortunately”, he is dead.
Now let us try and imagine this girl’s future. And the child’s future, given that the only society they know doesn’t want to accept them. For how long would the charity that she was in (which is where the interview I was privy to occurred) keep her? This is how we build vicious cycles rather than break the wheel.
As a society, we don’t seem to understand that it is our fault that what happened to this girl happened. Through no fault of her own, but rather through society’s failures which led to the start of the insurgency, and more failures which led to her being kidnapped, raped repeatedly, and then saddled with a child before she was ready to raise one, her life’s trajectory has been permanently altered. Yet we blame her. That’s wicked.
Nigerian military leaders denied the programme has ever existed and said Reuters reporting was part of a foreign effort to undermine the country’s fight against the insurgents.
This is a big deal for me. Why do we always go defensive? What does Reuters have to gain by undermining Nigeria’s fight against insurgents? We have one of the women who was raped, Bintu Ibrahim, stating very clearly that she would have liked to keep her baby. We have another, Fati, who implied that she didn’t want the baby. These women and girls first needed rehabilitation, counselling and therapy, not something traumatic to add to their already traumatised lives.
However, further down in the Reuters story, it was pointed out that some girls were given the choice, although Reuters quickly pointed out that it could not determine how many were.
Once again, personally, I am torn about the programme. A part of me supports it, especially because I have first-hand knowledge of the stigma some of these girls go through when they emerge from captivity with babies. Still, a part of me is filled with revulsion about how the programme was conducted. It could have been done much better.
On another, unrelated, note, I am impressed that a Nigerian organisation ran a clandestine programme for ten years without it leaking and that records were kept. It speaks to a latent organisational capacity that exists. We need to tap into that for the good of the larger society.