Bring Back Our Girls: How We Can and Why We Must Support Nigeria

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462738147Think back to 6th grade. We all have at least one moment that sticks out with unusual clarity. For me, it’s walking down the hallway at Rice Elementary School in May after I had just won “coolest hair.”

Yeah, I’ll never live that down.

What I cannot remember (nor could I ever imagine) is someone grabbing me while I was walking down that hallway. I could have never conceived the possibility of an armed man kidnapping my classmates and me for doing something as simple as being in school. Even if that were a remote possibility, at least I would know that such an event would make international news. Governments and law enforcement would not rest until I was safely found.

Then again, I am not a female citizen of a country unfairly perceived to be internationally irrelevant and a lost cause.

This, however, is the frightening reality for far too many schoolgirls in the world. Girls are being punished by religious extremists for doing what makes any American parent unabashedly proud — receiving an education.

Yet in Nigeria, young girls took the risk. They went to their boarding school under the very real threat that something incomprehensible to an American parent might happen to them.

Sadly, it happened. More than 300 girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram – an Islamic terrorist outfit – whose name translates to “Western education is a sin.” Since then, 50 have escaped, reportedly at no credit to their government, and 237 remain in captivity.

Unfortunately for these schoolgirls, their story lacks a 20-some-year-old woman who we are ashamedly attracted to like Amanda Knox or Casey Anthony. They are not a ratings boon that can be dragged out like CNN’s Malaysian Airlines coverage that makes the Iliad seem succinct.

No, these girls are part of a struggle that, if successful, does not give us a leg up on Russia. Thus, national media has largely ignored them.

Yet Africa’s stories are incredibly important for the United States – a nation who owes much of its original economic might to African slave labor. Our European allies, too, were culprits in exploiting African slave labor and resources to build their economic powerhouses, leaving fractured societies behind that continue to struggle finding their footing. The damages our societies historically wreaked on African nations like Nigeria cannot and will not soon be repaid.

Of course, every nation has its bright spots. Nigeria is no exception.

“Strong As Iron”

Temitayo Olufuwa is a 23-year-old entrepreneur in Lagos who founded Jobs In Nigeria to help tackle the nation’s astronomical youth unemployment rate. Despite being the most populous nation in Africa with the largest economy on the continent, recently passing South Africa, a staggering 20-30 million youths remain unemployed.

Olufuwa, however, remains cautiously optimistic, which almost seems surprising considering his own troubling upbringing. His father left his mother and three siblings at the age of six, leaving them in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods of Lagos – Mushin.

“I grew up witnessing gruesome mob lynching, gang fights and ethnic clashes,” Olufuwa writes on his blog. These clashes continue today in a nation split between Muslims and Christians.

For Olufuwa, his childhood made him stronger. Circumstances that would make many western children and families crumble brought out the best in Olufuwa. Talking with him, it comes as no surprise that Jay-Z’s lyric “What didn’t kill me made me strong as iron” resonates strongly with the Nigerian entrepreneur.

Thriving off of his obstacles, Olufuwa managed to gain a place at the prestigious Igbobi College Yaba, one of Nigeria’s oldest colleges and the alma mater of many notable Nigerians. This eventually led to studying software engineering at N.I.I.T. where he met Dele Bakare. Together, they decided to leave their well-paying jobs to build a portal to address Nigeria’s unemployment problem.

When they launched on June 1, 2012 – after months without income and turning down an opportunity at the University of Regina – their hard work finally paid off. Some 15,000 users signed up on the platform in just two months. That number has since exploded to 200,000 thanks to support from The Tony Elumelu Foundation and African Leadership Academy.

Unfortunately, Nigeria’s youth unemployment endemic is too much for one Nigerian to tackle. Olufuwa admits as much, telling me over a recent Skype call “There’s a limit to what we can do.”

Still, he continues with his mission everyday. He deals with police detaining him for talking to the wrong people, counting them up as speed bumps along the way to a better Nigeria. He does it all with class, character and courage – attributes that would be admirable to just about anyone.

Bring Back Our Girls

So what does Olufuwa’s story have to do with kidnapped schoolchildren, incompetent government officials, and a social media campaign demanding the world #BringBackOurGirls?

Olufuwa’s Nigerian story is just one story I found quickly over Twitter that disproves the Western World’s subconscious acceptance that Africa is simply lost. Too often we accept tragedy in Africa because it is the narrative we are taught from an early age.

But who is really lost? Sure, African nations like Nigeria have no shortage of problems (many of which I promise you stretch back to American and European influence). But let’s not forget that Africans are quite capable of acting on their interests.

In fact, South Africans were mobilizing for decades to take back their country. Western powers were the ones to drag their feet in supporting Mandela and their cause for a morally acceptable Rainbow Nation.

Today, we are seeing African action again in the Bring Back Our Girls campaign, drawing hundreds of protesters to the streets against perceived government inaction. These protestors need our attention – the international community at large – in order to effectively pressure their government. Finally we have an opportunity to enact positive change in the world without firing a single bullet or drone.

Yet our media outlets refuse to turn their lens away from American political squabbling for even a moment, lest they miss an opportunity to pull 2016 meaning out of a benign tweet from Hillary Clinton. A handful of Western writers have taken up the cause of the Nigerian schoolchildren and Secretary of State John Kerry has issued his own condemnation of the events that took place.

But we need to do more. We need Nigeria on the front page of every newspaper. We need CNN to give the holograms a rest and turn their attention to Nigeria. For the love of journalism, we need reporters to report the stories of those who have kidnapped.  Because whatever cultural differences that divide the west and Nigeria, we are all nations of parents.

Parenting and education are universally strong values that American and Nigerian parents can relate to. And the moment we make American parents connect with their Nigerian counterparts is the moment this story gets the coverage it deserves.

About Joe Baur

Joe Baur is a freelance writer, filmmaker and satirist with a diverse array of interests including travel, adventure, craft beer, health, urban issues, culture and politics. He ranks his allegiances in the order of Cleveland, the state of Ohio and the Rust Belt, and enjoys a fried egg on a variety of meats. Joe has a B.A. in Mass Communication with a focus on production from Miami University. Follow him at joebaur.com and on Twitter @BaurJoe
Posted in: Civil Rights, Criminal, International, Politics, Society