Three years ago on April 14, something terrible happened. Something that shocked the world to its core. The unthinkable happened and hundreds of lives were left devastated forever. Under the cover of darkness, 276 girls in Chibok, Nigeria, were kidnapped by armed militants belonging to Boko Haram. Does this sound familiar? Ah, is it all coming flooding back to you now? How we hashtagged the hell out of the sad situation and changed our profile pictures.
#BringBackOurGirls went viral, as they say in the classics, and we were beside ourselves with anger.
Why? Nearly 300 girls, innocent, harmless and defenceless girls, were taken from their families into a life of slavery – or worse.
About 57 girls managed to escape and in dribs and drabs more were released. Six have reportedly died.
Three years is an excruciatingly long time for a mother to be away from her child. There are still 219 girls missing. Three years of wondering, hoping, praying, crying out for answers.
Three years is also a long time for rescue efforts to have failed and for governments to do almost nothing.
Amnesty International has claimed the British Royal Air Force had located the girls, and offered to rescue them, only for the Nigerian government to decline their offer. The reason? Nigeria wanted to solve its own problems. I don’t know how true that is, but the fact remains we have more than 200 girls go missing and nobody seems to care any more.
Gosh, even the #ZumaMustGo marches seem a little distant.
In this new age of hacktivism, we seem to move on quickly, our campaigns seem to flicker in the wind at best and blow out after just a few weeks.
Many of the girls will have been forced into marriage or sold as sex slaves. Almost certainly many have been raped repeatedly.
Social media is incredible for garnering support and orchestrating movement towards a cause. It has proved itself capable of helping overthrow governments – but it lacks consistency. One minute it’s #BringBackOurGirls and the next its #KimKardashian.
I guess that’s the beauty of the internet and the discovery of "content". And perhaps it’s unfair to expect social media to do anything but amplify voices.
Social media aren't really going to solve the world’s problems, even when people like Michelle Obama get involved. Solving our problems requires us to step into the real world after we’ve checked our timelines. Peace and progress require us to engage one another as people and not merely “handles”.
But, seriously, where are our girls and why haven’t they been rescued yet? Are we going to start another campaign or are we to force the authorities' hand by the sheer magnitude of our message in real life?
Activism is an action and should, ideally, involve some sort of sacrifice or display of goodwill. No matter how you spin, it a retweet doesn’t qualify as any of the above.
“The most difficult part of being home is the fear – reliving the trauma of what happened that night. I am always scared and find it difficult to trust people. Initially, I was so afraid of the dark that I found it difficult to sleep. I was afraid something would happen to me if I slept or that I would wake up to realise my freedom would just be a dream.”
These are the actual words of one of the survivors who was returned home, told to an actual person, who made the effort to speak to her.
“My plea to the Nigerian government and world leaders is to intensify efforts, so all my sisters will return home alive. I want them to protect all schools to ensure this does not happen again. I want them to rebuild our schools, homes and villages.
"I want all girls to be able to go safely back to school.”
More words from the same survivor.
Social media has its merits but it cannot replace human endeavour. It is wonderful as a catalyst for change but it does not make us activists.
When we say “Bring Back Our Girls”, we should really mean it. We should believe it is possible and that it must happen. If not, we need to act accordingly and be consistent. Demand accountability and action. Support those organisations who are willing to act.
Some of the girls might never be found. There are reports some of them were taken to neighbouring Chad and Cameroon. Some parents no longer have documentation for their children and so, with every passing day, memories fade along with hope.