We've been down this road previously on a number of occasions here and here. The name Boko Haram has become synonymous with the worst kinds of humanity since their 2014 abduction of 276 girls from a high school in Chibok, Nigeria. The kidnapping resulted in some serious outrage and even led to an international campaign with its own hashtag -- #BringBackOurGirls.
But, as is often the case in a highly distracted Western world, the campaign increasingly fell out of view and out of mind. This was occurring even as reports were leaking out of the horrible fate of the schoolgirls -- rape, forced labour, isolation, and physical beatings. Yet because it took months for such details to emerge, the initial interest and cries for action eventually died down as the world moved on to its next concern.
But not everyone tuned out. The Obama administration had focused its intelligence and military resources in an effort to locate the girls and attempt an intervention. And quietly, behind the scenes, the Nigerian government diligently worked through its contacts in order to dialogue with Boko Haram leaders and reach a deal about the girls' release.
Suddenly last week great enthusiasm resulted with the release of some 80 of the schoolgirls as a result of negotiations between the government and perpetrators. Add that to the 20 who had managed to escape last year and the number now free amounts to over one-third of the original group kidnapped. The world was right to rejoice at the news.
But troubling realities remain largely unmentioned in the euphoria of last week's celebration. First and foremost, what is the fate of the remainder of the girls whose location still hasn't been ascertained? Their families still fret as to their condition, or even if they remain alive. And in addition to the Chibok girls, hundreds more have been held captive in the northern part of Nigeria by the same group. Little is ever heard of their plight.
And how do we feel knowing that five Boko Haram commanders were released as a means of securing the girls' release. This is a terrorist group we are talking about, not some isolated group of rebels seeking to gain some notoriety. Boko Haram has killed some 20,000 people and displaced 2,000,000 in their eight-year campaign of bloodshed and human rights abuses. Like ISIS, they remain committed to establishing an Islamic caliphate and are willing to use terror tactics to achieve that end.
So, despite the remarkable release of the schoolgirls last week, the situation on the ground has changed little. This can only mean that further abductions, killings and displacements will continue to threaten the average Nigerian family. Yet is the world, or even Donald Trump, as his predecessor did, willing to put together the kind of resources necessary in order to protect an innocent population from ongoing injustices? Sadly, that answer, at least for the moment, is no.
As an increasing number of governments, like the Trudeau administration in Canada, place pronounced emphasis on the fate of women and girls in their global foreign aid and development commitments, such efforts will forever remain stained by the presence in Nigeria of hundreds of women and girls who have endured the worst of treatment by the worst of humanity with little international coordinated effort to rescue them. This is our modern world in all its complexity, and it says something about intergovernmental lack of capacity to collaborate and of the inability of citizens to retain their outrage and activism for long enough to bring an end to the outrage.
Famed advertising pioneer and guru, William Bernbach, understood well enough our penchant to get tired of things quickly. "In communications, familiarity breeds apathy," he said in a speech one day, and modern events continue to bear out his observation. Could this reality underlie the reason why more isn't being done for the women and girls held in Nigerian captivity? Have we grown so used to the story that it no longer arouses us to action? If so, then the fate of the Chibok schoolgirls hinges just as much on the indifference of the West as the inhumanity of Boko Haram.
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