200 girls are miss­ing in Nigeria – so why doesn’t any­body care?

Daily Trust - - NEWS - By Anne Perkins, Guardian UK

Un­like the Se­wol tragedy, the fate of these school­child­ren has gone un­re­ported, van­ished into a dan­ger­ous world Where are they? Ev­ery morn­ing for a week the news has been dom­i­nated by the South Korean ferry tragedy. The ter­ri­ble grief of the par­ents, the shock­ing re­sponse of the crew to the un­fold­ing dis­as­ter, and the in­ex­orably ris­ing body count.

Two days be­fore the South Korean stu­dents boarded their ferry for a study trip to the nearby is­land of Jeju, ter­ror­ists broke into a girls’ school in Chi­bok, in the re­mote state of Borno, in north-east­ern Nigeria. They shot guards and ab­ducted about 200 stu­dents, who were loaded into trucks and, it seems, taken off into the for­est. Two groups of the girls, per­haps 30 in all, man­aged to es­cape. The rest have sim­ply dis­ap­peared.

No one has ad­mit­ted car­ry­ing out the mass kid­nap­ping, al­though it is as­sumed to be the work of Boko Haram, the al-Qaida-linked ji­hadi group. Amnesty In­ter­na­tional says 1,500 people have been killed this year in the con­flict be­tween Boko Haram and Nige­rian se­cu­rity forces, more than half of them civil­ians. The lat­est bomb­ing by the group was in Abuja, on the same day the girls were ab­ducted, in which at least 70 people died.

The fate of the Nige­rian girls, who had been re­called to class in or­der to sit a physics exam, when all the other schools in the area were closed by se­cu­rity fears, has not been en­tirely ig­nored by the world’s me­dia. But it has been overwhelmed by the story of the sink­ing of the Se­wol.

Some of the rea­sons for that are ob­vi­ous. The South Korean story has un­folded on cam­era, in a first-world coun­try with ev­ery fa­cil­ity for news reporting. In con­trast, the young Nige­ri­ans have van­ished into the dark­ness of a dan­ger­ous world.

Nigeria is com­plex and messy and un­fa­mil­iar. It is easy to feel that what hap­pens there is not real in the way that what hap­pens on cam­era in South Korea is real. Watch­ing the im­ages of the al­most mad grief of the par­ents, ready to plunge into the wa­ter them­selves to find their sons and daugh­ters, is like an aw­ful re­al­i­sa­tion of one’s own worst imag­in­ings.

There is no such vivid ex­pres­sion of suf­fer­ing from Borno, only the grainy im­ages sent on poor satel­lite links show­ing the fa­mil­iar dev­as­ta­tion of catas­tro­phe that could come from any of count­less news re­ports. Yes­ter­day, a group of par­ents pooled re­sources to buy fuel and set off on their mo­tor­bikes into the for­est where the se­cu­rity forces dared not go in a last de­spair­ing ef­fort to save their daugh­ters – only to have to turn back as night fell.

No one knows what will be­fall these young women. In Fe­bru­ary, Boko Haram – whose found­ing pur­pose is to de­feat the in­flu­ence of western ed­u­ca­tion – mur­dered 59 stu­dents. Teach­ers, schools and chil­dren are in the front line.

In Abuja, politi­cians talk of a decade-long war of con­tain­ment against ji­had to come. But al­ready its ob­jec­tive of peace is be­ing un­der­mined by re­ports of ex­tra-ju­di­cial killings by the mil­i­tary. The in­se­cu­rity ex­ac­er­bates the poverty and holds back de­vel­op­ment.

Like the tragedy in South Korea, the cri­sis in Borno is not some ran­dom act of God. It is hu­man made. Yet the loss of the Se­wol may re­sult, along with ret­ri­bu­tion against all of those re­spon­si­ble, in higher stan­dards of sea­man­ship and im­prove­ments in ship de­sign. Fu­ture lives will be saved. The Seoul govern­ment will never again risk be­ing ex­posed to the hu­mil­i­a­tion of its fail­ure to pro­tect its own young people.

It is much less likely that lessons will be learned from the ab­duc­tion of the young Nige­rian women from their school. The govern­ment in Abuja will ship in more soldiers.The west may con­trib­ute, as Tony Blair be­lieves is nec­es­sary. Maybe in the end some kind of se­cu­rity will be achieved.

But in this north­ern prov­ince there is an an­cient legacy of Is­lamic rule – and high civil­i­sa­tion – that long pre­dates Bri­tish im­pe­ri­al­ism. Many, many in­no­cent people will die first. There is scant in­ter­est in nuance, no se­ri­ous de­bate about what the rest of the world could do to help. That is the real cost of global inat­ten­tion.

PHOTO Haruna Umar/AP

Soldiers stand guard in front of the school in Chi­bok, Nigeria, where 200 stu­dents were ab­ducted last week. Most of them are still miss­ing.

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