Rescued kidnap victims: It’s not all good news
Nigerians know better than to take news at face value. Nothing is straightforward; like those Magic Eye paintings (3D images) that were so popular in the 1990s, it’s only very few people who find that the longer you look, the clearer the picture becomes. No news can be taken straight; little news is agenda free; all news is untrustworthy.
So when the international media sees what it thinks is an unequivocal good news story coming from Nigeria, that’s not to say we’re sitting here in Nigeria taking it for granted that what the BBC, Sky News or CNN is saying is the whole story, the right story or even a story at all.
Take this week just gone: the Nigerian Army rescued 293 women and girls from Sambisa Forest, which has been a hideout for Islamist militants Boko Haram over the past year or so.
Now, if people outside Nigeria know of one news story from here in the past year or so, it’s Bring Back Our Girls, thanks to the audacity of the crime and no small amount of hashtag activism. It was easy to think rescued women + #BBOG = the schoolgirls taken from Chibok just over a year ago were finally on their way home.
In Nigeria, the response was more nuanced and more complicated.
The f i rst thing to know is that we’ve been here before: hopes raised, hopes stoked, hopes dashed. Just six months ago the Nigerian government announced a Boko Haram ceasef ire and the imminent return of the children from Chibok. Less than 24 hours later Boko Haram had killed yet more people in Borno State on their way through three more villages. To this day no one can really explain what happened: was it a mistake, a l ie, a sick joke? So this time around, while international media trumpets the good news, those of us in Nigeria temper expectations. We’re happy, but we don’t want to overextend ourselves just yet.
The second division between the good news on the surface and the reality is that while others might think that the eventual return of the Chibok girls will represent an end to a sad chapter, Nigerians know Chibok is a prominent case within a years-long campaign of kidnappings that has seen thousands taken from their homes across the Northeast.
When the army conf i rmed that the group rescued last month were not from Chibok, they also confirmed what Nigerians know all too well: that there are many more people missing and just as in need of rescue and return. Amnesty International estimates that 2 000 women and girls have been abducted over the past 18 months during a conflict that has also seen many men and boys taken from their families.
Yes, inroads have been made against Boko Haram. Yes, feeling towards the military has turned more positive. Yes, it is possible that the army is closer to finding the Chibok girls. But Nigeria struggles to celebrate one safe return wholeheartedly without celebrating them all.
This picture released by the Nigerian army on 30 April purportedly shows a member of the Nigerian Army standing next to a group of women and children rescued in an operation against Boko Haram.