Letter from Africa: Should Nigerians shout louder?

A woman attends a demonstration in Lagos, Nigeria, calling on the government to increase efforts to rescue kidnapped girls (5 May 2014)

In our series of letters from African journalists, Ghanaian writer Elizabeth Ohene argues that the public's response to the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria on 14 April could be louder.

I cannot remember the last time I felt this sense of complete and total impotence.

Almost 300 school girls are abducted in Nigeria and it seems the only way to demonstrate the sense of outrage I feel is through the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls

I am not in any way trying to demean the efforts of the likes of Michelle Obama and Angelina Jolie on the celebrity front and the millions of other people who have taken to social media to publicise the plight of the girls. But it seems to me to be such a pathetically feeble protest.

A screen grab taken on 12 May 2014 from a video released by Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram shows its leader Abubakar Shekau Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau says his men are holding the children
A woman attends a demonstration in Lagos, Nigeria, calling on the government to increase efforts to rescue more than 200  kidnapped girls (5 May 2014) Protests have taken place around the world to demand their release

Here am I in Ghana's capital, Accra, in a country that sees itself as having a special relationship with Nigeria and I cannot begin to comprehend anything about the entire tragedy.

Pristine forests?

Start Quote

Elizabeth Ohene

I recall the energy, the anger, the noise level that engulfed Nigeria when President Jonathan wanted to remove subsidies on petroleum products”

End Quote Elizabeth Ohene

I cannot understand how come there has not been a specific figure on the number of children who have been abducted by Boko Haram, the militant Islamist group; the figure has ranged from 129 to about 200 to 276 and I am thoroughly ashamed to have to say "about 300".

Am I to understand that there still exists in Nigeria such pristine dense forest in which you can hide 200 girls?

That surely must be the only good part of this entire sorry story. Thanks to illegal mining all our forests in Ghana are gone.

I cannot understand how it came about that four days after the girls were abducted, military spokesman Maj-Gen Chris Olukolade announced that most of the girls had been rescued. It is not enough that this statement was later retracted.

Military spokesmen simply do not make such statements without any basis.

I cannot understand why it took two weeks before President Goodluck Jonathan told his compatriots what the government was doing about the matter.

People stand on a bus past a bonfire set up on Ikorodu Road, Lagos There was far more anger during fuel subsidy protests in Nigeria

I cannot understand how come it has been so difficult for the correct narrative to emerge; imagine my surprise to now discover that the school in Chibok from where the children were abducted is not a girls school as had been reported for weeks but a mixed school and the boys are not boarders.

Boko Haram

A screengrab taken from a video released on You Tube in April 2012, apparently showing Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau (centre) sitting flanked by militants
  • Founded in 2002, name means "Western education is forbidden" in the Hausa language
  • Launched violent struggle in 2009, ostensibly to create Islamic state
  • Thousands killed, three million affected, mostly in north-east
  • Declared terrorist group by US in 2013

Over here in Ghana the story has been treated in the media as "and now for the foreign news section". It has not made the lead story on any of our radio stations or newspapers.

Three weeks after the event and after the US and UK entered the attempt to find the girls, our President John Dramani Mahama, who happens to be the current chairman of the West African regional body, Ecowas, announced he had written to Mr Jonathan and is calling a meeting of regional heads of security.

I have thought about going to stand in front of the Nigerian High Commission here in Accra with a placard; I have thought about taking the plane to Abuja and joining in the demonstrations being staged by the parents but it all seems so pathetically feeble.

I recall the energy, the anger, the noise level that engulfed Nigeria when President Jonathan wanted to remove subsidies on petroleum products in 2012.

The entire country stood up as one, the people screamed, argued, blocked roads, nobody left the fight for a colleague to take on and no organization was expected to lead the fight, every Nigerian felt personally challenged and together they made the government retreat.

I cannot feel a similar sense of united anger and determination to overcome.

But my own position is particularly pathetic as I cannot even tweet hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, for I am not on Twitter and Facebook.

If you would like to comment on Elizabeth Ohene's column, please do so below.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    A full scale military effort backed by many countries should hunt down and kill these barbarians and similar others..

    Islam has been trying for generations to spread its medieval belief system from north Africa towards the south.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Not only should the cry for the release of the 200 plus abducted school girls have been louder, the cry should not stop until all the girls are safely released. Thanks to social media for drawing the world's attention to this crime & to Nigerians for taking to the streets to pressure Nigerian government to action. Including accepting international assistance to fight Boko Haram- terrorist group.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    This is laughable if put into context. Help being sent to find 200-300 girls meanwhile no such help from other countries as civil war rages in Syria and S.Sudan and ethnic cleansing is happening in CAR yet abduction graps the headlines. Also intrigued about China helping so how long before it is China starts sending boots to help. Could we maybe start getting involved in serious issues first.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    "Should Nigerians shout louder?"

    Shouldn't they shout the same amount as they would if it had been boys abducted or are girls more important now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    The campaign on social media and by politicians around the world to say to bring back the girls is ludicrous. The politicians are acting for their own benefit. The Nigerian government knows who has taken the girls and probably even knows their location. It simply has to go and bring them back but that would take courage and planning which seems far beyond its competence.


Comments 5 of 11


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