Africa

Letter from Africa: Acting up over Chibok's girls

  • 13 August 2014
  • From the section Africa
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A scene from the play
Image caption A performance about the girls being held hostage in Nigeria has touched the hearts of many people

In our series of letters from African journalists, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani looks at cultural efforts in Nigeria to remember the schoolgirls abducted by Islamist militants.

When more than 200 girls were kidnapped from their school in Chibok, Nigeria, in April, there was the strong possibility that "Amnesia Nigeriana" would soon kick in - by which I mean the tendency of Nigerians to blank out national trauma and move on with our lives as if nothing happened.

But the Bring Back Our Girls campaign ensured that this national defence mechanism against the on-going carnage did not kick in. Nigerians were not allowed to forget.

Beyond the well-publicised efforts of the Bring Back Our Girls group, some other Nigerians are determined to keep the missing schoolgirls alive in the national consciousness, especially in the minds of our country's children.

School prayers

On a recent visit to Ibadan in Oyo state in south-west Nigeria, I was startled when my friend's 11-year-old son, Akindeji Adesokan, told me that he "knew" one of the missing Chibok girls.

"Her name is Asabe Ali," he said.

Image caption Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau is depicted as demonic
Image caption In this scene, he recruits a young man into the militant group
Image caption Boko Haram's raids on villages and towns are re-enacted

Akindeji attends the American Christian Academy (ACA), Ibadan, where a cardboard sheet with the names of all the known missing girls is posted on the wall of the school's music room.

Interested students were encouraged to inscribe their names beside that of one missing girl, and then commit to praying for the safety of that particular girl daily.

"Many of the other names were already taken," Akindeji said.

At The Vale College, a private secondary school in Ibadan, a countdown of the number of days since the girls went missing is taken every morning during the school's assembly.

In addition, Funso Adegbola, its director and founder, said the school makes announcements when there is any new information about the missing girls.

"We also partner with others involved in the Bring Back Our Girls campaign," Mrs Adegbola added, "whether it's in walks or attendance at lectures or other forms of support."

Image caption Martha Mark's life has been turned upside down since her daughter Monica's abduction

With this kind of interest being kindled in young people, I was not surprised to see the Trenchard Hall of the University of Ibadan packed with students from different schools on the morning of the 100th day of the kidnapping of the Chibok girls.

We had all gathered to watch a drama production about a teenage girl, in a northern Nigeria society which discourages the education of girls, who convinces her parents to send her to school - with fatal consequences.

Giggles

Titled Missing, this re-enactment of the horrific events that spurned the global Bring Back Our Girls campaign was a production of the Kulturematrix Theatre.

In collaboration with the university's theatre arts department it has staged a number of plays targeted at children.

Image caption The play hopes to promote religious unity in Nigeria
Image caption Dancers provided light relief
Image caption An actor who played the role of a Muslim cleric denounced the abductions as un-Islamic

The writer and producer, Oyinda Ige, told me that her aim was to help young people in Ibadan better understand the incidents in their country's faraway north-east.

Energetic traditional dances, colourful costumes and comic relief kept the audience captivated right from the beginning of Missing.

Even the demonic glares and bombastic rants of the actor who played Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau elicited giggles.

But then came the scene where a classroom of girls was, in the middle of an English lesson, stormed by militants; closely followed by a scene of the abducted girls being bullied and brutalised.

I wiped tears from my eyes and glanced at the audience around me.

Those eyes that were not wet were drenched in horror. Many clutched their faces with their hands.

Messages from the Koran

Monife Ayoade, a nine-year-old pupil of the Ibadan International School (IIS), told me at the end of the play: "This just shows that there are wicked people in this world."

Image caption School children have flocked to see the play, titled Missing
Image caption Nine-year-old Monife Ayoade said the play showed there were "wicked people" in the world

At intermissions in Missing, an actor dressed as an imam addressed the audience from relevant portions of the Koran, in an attempt to make it clear that Islam encourages the education of women and forbids the abduction of girls.

Mrs Ige said that she wanted the play to convey a message of religious unity and peace.

Her Muslim friend's daughter was recently called "Boko Haram" by the girl's classmates in a Lagos private secondary school, when they saw the girl covering her head with a scarf.

"It's dangerous for Nigeria's future if our children grow up thinking that everything Muslim is Boko Haram," Mrs Ige, a Christian, said.

Following the success of the Ibadan showing, Mrs Ige now intends to take the play to different cities around Nigeria.

"Lagos is next," she said.

Hopefully, all this remembering will soon be interrupted by some good news: The rescue of the missing Chibok girls.

Who are Boko Haram?

Image caption Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has been designated a terrorist by the US government
  • Founded in 2002
  • Initially focused on opposing Western education - Boko Haram means "Western education is forbidden" in the Hausa language
  • Launched military operations in 2009 to create an Islamic state
  • Thousands killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria - but also attacks on police and UN headquarters in capital, Abuja
  • Some three million people affected
  • Declared terrorist group by US in 2013

Who are Boko Haram?

Profile: Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau

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