Home NEWS What Chibok Girls Are Going Through Is Unimaginable, Says Ambassador Power

What Chibok Girls Are Going Through Is Unimaginable, Says Ambassador Power

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 17:  Samantha Power, the nominee to be the U.S. representative to the United Nations, testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee July 17, 2013 in Washington, DC. Power has received broad bipartisan support for her nomination.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Samantha Power has said that it is unimaginable what the over 200 female students of the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok in Borno state are going through now in the hands of the Boko Haram insurgents who abducted them since April 14 2014.

Ambassador Power, who spoke at a Town Hall Meeting at the American University of Nigeria, Yola, the capital of Adamawa state, asked “how can you tell a young girl who was abducted and forced to choose between marrying a terrorist or being killed. How can you tell her not to be haunted by fear? What she’s going through is unimaginable.”

She said that the job of building inclusive communities, which has to begin as Boko Haram is being defeated, cannot be left to government alone.

“You can build it right here in your community. You are. And this is the challenge I will like to close my remarks with today – you can help prepare, and where necessary, rebuild the fabric of your communities, which have been ripped apart by violence and fear. This fear is understandable.”

Ambassador Power wondered how the young ones who watched helplessly as their villages were being burnt down, and were forced to choose between fighting Boko Haram and being killed, can be told not to be consumed hatred.

“His challenges are so daunting the pains and the scars and the wounds and the trauma so deep. We have seen how such fears can divide communities, who have longed live side by side and worked together like these religious leaders. Consider the town of Michika, in the north of this state, which used to have just a single market day.

“Since the town was liberated from Boko Haram last year, Michika’s residents are so divided that residents now hold two market days – one for Christians on Saturdays and one for Muslims on Sundays. An arrangement that is worse for merchants and worse for consumers.

“Consider the abducted boys and girls who have been freed or have managed to escape, only to find that their own communities can treat them sometimes with suspicion and distrust, or turn the away, calling them anoba, a contagion.

“Those are the kinds of fears you must work together to dispel, by rebuilding inclusive communities from the ground up. That is what the Adamawa Peace Initiative is doing, by bringing together Christian and Muslim leaders in Yola, several of whom are here with us. They provide a living model of inter-faith cooperation. And they defuse tensions when they flare up. It is what your university doing, by welcoming 24 young women from Chibok, who escaped Boko Haram, mentoring them in their studies and showing that they should be embraced. They have so much to offer Nigeria. And having met with some of them, I can’t even imagine what these girls are going to do and the difference they are going to make. They are going be doctors and engineers and accountants. They are going to help change this country.”

The full text of Ambassador Power’s speech is reproduced here:

I want to express my gratitude to the dynamo, who is the American University President, Margee Ensign, not only for hosting today’s town hall, but also, of course, above all, for the work that this university is doing in this community of Yola and beyond, under her leadership. A round of applause for her please.

I think what you all have done here is really a model for how universities, not only in Nigeria but all around the world, can wade into some of the most complex and seemingly intractable challenges facing their communities. It’s also a model for how you shape a rising generation of leaders.

I want to stress, the United States stands with Nigeria, and we will support you, as you defeat Boko Haram. We will also support you as you promote, not only the security, but the dignity and prosperity of people in the region.

And I just like to discuss three more steps that I think we need to take together, three more ingredients that are key to ending the scourge of Boko Haram.

First, we need a humanitarian response that is commensurate with the scale of the current crisis. You all know the numbers, you live the numbers. The violence has killed thousands and displaced more than 2.5 million people. In Nigeria, it is estimated that more than 90 percent of those displaced by Boko Haram are living with relatives and friends. Think about that. It is hard to imagine a greater testament to the heart of the Nigerian people, to the generosity of the Nigerian people, the fact that so many have opened their homes to those who have been uprooted. This is an unusual phenomenon, of having 90 percent of the displaced sheltered by other families.

At the same time, this statistics also shows the ripple effect of the violence and instability wrought by Boko Haram, ripples that are felt way beyond the communities that are directly affected. And you have seen it here in Yola, where, as a result of mass displacement caused by this conflict, the population has doubled. And like so many Nigerians, your university community has stepped up in heroic ways. Working together with local religious leaders, the University has provided food and other basic supplies for thousands of people. At one point, a University security guard, KamainThumba, was hosting some 50 members of his extended family. Now if you all see Kamain around, you give him a high five for me, because that is extraordinary.

Students, including some in the audience today, began volunteering in the Malkohi camp, which I visited earlier today. One group of volunteers help set up a virtual network, to help displaced people find their loved ones who had fled to other parts of the country. Some of these volunteers were in Malkohi on September 11, 2015 when a Boko Haram bombing there killed seven people and wounded many more, including several students of this very university. It speaks to the courage and the compassion of AUN students that so many of you continue to volunteer in this camp, to this very day.

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The second way we have to supplement the military response to Boko Haram is by tackling the long standing poverty and inequality that existed long before this terrorist group emerged. The North-East has the highest infant mortality rate in the country, with one death every ten births. The male literacy rate is 18 percent, the female literacy rate is 15 percent. It is for that reason that the U.S. Government is supporting projects like Technology Enhanced Learning for All (TELA), here in Adamawa state. As some of you know, the TELA program aims to teach kids who are displaced or orphaned, homeless, or otherwise unable to go to school. It aims to teach them basic literacy and numeracy, primarily using radio broadcasts. The project has trained 750 facilitators from around the state, each of whom was given a radio, a set of workbooks and other school supplies. Twice a week, the facilitators convene kids in their communities to hear a short radio broadcast, following along in their workbooks, as they listen. Your university has been central to this. TELA’s 750 facilitators were trained right here, on your campus, and its curriculum was developed by a team led by today’s moderator, Dr. Jacob. When, recently, a facilitator couldn’t make it to host a class, the kids in his neighborhood went house to house, until they found someone who would lend them a radio. And when the kids couldn’t get a clear signal with that radio, they made an antenna out of a coat hanger. That is how hungry children are in your community to learn. And it is an inspiration for all of us who get to engage with you and witness this. It’s amazing.

This brings me to third ingredients, in confronting the threat posed by Boko Haram, and that is building the inclusive, accountable and rights-respecting institutions that would improve the foundation for good governance and economic growth. This is the long game in countering violent extremism, one that will require tackling what President Buhari has called “The biggest monster of all”. You know what that is – corruption. It would also require embracing the vibrant civil society groups in the region, and recognizing that their criticisms, while difficult to hear, are stronger. And it will require knocking down the enduring barriers to opportunities faced by women and girls. Because, as we know, society where women enjoy equal rights and equal opportunities are, on average, more prosperous, healthier, more democratic and more peaceful.

The job of building inclusive communities cannot be left to government alone. You can build it right here in your community. You are. And this is the challenge I will like to close my remarks with today – you can help prepare, and where necessary, rebuild the fabric of your communities, which have been ripped apart by violence and fear. This fear is understandable. How can you tell a young girl who was abducted and forced to choose between marrying a terrorist or being killed. How can you tell her not to be haunted by fear? What she’s going through is unimaginable. How can you tell a young boy, who watched helplessly as his village was burnt down, and was forced to choose between fighting Boko Haram and being killed, how can you tell him not to be consumed hatred? His challenges are so daunting the pains and the scars and the wounds and the trauma so deep. We have seen how such fears can divide communities, who have longed live side by side and worked together like these religious leaders. Consider the town of Michika, in the north of this state, which used to have just a single market day. Since the town was liberated from Boko Haram last year, Michika’s residents are so divided that residents now hold two market days – one for Christians on Saturdays and one for Muslims on Sundays. An arrangement that is worse for merchants and worse for consumers.

Consider the abducted boys and girls who have been freed or have managed to escape, only to find that their own communities can treat them sometimes with suspicion and distrust, or turnthe  away, calling them anoba, a contagion.

Those are the kinds of fears you must work together to dispel, by rebuilding inclusive communities from the ground up. That is what the Adamawa Peace Initiative is doing, by bringing together Christian and Muslim leaders in Yola, several of whom are here with us. They provide a living model of inter-faith cooperation. And they defuse tensions when they flare up. It is what your university doing, by welcoming 24 young women from Chibok, who escaped Boko Haram, mentoring them in their studies and showing that they should be embraced. They have so much to offer Nigeria. And having met with some of them, I can’t even imagine what these girls are going to do and the difference they are going to make. They are going be doctors and engineers and accountants. They are going to help change this country.

Every student volunteer you have, who goes out and helps rebuild the communal bonds that Boko Haram has sought to sever, whether it’s by taking in displaced families or coming up with a lesson plan for kids, these volunteers, they are changing the world. They are a critical piece of the fight against Boko Haram. They are doing everything that is Boko Haram’s opposite. And terrorism will be defeated by active kindness, active reconciliation, active trust.

Your communities and your nations are looking to you to take up that work in an unimaginably challenging time. We will be with you always. We will be with you to the very end, and the sky is the limit to the partnership between the American and the Nigerian people. And we will do everything in our power as a government, to support your efforts to put this horrible chapter behind you. [myad]

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