In the Face of New Violence, Nigerians Are Hopeful That Their Missing Girls Will Return

Activist Lantana Abdullahi, testifying before Congress, says that Nigerian communities need to be better prepared for the abducted girls’ return.

Lantana Abdullahi testifies before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs May 15, 2014, in Washington, D.C.
Lantana Abdullahi testifies before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs May 15, 2014, in Washington, D.C. Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D.

At the end of it all, I think what we tried to do was give them a voice that they can hopefully use when they go back to their community to improve their communication, confidence level and so on.

TR: What happens when the girls in the program get back to their communities?

LA: When they went back to their community, each young girl was paired with a Muslim or Christian to create an activity that they can do in their communities that examines the nature of their various communities. When they returned home, we saw how they were able to raise up their voices to talk to their leaders directly, which of course ordinarily you would have never seen happen.

TR: What’s the feeling, the sentiment, like there? Since you know that some of the kidnapped girls have been killed or injured, do people really believe that the girls are going to come home?

LA: People are generally optimistic that these girls will come back. The #BringBackOurGirls movement has tried to sustain hope nationwide. We are still seeing rallies going on in many areas, just to keep hope alive. We are very troubled by the video they actually released not too long ago, which featured some of the abducted girls who were actually converted to Islam.

This video is raising a lot of dust in the country, particularly from Muslim communities and leaders and even other countries who have acknowledged that it is illegal and un-Islamic to forcefully convert people to Islam. We’ve identified some of the girls in the video, which gives us hope that they are alive, despite the circumstances.

TR: Let’s be optimistic and say that the abducted girls do make it back. What resources are in place to help them recover from their trauma and to get acclimated back into society?

LA: Our system here is not well prepared to deal with their return. To this day, there have been no measures put in place, which causes us great fear. We want to see nonmilitary support to deal with the post-abduction stage in these areas. We need to think beyond immediate needs, and supporters need to think beyond just military action.

TR: What are your specific concerns about the girls once they return?

LA: Due to the social and cultural climate, the girls may be discriminated against or stigmatized. They may have been violated sexually, which is a taboo in the context that they come from. We want to start thinking about preparing the communities to accept and integrate these girls back into the society, which for now I don’t see anything happening in that regard.