#BringBackOurGirls – From Earthmoving Trend to Catchy Fad
It started as any other tweet of the zeitgeist. One man giving a status update on the then nascent protests to spur the Nigeria government into activity for the safe return of the over two hundred schoolgirls abducted in Chibok, Borno State. In those early days following the horrible incident, there were so many hashtags of its ilk, but #BringBackOurGirls became the clarion call for anyone who advocated the rapid release of the children. It wasn’t the catchiest of hashtags – it was a bit of a mouthful, really – but it possessed a raw honesty. It encapsulated, in just four words, the general sentiment of the populace; the immeasurable pain of the abductees’ relatives and the youthful vulnerability of the girls.
It was our way of keeping track of all the information about the Chibok girls that we could lay our hands on, our way of collectively recording one large diary of sorts containing all our thoughts, prayers, rants and suggestions. It garnered global attention and we were satisfied to see that with just four words, the world was finally feeling our pain and rallying behind us. Nigerians embraced it as the perfect banner under which all forms of expression over this issue were presented, and before long, the international community latched on. Politicians, celebrities, media personalities and random citizens of different countries alike all uploaded on various social media photos of themselves bearing placards with #BringBackOurGirls emblazoned on them.
But we have now found that this popularity comes with a flipside. Opportunist up-and-comers in all their insensitivity, have decided to ride on the coattails of this unfortunate tragedy. A hashtag, which originally bears all the honest pain and indignation, we feel, as a nation is slowly becoming a mere fad. Popular personalities who don’t, quite frankly, give a flying elephant about Chibok and its inhabitants, are now finding themselves gripping placards bearing the hashtag in front of cameras, with suitably sober and concerned expressions on their faces, because caring about international and especially African issues is the new black. Common citizens who really have nothing to gain but Instagram likes are carrying like placards in their photos, duck lips and peace hand signs in place. Even our local celebrities are determined not to be left out. People who previously kept their mouths shut like they were leaking diamonds, having realized how much publicity there is to be gained, have stormed studios countrywide, #BringBackOurGirls cardboard signs clutched in their fists.
Do these people even realize what is really happening and why? Does the situation bother them at all or are they just getting behind the world trending topic of the week? Are people trying to ensure relevance by associating themselves with what is a genuine nightmare for others?
While we acknowledge and appreciate the solidarity the world has shown on different social media sites, the possibility of a person standing in one place and brandishing a cardboard sign in front of a camera having any significant impact is largely nonexistent. What really happens is that they get the benefit of the optics. Oh, So-and-So is in support of bringing back the girls. Who isn’t? In the practical scheme of things, that brand of support, while appreciated, is rather useless. We need action now more than ever. People who hold any form of influence, instead of taking pretty photos, should rally and raise funds and create opportunities for these girls in the aftermath. We should be busy putting things in place for when these girls return. They will need in-depth counseling; because the sad truth is that these children have been at the mercy of soulless militants for the past month or so. Your guess of what their ordeal has been so far is as good as mine. They will also need to be convinced to continue their education, and they should be provided for in that respect. These and much more are what we need be doing NOW.
We are grateful for the global awareness campaigns. Motives aside, these people have put this story in the spotlight, but we cannot allow the integrity of our struggle to see these girls home safely to be compromised. The hashtag is necessary to keep the story alive and relevant to the world but it should remain that, and not become a photo-op. Anyone who wants to look involved can catch the next bus to Chibok and post photos from there.