Boko Haram will get a message from Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, as provoked by a visit by Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager with a campaign for education. Malala became internationally known last year after surviving an assassination attack in 2012 in Pakistan by Taliban militants who tried to kill her because of her stance on girls’ education.
A champion for access to education since age 11, she has since become a globally recognized force for the cause. She talks of changing the world with “one child, one teacher, one book and one pen.”
The United Nations has designated July 14 as Malala Day and she marked the occasion with a visit to President Jonathan. Her intent was to pressure him to do everything in his power to free the more than 200 girls who were captured by the militant group Boko Haram on April 14. Her intent is to inspire the “Bring Back Our Girls” movement in Nigeria.
Although her meeting with the Nigerian president provoked him to speak publicly on the matter and speak with the parents of the missing teens, her visit also coincided with the release of a Boko Haram video. A statement was issued through that chilling video in which the group announced that release of the girls would come only when the Nigerian government also freed Boko Haram fighters from prison.
In the video, the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, took responsibility for bombings in two Nigerian cities last month, and sent greetings to Al Qaeda and other prominent terrorist leaders in Afghanistan, Algeria, Pakistan and Yemen. Surrounded by his men, Shekau posed with military vehicles. Then, he fired an AK-47 rifle into the air.
Shekau also thanked his “dear brethren,” whom he said “are true believers and not those who practice democracy … or believe in constitutions … or Western education.” Boko Haram means “Western education is a sin,” is deeply opposed to ways of Western culture, and has the mission of fighting an insurgency that seeks to create an Islamic caliphate in Nigeria.
On the date of her 17th birthday, July 14, her wish is to see her [spiritual] sisters continue their education, and that every child worldwide has the opportunity to go to school. Globally, barriers that adolescent girls face in pursuing education through secondary school include gender violence, child labor, early marriage, human trafficking, natural disasters, violent conflict, and insufficient access to healthcare.
Girls need mentoring and safe places to become educated about their right to safety and security. Support is also needed to break cycles of violence in homes and communities. Malala cites the more than 66 million girls who are out of school worldwide.
She refers to child brides in her native Pakistan as a source for lack of girls’ education. She reflects on the senseless violence against girls, in India and elsewhere. In her words, “no student … should ever be a target of … violence” and she encourages the laying down of weapons everywhere. She talks about the responsibility inherent in each person to uphold justice and freedom for all children.
For Malala, as other advocates of education say, schooling is what prevents girls from being trapped in a cycle of poverty, violence and fear, and allows them to have a chance for a better future. Groups that share this belief include the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) team, the UNICEF Girls Summit, the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), the National Coalition for Women & Girls in Education (NCWGE), and the grassroots organizations Girl Rising (10×10), Educate Girls, and Let Girls Lead.
At Malala’s visit with President Jonathan, he expressed regret about the girls’ fate and expressed his feeling of solidarity with the families who lost their daughters from Chibok, when the girls were taken from their school. Jonathan also promised to award educational scholarships to the girls upon their release.
In recent weeks, Nigerian officials have given the sense that there is progress in planning a rescue of the missing girls. However, according to public statements by President Jonathan, negotiating with Boko Haram is not part of these plans. Additionally, a rescue operation would mean many people would be killed. Negotiations are still very much behind-the-scenes.
It is unclear what will happen in terms of the girls’ release. And, it is not known whether Malala’s visit will indeed provoke the Nigerian president into action sufficiently to release the girls in bondage with Boko Haram. However, the impact of Malala’s visit and her words will resound around the world.
Opinion by Fern Remedi-Brown