• On the 14th of April in 2014, extremist terrorist group, Boko Haram abducted 276 girls from a school in Chibok, Nigeria. Around 57 of those escaped but scores more were left in the hands of the militants. In 2016, 2 days after the International Day of the Girl Child, 21 girls have been released after negotiations brokered by the Swiss government and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Boko Haram handed over 21 missing Chibok schoolgirls to Nigerian authorities on Thursday the 13th of October. The girls were taken to then city of Maiduguri to meet the governor of Borno state. Though the number is still disappointing, it is a minor victory over the victimisation of girls in places of conflict and violence. It is still sweet enough to be celebrated.

    For the African girl, equality is simply freedom

    On Tuesday, offices around the world welcomed young women to the corporate upper echelons usually occupied by men. This was in celebration of the International Day of the Girl Child, a day the girls in Chibok might not even know about yet they are at the centre of the day’s purpose. The major goal of the day is to raise awareness about gender equality and challenges facing girls around the world. The meaning of equality is different for girls in the volatile areas of Africa. At this point, equality is simply being free and being able to go to school like the boys can. Canada’s Status of Women Page reads, "When a girl gets the right start in life, her potential is limitless; when a girl grows up knowing that she can follow her dreams, her dreams get bigger." As much as this is a great message, it is tailored for a western audience which does not have to worry about being safe or freedom. The release of the girls therefore is well-timed top remind the world that the girl child in Africa’s equality is freedom.

    How much is an African girl worth?

    When the girls were abducted from their school in Chibok, there was a world-wide outcry with the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama joining the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. The Nigerian government made promises to get the girls but no real action was seen. It is common cause that Nigeria has some Boko Haram militants it captured and people would have expected that some of these would be released to secure the release of the girls. This may have been playing into the hands of the militants but it was the better option than leaving the girls at the mercy of the terrorists. 

    Speaking after the rescue of one girl who was believed to have been captured by Boko Haram, Africa Arise for Change Network National Coordinator of the group, Nkechi Odoma accused the Goodluck Jonathan administration of trying to sweep the abductions under the rug. She said, “So widespread and effective was the propaganda that many Nigerians were misled into believing that the whole kidnap story was hoax or a plot by the opposition to make trouble for the ruling party. It was this criminal denial that led to sincere efforts being made to liberate the girls when efforts should have been made.” Jonathan might have simply neglected rescuing the girls for political expediency. As sickening as it sounds, the lives of some Africans in particular females are put second to politics, which politics is a game for the men. In the middle of the fight for power by the grey haired men of Nigeria, the Chibok girls’ lives fell on the priority list. At the end of the day, the Jonathan administration and the Boko Haram militants were on the same side: Against the girl child. International Crisis Group, another non-governmental organization also said the reaction to the Chibok kidnapping of former president Jonathan's administration "ranged from indifference and denial to later incompetence and deception."

    Mistakes were made in Nigeria but the return of the 21 gives the whole world some hope. Presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu has said there were no exchanges of militant prisoners for the girls but some officials say the girls were swapped for four insurgents. Whatever the case may be, the take-away is that the African girl has a chance if governments and civil society join hands. Unicef says, “The world’s 1.1 billion girls are part of a large and vibrant generation poised to take on the future. Investing in their health, education and safety, helps them reach for their dreams and shape their lives.” The safety and well-being of the African girl is the key to a prosperous continent. There are no shortcuts and politicians need to be seen to understand this very basic denominator of development.