Bring Back Our Girls: Advocating for vulnerable groups

Olatawura Ladipo-Ajayi, Abuja Community Manager
Abuja, 25 May 2015

With the increased frequency of terror attacks in northern Nigerian cities like Abuja, lack of political representation has taken on a new dimension for poor and vulnerable residents. Not only are they subject to the challenges that come with poverty and lack of social power, this particular group is now also vulnerable to attacks and captivity. With very little clout to demand change and protection, they are often left to struggle for survival in a helpless state. The plights of such groups were brought to the fore nationally and globally with the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls by a terrorist group in northern Nigeria, Boko Haram. This incident gave rise to the advocacy group Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG), which operates mostly out of Abuja. The organization is the driver behind the national and global voice demanding action on behalf of the group of girls.

The newly formed advocacy group was created to give voice to the plight of the families of the abducted girls, and has spent the past year squarely focused on this mission. They have driven local and international campaigns to call the national government to action. However, despite attention brought to the issues by the group's advocacy efforts, response from national authorities has been questionable and has been criticized by citizens and by the press. This raises the question of how much less responsive the authorities would have been without the group's efforts, and also highlights the impact of the group in pushing for political will. In efforts to sustain the movement, there have been several meetings and marches in various cities throughout Nigeria, starting with Abuja and extending to Lagos and Ibadan. To commemorate one year since the abduction, the group reignited the movement and support for release of the girls through various advocacy activities such as marches, social media advocacy, and media events.

The BBOG group was inspired by a single event and started as a small movement by those affronted, but through the power of advocacy and citizen engagement, has grown into a powerful force. At the end of April 2015, reports surfaced regarding the rescue of over 200 girls and women from the Sambisa Forest, Boko Haram's hideout. Although it is unclear if the abducted schoolgirls are part of this group, the organization's year-long push for the return of the abducted girls fueled both national and international pressure amongst authorities. The result is the military operation that lead to this recent rescue of women and children from the terrorist group's stronghold.

With the existence of advocacy groups such as BBOG, the power of citizen participation is amplified. Furthermore, they bring hope to the voiceless, knowing that others can and will come together to create a platform for their voices to be heard. Finally, the hope is that the movement continues to exist beyond its current focus and that it grows to serve as a beacon of change and a platform for Abuja's vulnerable citizens.

Photo: Michael Fleshman

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