Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, on Thursday, warned against the use of force against the #BringBackOurGirls campaigners, saying that the group should be given their space to protest.
He also noted that protests by the group could not be too much as long as the Chibok girls remained Boko Haram captives.
Soyinka said this at a symposium to start the 20th anniversary programme of Halifield Schools, Maryland, Lagos.
The social commentator, who delivered the keynote address, added that peaceful demonstration was a democratic right which could not constitute threats to national security and public order.
The Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, had on Wednesday, warned the BBOG campaigners against continuing with their street processions, which he said constituted a security threat to public peace and order.
He stated that the police “will not sit on the fence and watch such a scenario unfold.”
But Soyinka, while reacting to the IG’s comments at the occasion, noted that it would be dangerous to forget the missing Chibok girls, saying that it could boost their morale and teach pupils in the country the need to stand up for their rights.
‘‘I saw a report in a national daily that demonstrations on behalf of the Chibok girls pose a threat to national security and I thought, not again. My mind flew back immediately to another governor under whose democratic leadership, parents were tear-gassed for demonstrating peacefully about losing their children in a plane crash in Port Harcourt.
“Democracy is not just about campaigning. It is exercising human rights. It is about helping to build the society. Demonstrations cannot be too much as long as those girls are missing. Demonstrations are an act of solidarity. Wherever they are today, when their mothers demonstrate on their behalf, their morale is raised.
“That is my message to security operatives who get scared of those who are agitating for a cause and fire tear gas at them. They must be treated with utmost respect and must be given their space. It is an act of solidarity for the children. Otherwise, when you stop these demonstrations, you are saying forget about the children,’’ he said.
Soyinka, who also urged the Federal Government and its agencies to speak with one voice, said Nigerians should express solidarity with the missing girls and their families.
“We have important things like reviving the economy, and fighting corruption, among others, to worry about. Yes, those things are important but ultimately, the society is for humanity and when one of us is hurt, we must allow ourselves to protest.
“I hope we don’t get the negative effects when they bring back our girls. And when we talk about democracy to our children, it is to teach them their rights. Therefore, there has to be greater coherence from the government and its agencies. We don’t have to know one single individual among the girls. We should demonstrate democratic responsibility. Let us continue to recognise solidarity with these girls and one day, they will come back or we will get to know what has become of them,” he said.
In her address, the Director of Halifield Schools, Halima Oke, said the school was celebrating its 20 years of existence because “we have worked hard to raise the next generation of Nigerians.’’
She also urged the government to consider passing a law on the number of children a family should have.
“It is time for our government to legislate on the number of children a family should have? If people are allowed to have children indiscriminately, my belief is that Nigerians will face excruciating hardship, never imagined, very soon. It is time for citizens, particularly our brothers and sisters in villages, to be schooled by government on the benefits of a small family that can be catered for by the parents, without going cap-in-hand to beg for handouts from struggling citizens,” she said.
Meanwhile, female riot police operatives in full combat gear on Thursday took over the Unity Fountain, Abuja, the meeting point of the #BringBackOurGirls coalition, for some hours before vacating the park shortly before the group members arrived for their daily sit-outs.
The police women, who were drawn from the Police Mobile Force Squadron 45, Force headquarters, Abuja, were seen conducting a parade for several hours before they left the park around 4.35pm.
One of our correspondents, who was at the park, observed the personnel standing in formation and receiving instructions from their commander, identified as Inspector Mercy.
It could not be ascertained if their presence at the park was to warn or intimidate the Chibok girls’ campaigners.
In a related development, some British lawmakers in the House of Commons held a meeting that lasted for two hours and 34 minutes, at Westminster Hall on Thursday, to discuss the issue of the more than 200 Chibok schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram in Borno State.
The lawmakers stated that the case of the missing girls would be considered again at the United Nations General Assembly.
In a meeting held on Thursday afternoon, various British lawmakers called on the global community to rise in defence of the missing pupils, who were kidnapped from their hostel on April 14, 2014.
During the meeting which involved consideration of the “Second Report from the International Development Committee, Session 2016-17,” of the UK’s Department for International Development in Nigeria, the lawmakers expressed regrets that the girls had not been rescued despite military efforts by Nigeria and its Lake Chad Basin neighbours.
During his inaugural speech, President Muhammadu Buhari had said he would redouble efforts to find the girls, adding that the country would not have “defeated Boko Haram without rescuing the Chibok girls.”
According to one of the lawmakers, Helen Grant, time is running out to save the girls.
She said, “I stand in this great hall as a mother, a daughter, a sister and a politician. I can actually still hear the chants of those Nigerian women (BringBackOurGirls Campaigners) at Unity Fountain (in Abuja). I can still hear them saying, ‘Bring back our girls now and alive. Bring them back now,’ over and over again. Rarely have I witnessed such strength and determination.
“We need governments and agencies around the world to share credible intelligence and all the latest eye-in-the-sky technologies to find these girls and to bring them back home. Time is running out. Every single day, there is more suffering. Decisive action is needed now, and terrorism cannot be allowed to succeed.”
Another lawmaker, Stephen Twigg, stated, “We send out from Westminster Hall this afternoon (Thursday) this message – that we want, as our badges say, to bring back our girls now. I look forward to a future debate in this Chamber or the House, where we can celebrate the return, and the reuniting with their families, of those girls who are still alive.”
Similarly, a member of the British parliament, Meg Hillier, who visited Nigeria this year said he “heard that perpetrators of sexual offences against young girls were getting off with a fine less than the price of a UK parking ticket because the shame on the family of having a prosecution and evidence that their daughter had been sexually molested was too great.”
Also speaking was a Conservative lawmaker, Tobias Ellwood, who noted that the UK had not done enough to assist Nigeria in resolving the Boko Haram insurgency.
“Clearly, we will not defeat Boko Haram militarily. What we have done is not enough. Boko Haram will simply reform and recruit if something better is not put in place. There needs to be economic development and civilian-led security so that people genuinely feel safe,” Ellwood said.
Dr. Lisa Cameron, another lawmaker, said, “Meeting with the Bring Back Our Girls campaigners in Abuja was one of those moments in life that grounds you. They have been campaigning for the return of the Chibok girls for more than two years and have pledged to keep the girls’ memory alive outside Parliament until they return.”