By Melissa Hillebrenner, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Melissa Hillebrenner is the director of the United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up campaign. The views expressed are her own.
Thursday marks 100 days since more than 200 schoolgirls were abducted from their families and community in northeast Nigeria, a reminder of the horrors and hardships many girls face when trying to get an education. It’s difficult for many of us to imagine what it would be like to be taken from a place that is supposed to be safe. Sadly, this situation is not unique to Nigeria.
In too many communities around the world, girls are criticized for going to school or denied their right to education completely. Worldwide, more than 60 million girls of primary and secondary school age are not in school.
I just returned from a trip to Guatemala, where I met Teresa Vivia, an engaging 16 year-old who lives in the town of Santa Maria Chiquimula. Vivia’s parents both passed away, and she lives with her sister-in-law. She wants to go to school, but had to stop going so she could take care of her nephews and the house.
Lack of access to education is just one barrier facing girls like Teresa Vivia. According to data that UNICEF released earlier this week, "more than 700 million women alive today were married as children. More than 1 in 3 – or some 250 million – were married before 15." Many have to drop out of school to manage household chores, are vulnerable to abuse and are often deprived of the information, tools and services to plan their families. This has tragic consequences: Girls who have children as children face higher risks of complications from pregnancy and childbirth. In fact, these complications are a leading cause of death for adolescent girls in low- and middle-income countries.
By Imam Mohamed Magid and Ritu Sharma, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Imam Mohamed Magid is the Executive Religious Director of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) and president of the Islamic Society of North America. Ritu Sharma is co-founder and president of Women Thrive Worldwide and author of the forthcoming book ‘Teach a Woman to Fish: Overcoming Poverty Around the Globe.’ The views expressed are their own.
More than a month has passed since some 300 Nigerian girls were abducted from their boarding school in the dead of night by Boko Haram militants, and the world is still left hoping that somehow, some way, the girls will return home safe.
The attack in Chibok was, unfortunately, just a single recent example of Boko Haram’s ongoing assault on the people of northern Nigeria. Indeed, what we have witnessed over the last several weeks is part of a long running and deadly dance between Nigeria’s largely unresponsive central government and Boko Haram’s relatively small faction of extraordinarily violent men.
But whatever Boko Haram says, the group’s actions do not reflect Islam’s teachings, and Muslim organizations have rightly condemned its terrorist actions. These are militants bent on political and economic gain at the expense of the freedom and dignity of women and girls in Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon – for years, we have seen how poverty and hopelessness can catalyze religious extremism and violence against women.
Fareed speaks with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof about the recent abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria by Boko Haram.
You talk about this in your last book. How do you make sense of – would it be fair to call this Islamic fundamentalism? What is behind this?
You know, I think we have this misperception that the great divide is between different faiths, between Christianity and Islam, for example. And I think actually Eliza [Griswold] was one of the first people I know to really make the point that it's not so much between different faiths – it's between moderates and extremists generally. And, you know, moderate Muslims and moderate Christians have a great deal in common. Extremist Muslims and extremist Christians have in common the willingness to resort to violence, oppression. And that is what we're seeing with Boko Haram.
But this does seem specifically Muslim these days, which is whenever you see these young men, they always have this incredibly brutal attitude towards women. And it does seem like it's across many parts – though, of course, a minority – of the Islamic world.
It's true that if you look at places where women and girls are least likely to get educated, where they're most likely to be oppressed, then those are disproportionately countries with conservative Muslim populations. But they're also places where the culture itself, quite aside from religion, is deeply oppressive of women. I mean, Afghanistan, for example.
And I think that what we're seeing here is, unfortunately, a spiral. So in northern Nigeria, there’s very little education. Women are marginalized, partly for cultural and historic reasons. Often, people cite Islam as the reason. Female literacy in this region is less than 50 percent. And then that leads people to think girls shouldn't get educated... FULL POST
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Fareed speaks with Eliza Griswold, a journalist who spent seven years traveling along the world's Tenth Parallel, which bisects nations including Nigeria, about what motivates Boko Haram.
Part of this is a power struggle. These are armed gangs that are trying to wrest power from the Nigerian government. You look at that guy who claims to have abducted these kids – you don't get the feeling this guy prays five times a day or observes any of the Muslim…I mean this is a thug who is using what is a convenient language of oppression toward women.
Absolutely. Abu Bakr Skikwa, who used to be number two in Boko Haram and is now number one, is really a lunatic. If one were to compare him to somebody else in Africa, we would look at Joseph Kony – the head of the Lord's Resistance Army – who actually, in setting precedent, took a whole school of young girls from their boarding school some years ago in Northern Uganda. Both of them used religion. Kony claims generally to be Catholic.
So it really isn’t as much about Islam as it really is about thuggery, about seizing power, about sex, about taking these young women, really, as sex slaves and cooks to do the things that the militants themselves don’t want to do.
By Orji Uzor Kalu, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Orji Uzor Kalu is a former governor of Nigeria’s Abia State and 2007 presidential candidate. The views expressed are his own.
The announcement last month that Nigeria’s economy had finally surpassed South Africa’s to become the largest in Africa should have been a cause for celebration – a shift that recognized the significant progress this country has made. Sadly, what was to have been a landmark announcement was overshadowed by an all too familiar problem.
On April 14, a bomb ripped through a crowded bus station in Abuja, claiming dozens of lives. The scene was described by some as post-apocalyptic, with body parts strewn across the area. The Islamic militant group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the attack, with one alleged representative issuing a chilling warning that “this was but a minor incident” and that “we [continue to] walk among you, yet you do not know who we are.”
The group didn’t take long to act on its threat. Less than 48 hours later, the group abducted almost 200 girls from their boarding school in the northeast of the country, with gunmen storming the school as they slept. Reports this week suggest many of the girls may since have been sold into marriage.
By Robert P. George, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Robert P. George is the chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The views expressed are his own.
As Nigeria considers its future following this week’s celebration of its 53rd anniversary of independence, its leaders must confront a real and perhaps growing threat to the nation’s stability – Boko Haram. The radical Islamist group, whose name literally means “western education is a sin,” regards Nigeria’s federal and northern state governments, as well as the country’s political and religious elites, as morally corrupt. It rejects the West and secular democracy and seeks to implement its “pure” version of Shariah law. But overcoming the Boko Haram challenge will take more than a military response – it also requires an approach that addresses Nigeria’s tolerance of long-running sectarian violence, protects religious freedom and enforces rule of law.
For the past two years, Boko Haram has been the primary perpetrator of religious-related violence and gross religious freedom violations in Nigeria. In August of this year, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which I chair, issued a report highlighting the recent toll of Boko Haram’s targeted assaults on religious institutions and leaders. The numbers are troubling.
By Orji Uzor Kalu, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Orji Uzor Kalu is a former two-term governor of Nigeria’s Abia State and Chairman of SLOK Holdings. The views expressed are his own.
A deadly attack on a mosque in Konduga this week is a reminder of how Nigeria’s bright future is under threat from destabilizing conflict. News of the attack, which claimed dozens of lives and that many believe is the work of Islamist militant group Boko Haram, is just the latest in a string of troubling incidents that the government seems unable to come to grips with. In June, at least 30 people were reportedly killed in an attack on a school, an incident that came soon after a state of emergency was called in three states. This worrying surge in animosity, fuelled by sectarian violence, has left many Nigerians wondering if the government can regain control.
Sadly, our leaders look incapable of rising to the occasion. Nigeria is being crippled by political infighting, creating tensions that too often lead to unhelpful and even damaging rhetoric. Political immaturity, and our failure to address differences amongst our diverse communities, is hurting the nation’s reputation in the international community, and is undoubtedly deterring future investment.
This immaturity was on display last month, when police issued an arrest warrant for lawmaker Chidi Lloyd. His alleged crime? Attacking another lawmaker during a free-for-all in the chambers of the Assembly. Regardless of the rationale, we should be united in our condemnation of such events, and demand that our politicians show greater respect for the rule of law.
By Dawit Giorgis, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Dawit Giorgis is a visiting fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The views expressed are his own.
Nigerian authorities last month arrested four Lebanese nationals in northern Nigeria on suspicion of having ties with Hezbollah. After a raid on one of their residences yielded a stash of weapons, including anti-tank weapons, rocket propelled grenades, and anti-personnel mines, the Nigerian State Security Services (SSS) announced that the compound was hosting a terrorist cell tied to the Lebanese Shia movement. The four accused have denied the charges, and are suing the government for wrongful detention. But even if they are found guilty, other Hezbollah nodes may well remain in Nigeria. The truth is that despite the thousands of miles that separate Nigeria from Lebanon, the country is faced with a growing threat from a Hezbollah doppelganger.
The Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) is a jihadist organization with strong support among the 5 million Shia Muslims, by some estimates, living in Nigeria. Founded in the early 1980s, it has flourished with cash, training and support from Iran. Indeed, the roots of the IMN can be traced to the immediate aftermath of the 1979 Iranian revolution, when Nigerian students belonging to the Muslim Student Society traveled to the Islamic Republic and were trained with the goal of establishing an Iranian-style revolution in Nigeria.
By Orji Uzor Kalu, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Orji Uzor Kalu is a former governor of Nigeria’s Abia State and Chairman of the G37, a non-partisan group proposing alternative policy options for Nigeria. The views expressed are his own.
Reports this week that some economists predict Nigeria will overtake South Africa as Africa’s largest economy, in GDP terms, in the next several years highlights how the country is at an inflection point in its great history.
Over the course of the last few years, the country’s spirit of entrepreneurship has stood at the heart of its integration into nearly every sector of global culture, finance and trade. The country is blessed with a bevy of natural resources and aspires to take its place amidst the BRIC nations. And, notwithstanding the seemingly perpetual squabbling, the country is increasingly looking for leaders that can ensure the government works for the people.
However, despite the dream of a new Nigerian century, citizens from all walks of life scattered across the globe would tell you that there is overwhelming concern when looking at the country’s future.
By Shobana Shankar, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Shobana Shankar is a visiting assistant professor in the History Department of Georgetown University. She is finalizing a book, ‘Who Shall Enter Paradise? Christian Missions and the Politics of Difference in Muslim Northern Nigeria.’ The views expressed are her own.
The violent Islamist group Boko Haram has escalated attacks throughout Northern Nigeria since last year, murdering civilians and destroying government and private property. Understandably concerned by news reports and appeals from the expatriate community, members of the U.S. Congress have proposed designating Boko Haram a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), a label that would trigger actions affecting business and aid that could hurt many Nigerians. It would also exacerbate religious tensions that Boko Haram itself has fomented, which all who seek peace in Nigeria must steadfastly contest if its people are to rid themselves of violence and fear.
Capitol Hill certainly has cause for concern. Attacks on Christian churches have intensified in the last six months, yet leading traditional Muslim leaders have not publicly condemned Boko Haram since May of this year, when the Sultan of Sokoto – one of Nigeria's most prominent Muslim leaders – denounced the group. No Muslim authority has emerged to clearly champion the rights of both Muslims and Christians to live together peacefully in Northern Nigeria. A great responsibility rests on the shoulders of Muslim leaders to speak out against Boko Haram at this critical moment.
Editor's Note: John Campbell, the former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria from 2004 to 2007, is the Ralph Bunch Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
By John Campbell, Foreign Affairs
On New Year's Day, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan ended the country's decades-old federal petroleum subsidy, which had kept gasoline and other petroleum products available to Nigerians at substantially below market price. In days, a liter of gas more than doubled to 93 cents. Despite the country's abundance of crude oil (it extracts more than 2 million barrels a day), Nigeria lacks refining capacity and has to spend billions (in the first quarter of last year, $1.34 billion, to be exact) importing fuel not only for transportation, but also to power the diesel generators that provide much of the country's electricity. FULL POST