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Nigeria's Suppression Of #BringBackOurGirls Protesters Extends To New York

September 17, 2016

During the #BringBackOurGirls demonstration at the Nigerian Consulate-General and Nigerian Mission to the UN in New York on Wednesday, a SaharaReporters correspondent filming the peaceful group was accosted by a consulate staff.

A group of activists peacefully demonstrated outside of the consulate in order to deliver a petition addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari demanding the rescue of the Chibok girls, who were abducted by Boko Haram insurgents in April 2014.

The staff of the consulate and mission, however, did not welcome the protest.

As the group peacefully proceeded into the lobby of the mission, a SaharaReporters correspondent filming the protest was accosted by a plain-clothes security official.

Upon seeing the camera, the man began to yell at our correspondent before rushing to her, grabbing her arm, and forcibly removing the camera from her hands. It took the intervention of nearby demonstrators to restrain the large security man and take his hands off our correspondent.

When the situation deescalated, an organizer of the protest pleaded with the receptionist to allow the group to speak to a representative of the Nigerian Consulate-General or Mission to the UN. After waiting for roughly 20 minutes, the spokesman for the Nigerian Mission to the UN, Akinremi Bolaji, came down to the lobby and reluctantly answered demonstrators’ questions.

Initially, Mr. Bolaji avoided giving his name to the group and covered his nametag with his tie.

Before answering any questions, Mr. Bolaji insisted that footage of the scuffle with the receptionist be deleted. He skirted around questions about the Nigerian government’s progress in rescuing the abductees, repeatedly stating that Boko Haram no longer holds territory in the country. Mr. Bolaji also described Aminu Ali, who escaped captivity on her own, as being “rescued.”                                                             

He did, however, assure Nigerians that the government was doing everything in its power to secure the release of the schoolgirls and asked that the people put their faith in the president. Before leaving to return to his office, Mr. Bolaji did sign the petition addressed to Mr. Buhari after much resistance.

“Happy?” he said after scribbling his signature on the paper.

Upon finishing the interview, our correspondent asked the receptionist to apologize for his treatment of her, to which he retorted, “You need to apologize to me. You attacked me!”

Mr. Bolaji said he apologized on behalf of the mission and then joked, “I’m going to take you back to Nigeria.”

After being continually pressed for an apology, the receptionist finally said, “I’m sorry, dear,” with a smile, adding that he was going to “marry her.”

Evon Idahosa, one of the organizers of the demonstration, told SaharaReporters that the security accosting of the SaharaReporters correspondent was “completely uncalled for” and that “it happened really quickly and a lot of us were taken aback” at the disproportionate response by consulate personnel.

She narrated that “he just came charging at the group” and singled out the SaharaReporters correspondent.

She added, noting that she is also a women’s rights activist, that “the irony is that this is an attack on a group of women protesting women’s rights.”

“The sense of intimidation and degradation that women are meant to feel” is clearly extending outside Nigeria, she described. Mrs. Idahosa also observed that “[in Nigeria] women continue to be treated as a second class citizen.”

The harassment of our correspondent and the reluctance of the mission spokesman to address the demonstrators speaks to the Nigerian government’s treatment of all #BringBackOurGirls protesters.

Barely one week ago, anti-riot police officers were deployed to quell a peaceful march in Abuja, ignoring the permit they had acquired granting them permission to demonstrate. Earlier that week, protesters clashed with police and pro-Buhari counter-protesters. Police suppressed #BBOG protesters, but permitted the counter-protesters to continue their demonstration.