Malala’s birthday wish: bring back Chibok girls
Pakistani rights activist Malala Yousafzai, who survived after being shot in the head by the Taliban for campaigning for girls’ education, pledged yesterday to help free the 219 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram since April 15.
Malala spoke in Abuja when she met with some parents of the schoolgirls.
There were 15 parents at the meeting and five of the 57 girls who escaped from the Boko Haram custody.
Some of the parents broke down in tears as Malala spoke at a hotel.
“I can see those girls as my sisters … and I’m going to speak up for them until they are released,” said Malala, who celebrates her 17th birthday today. She is scheduled to meet with President Goodluck Jonathan at the Aso Villa this morning.
“I’m going to participate actively in the ‘bring back our girls’ campaign to make sure that they return safely and they continue their education.”
The girls’ abduction drew unprecedented international attention to the insurgency in the Northeast and the growing security risk that Boko Haram poses to Nigeria.
A #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign supported by United States First Lady Michelle Obama and singer Angelina Jolie heaped pressure on authorities to act, and President Jonathan pledged to save the girls, drawing promises of Western help to do so.
But several weeks on the hostages have not yet been freed.
The Boko Haram activities are intensifying. The police said on Saturday they uncovered a plot to bomb the Abuja transport network, using suicide bombers and devices concealed in luggage at major bus stations.
“I can feel … the circumstances under which you are suffering,” she said. “It’s quite difficult for a parent to know that his daughter is in great danger. My birthday wish this year is bring back our girls now and alive.”
Taliban militants shot Malala for her outspoken views on women’s right to education. She survived after being flown to Britain for treatment and has since become a symbol of defiance against militants operating in the tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
She has won the European Union’s prestigious human rights award and was one of the favorites to win the Nobel Peace Prize last year, although the award ended up going to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
The Pakistani activist met separately with leaders of the BringBackOurGirls campaign group and some 15 parents of the abducted girls, along with five of the girls who escaped from their abductors.
“The situation at Chibok is the same with the situation in Swat where some extremists stopped more than 400 girls from going to school,” Malala told the escapees after listening to their stories.
Swat is her birthplace in Pakistan where she was shot in the head in 2012 on her way from school.
“And I believe your voices are more powerful than any other weapon. So believe in yourself and go and continue your journey. Continue learning and you will succeed because we did succeed in our journey. There is peace in Swat. Every girl is going to school.
“The same way, we will be here one day we will see all of you going to school, getting your education,” she added.
“She (Malala) has an appointment to meet President Goodluck Jonathan 11 am (1000 GMT) tomorrow,” her aide told an AFP correspondent after the meetings.
Malala urged the Nigerian government to take the girls’ plight seriously for the sake of the country’s future.
“My request to the government is that they should take you serious. They should definitely take you serious,” she told the five escapee girls.
“If you don’t focus on the future generation it means you are destroying your country. Think about these girls.”
She urged Nigerian authorities to ensure the safe release of the remaining girls being held hostage by the Islamists.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Malala, who began a three-day visit to Nigeria on Saturday was at a dinner in Abuja held in her honour at Transcorp Hilton hotel.
She spoke exclusively to NAN after the dinner that ended at about 10.40 p.m.
“On my 17th birthday my wish is to see every child go to school and I want to see my Nigerian sisters being released from their abduction and I want them to be free to go to school and continue their education,’’ she said .
Malala was accompanied to the dinner by her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai and members of the Malala Fund, including Shiza Shahid, the 25-year old founder of the organisation.
A 32-man guest list at the event included members of civil society organisations and representatives of international organisations in Nigeria such as USAID, DFID, British Council and DFID.
The Managing Director of NAN, Mr. Ima Niboro, presented a birthday card and flowers to Malala on behalf of President Goodluck Jonathan.
“Thank you Malala for coming to Nigeria, Mr President personally signed this card, he shares your vision, your dreams and your ambitions and he is happy that you are here,’’ Niboro told Malala.
She will also mark the Malala Day today in Abuja to champion her cause for free and compulsory education for every child around the world.
The education advocate informed the guests at the dinner that she would welcome ideas and opinions from them on how to ensure the safety and education of every child in Nigeria.
Malala’s father, Ziauddin said: “since centuries we have been ignoring half of our population, so we should stop it now.’
“We feel very honoured and I want to share with you one thing: what you can do for your society as a social activist, women rights activist nobody else can do.
“ In the Swat District (in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) I was contributing to my community in education, I had a school and I was a poor man in terms of money but I had an institution I started from the scratch.
“I was able to send 120 students on scholarship to my school so your existence in your community is the biggest capital you have, your involvement with your community is the biggest capital you have which I have lost.
“I will regain it one-day but the difference I was able to make when I was there, I can’t make it now so you should capitalize on your being in your communities,’’ he said.
In a telephone interview with the NAN, Pakistani High Commissioner to Nigeria, Amb. Muhammad Saleem said the High commission “was not informed of her visit to Nigeria.
“However, we welcome her to Nigeria because she is doing a great job.
“She is a daughter of Pakistan and we are proud of her achievements and we hope her visit to Nigeria will go a long way in resolving the issue of the kidnapped Chibok school girls.
“She’s a great daughter of Pakistan and we welcome her campaign for education,” Saleem said.
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