Analysis Violence

‘Bring These Girls Back’: Nigerians Criticize Government’s Handling of Boko Haram Insurgency

Samuel Okocha

On Monday, hundreds of women marched in protest to the Lagos state government house to register their displeasure over the seeming inaction of the government to bring back the hundreds of girls who were abducted weeks ago.

Lagos, Nigeria—This week began with another round of protests in Africa’s most populous country. Hundreds of Nigerians, many of them women, took to the streets of Lagos to protest the failure of the government to rescue the hundreds of young school girls who were abducted three weeks ago by Boko Haram militants in the northeastern state of Borno (Chibok).

The protest follows a similar one on May 1 and others held previously in several parts of Nigeria. Citizens are outraged. They want the government to do more in ensuring the abducted girls gain their freedom.

About 300 teenage girls were kidnapped in the dead of the night from their school dormitory on April 14. Security reports say 53 girls managed to escape, but more than 200 remain missing.

On Monday, hundreds of women marched in protest to the Lagos state government house to register their displeasure over the seeming inaction of the government to bring back the abducted girls. School girls also took part in the protest.

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The protesters marched as they raised their voices, chanting “bring back our girls.” Many held placards with various inscriptions. “We want concrete action,” said Victoria Ohaeri, a human rights lawyer and executive director of Spaces for Youth Development and Social Change. “So far we have not seen any sign that something is happening,” Ohaeri added.

“I am sure they [would] have done something fast before now if one of their relations were among the kidnapped girls,” said Modupeola Ashley, a mother and a teacher. “They should bring back [these] children, they are too young to go through this trauma.”

Boko Haram Releases New Video

The Lagos protest came on a day the Boko Haram sect claimed responsibility for the mass abduction at the Government Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State.

In a new video message posted online, the leader of the extremist group Abubakar Shekau admitted he abducted the girls. He also threatened to sell them.

“I will sell them in the market,” he said in the Hausa language of northern Nigeria. “Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I sell women.”

Boko Haram, which means “Western education is sinful,” wants an Islamic state in Nigeria.

In their latest online video, the Boko Haram leader called for an end to Western education and said the girls should get married.

Protesters say the government is failing in its duty of guaranteeing the security and welfare of all citizens.

Militants Continue to Unleash Violence

Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states are under a federal government-imposed state of emergency, following deadly attacks blamed on Boko Haram. But the militants continue to unleash violence.

Human Rights Watch reported in 2012 that since 2009 the insurgency in northern Nigeria has left more than 1,500 people dead.

And the abduction of the Chibok girls has forced Nigerians to question the will of the government to effectively tackle the Boko Haram insurgency.

On Tuesday, Reuters reported that suspected Boko Haram gunmen kidnapped eight girls from a village near one of their strongholds in northeastern Nigeria overnight.

“They were many, and all of them carried guns,” Lazarus Musa, a resident of the village of Warabe, told Reuters by phone. “They came in two vehicles painted in army color. They started shooting in our village.”

The girls, ranging in age from 12 to 15, were taken away on trucks, along with looted livestock and food.

Government Actions Criticized

Last week, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan created a presidential committee to help find ways to solve the mystery surrounding the missing school girls. During a televised media chat on Sunday night, President Jonathan assured Nigerians the girls will be rescued. He also urged parents and guardians of the girls to cooperate with security agencies by providing pictures of the girls for easy identification.

But Nigerians are outraged because it took more than two weeks for the president to make his first official statement on the Chibok school girls. They are also unimpressed with the statement he came up with.

“The president inferred that the families of these girls are not doing enough to collaborate with the authorities to ensure their girls are found. That is ridiculous,” said Kathleen Ndongmo, a human rights advocate and one of the protesters in Lagos.

Ndongmo is equally unimpressed with the newly created presidential committee on the abducted school girls. “This is not a joke,” she said. “We are talking about hundreds of young girls who were kidnapped under [a] very critical situation where we have a history of insecurity.”

She added, “It’s time for government to assure Nigerians that they are doing something, otherwise the trust that we have in the government is already eroded. And we cannot continue to be in a society that doesn’t trust the government.”

Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria, has been bombed twice while hundreds have died at the hands of Boko Haram. The state of insecurity, many say, is becoming embarrassing to the government.

On Monday morning the police arrested Naomi Mutah Nyadar, who led the #BringBackOurGirls protest in Abuja. The wife of Nigeria’s president reportedly ordered the arrest. (She denies the claim.) Nyadar’s purported offense was that she claimed to be a mother to one of the kidnapped girls, though she is not her biological mother. But as Africans, we are all the mothers and fathers of these abducted children, said Femi Falana, human rights activist and lawyer.

Government Under Pressure

Angry Nigerians have vowed to continue to protest what they say is the government’s inaction.

©Samuel Okocha

©Samuel Okocha

“Our voices are going to put pressure on the government,” Ndongmo said. “If we had not started to protest, we probably would not have heard that a committee would be set up.

She continued, “It’s important we continue to lend our voices to put pressure on [the] government. We need to continue to make the government see that we are there to hold them accountable to the things they are meant to do. And we will carry on.”

Abuja Slated to Host World Economic Forum on Africa

No fewer than 13 heads of state and more than 1,000 delegates from across the globe are billed to participate in the World Economic Forum on Africa (WEFA) beginning Wednesday, May 7 in Abuja. The government has ordered the closure of schools and government offices to ensure the free flow of traffic in the capital. But some believe the government granted the holiday as a result of security concerns.

Nigeria’s minister of finance and coordinating minister of the economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has noted that hosting WEFA is not more important than finding the abducted school girls.

“The plight of girls are of the most concern to our government,” Okonjo-Iweala said. “Any country that has the technology, please let them come and help us to bring these girls back.”

News Politics

Clinton in Friday Speech: ‘Fight Back Against the Erosion of Reproductive Rights’

Ally Boguhn

Just after the former secretary of state ended her speech, the presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump took the stage at another event and struck a different tone.

Hillary Clinton defended reproductive rights in a Friday speech, following the news that the former secretary of state had become the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee. Soon after Clinton’s comments, Donald Trump took the stage at a different event and vowed to protect “the sanctity and dignity of life.” 

In her speech, Clinton detailed her support of access to safe and affordable abortion and contraceptive care.

“It’s been a big week, and there’s nowhere I’d rather end it,” Clinton told the crowd while speaking at an event for Planned Parenthood Action Fund in Washington, D.C. Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the political arm of Planned Parenthood, endorsed Clinton in January, offering the Democratic candidate “its first endorsement in a presidential primary in the nonprofit’s 100-year existence,” according to the New York Times.

“Today, I want to start by saying something you don’t hear often enough: Thank you,” she said, offering her gratitude to the organization for caring for its patients “no matter their race, sexual orientation, or immigration status.”

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Clinton continued: “Thank you for being there for every woman, in every state, who has to miss work, drive hundreds of miles sometimes, endure cruel medically unnecessary waiting periods, walk past angry protesters to exercise her constitutional right to safe and legal abortion. I’ve been proud to stand with Planned Parenthood for a long time, and as president I will always have your back.”

Clinton then pivoted to discussing presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.

“When Donald Trump says, ‘Let’s make America great again,’ that is code for ‘Let’s take America backward,’” she said. “Back to a time when opportunity and dignity were reserved for some, not all. Back to the days when abortion was illegal, women had far fewer options, and life for too many women and girls was limited. Well, Donald, those days are over.”

Citing the upcoming Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt as proof of the importance of nominating a new justice to the Court’s vacant seat, Clinton called on Congress to “give Judge [Merrick] Garland the hearing he deserves.”

Clinton went on to outline her vision for reproductive rights in the country should she be elected, noting: “If right-wing politicians actually cared as much about protecting women’s health as much as they say they do, they’d join me in calling for more federal funding for Planned Parenthood.”

Calling to “fight back against the erosion of reproductive rights at the federal, state, and local levels,” Clinton pushed for a host of related priorities, such as ensuring clinic patients and staff can safely access clinics; investing in long-lasting reversible contraception; acting to combat the Zika virus; and repealing the Hyde Amendment, which bans most federal funding for abortion care.

Just after Clinton ended her speech, Trump addressed the Road to Majority conference, hosted by the Faith & Freedom Coalition and Concerned Women for America, and struck a very different tone. “Here are the goals … and I wanted it to come from me, from my heart. We want to uphold the sanctity and dignity of life,” Trump told the crowd.

The Republican went on to reiterate his promise to nominate only “pro-life” justices to the Supreme Court should he be elected, before turning to attack Clinton. “She will appoint radical judges who will legislate from the bench, overriding Congress, and the will of the people will mean nothing,” said Trump before claiming Clinton “will push for federal funding of abortion on demand until the moment of birth.”

Though Clinton has championed reproductive rights during her presidential campaign, she told Fox News in March that she would be “in favor of a late-pregnancy regulation that would have exceptions for the life and health of the mother.”

News Abortion

GOP Fact-Check: Hospital Transfers Don’t Signal Abortion Dangers

Christine Grimaldi

Hospital transfers are not necessarily a cause for alarm, multiple sources told Rewire.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) justified her recent subpoenas of a prominent later abortion provider and first responders in the community where he works by pointing to “public reports” that people who sought abortion care from the doctor required hospital transfers.

Hospital transfers are not necessarily a cause for alarm, multiple sources told Rewire. In fact, the rare instances signal a continued commitment to appropriate patient care that begins in an abortion clinic. A patient may not require further treatment upon arrival at the hospital, indicating a proactive clinic rather than a dangerous one. Regardless of the circumstances, anti-choice activists often hijack so-called emergencies to fuel their coverage of the alleged dangers of abortion care.

Freestanding clinics manage most immediate abortion-related complications, including those that occur during later abortions, said Dr. Daniel Grossman, a provider and professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive services at the University of California, San Francisco.

Abortion-related complications are rare throughout all stages of pregnancy. The even rarer event that such complications necessitate a hospital transfer doesn’t indicate the work of a bad abortion provider, Grossman explained in an interview with Rewire.

“There are sometimes things that happen that are unforeseeable,” he said.

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Evidence Contradicts Blackburn Subpoena Claims

Grossman, his University of California, San Francisco colleague Dr. Ushma Upadhyay, and other reproductive health care practitioners and policy experts studied just how often those unforeseeable instances occur in a review of nearly 55,000 abortions covered under the fee-for-service California Medicaid program from 2009-2010. The state data allowed researchers to track subsequent follow-up care sought after an abortion.

Among all abortions, about one of 5,491, or 0.03 percent, involved ambulance transfers to emergency departments on the day of the procedure, the researchers found.

For procedures in the second trimester or later, major complications that required hospital admissions, blood transfusions, or surgery amounted to 34 cases, or 0.41 percent.

Many hospitals don’t provide abortions, which essentially forces providers to perform the procedure at a freestanding clinic or turn away patients, Grossman said. Providers would not do something unsafe, he stressed, “but that puts a lot of pressure on them because they don’t have that option of deciding to do the procedure of a higher-risk patient in a hospital.”

States that have enacted targeted regulations of abortion providers, known as TRAP laws, may force providers to gain hospital admitting privileges, even though hospitals can’t refuse to care for transfers and emergency arrivals. Many hospitals don’t want to issue admitting privileges to abortion providers, Grossman said, in part because their patient admissions are so infrequent—putting the onus back on clinics to provide abortion care.

Data supports Grossman’s assessment about abortion and clinic safety. Abortion care is one of the safest medical procedures performed in the United States, according to Planned Parenthood and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “The rate of complications increases as a woman’s pregnancy continues, but these complications remain very unlikely,” the groups said in a joint fact sheet.

Blackburn, the chair of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, framed such instances differently when she shifted the panel’s focus from fetal tissue research practices to later abortion care, issuing subpoenas in mid-May to Dr. LeRoy Carhart and various local and state entities in Maryland.

“Public reports indicate at least five women have been sent to the hospital since December while seeking an abortion in this clinic,” Blackburn said in a press release. Blackburn expressed concern for “the sake of the women who have been rushed from that clinic to the hospital with increasing frequency.”

Blackburn Allegations Rooted in Dubious Sources

Blackburn’s press release cited the five hospital transfers since December 2015, but her subpoenas demand documentation dating back to 2010—signaling a deeper scope to her investigation.

The National Abortion Federation (NAF), the professional association of abortion providers, countered Blackburn’s basis for the subpoenas.

“Abortion opponents have been targeting Dr. Carhart for years because he is a very vocal and visible abortion provider,” NAF spokesperson Melissa Fowler told Rewire in an email. Following the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller, Carhart arguably became the country’s most prominent provider of later abortion care.

The Maryland Board of Physicians, one of the targets of Blackburn’s subpoenas, indicates that Carhart is in good standing. The board’s online practitioner profile system lists no Maryland disciplinary actions, no pending charges, and no reported malpractice judgments and arbitration awards within the past ten years. Malpractice settlements are another measure of provider competence, and Carhart hasn’t had three or more malpractice settlements of at least $150,000 in the past five years, according to the system. Additionally, the courts have not reported “convictions for any crime involving moral turpitude,” which the board defines as “conduct evidencing moral baseness” and determines on an individual basis under common law.  

Absent allegations on the board’s website, the “public reports” smearing Carhart appear to come from anti-choice news outlets. In March, LifeSiteNews.com cited eyewitness accounts from anti-choice activists in reporting that Carhart sent a fourth woman to the hospital in four months. A leader of the radical anti-choice group Operation Rescue covered the same allegations for LifeNews.com.

The same website in 2013 alleged that the Washington Post downplayed the death of a young woman who sought a later abortion at the clinic. However, the Maryland medical examiner’s office found that the woman died of natural causes from a rare complication that can also occur in conjunction with childbirth, and state health officials found “no deficiencies” in the care she received at the clinic. Blackburn’s subpoenas include Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center, formerly Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, where the woman died.

Anti-choice organizations and their reports have played a prominent role in the current congressional inquiry. Troy Newman, Operation Rescue’s president, and David Daleiden founded the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the anti-choice front group that triggered the select panel’s investigation into allegations that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations obtained from abortions.

Blackburn referenced CMP’s heavily edited videos in her threat “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from StemExpress, the tissue procurement company that worked with Planned Parenthood. The GOP’s exhibits at the panel’s April hearing on fetal tissue “pricing” reportedly duplicated or nearly duplicated the “evidence” in the CMP attack videos.

Blackburn’s select panel spokesperson denied that the subpoenas are based on information from anti-choice sources.

“The subpoenas we issued are not based on the sources you have cited,” the spokesperson told Rewire in an email. “However, due to confidentiality agreements, we are not at liberty to disclose the identities of our sources.”

Anti-Choice Activists Hijack Emergencies

Although Blackburn’s evidence may come from different sources, the fact remains that Operation Rescue and other radical anti-choice activists are known for surveilling abortion clinics and making repeated records requests, all to report similar claims about botched abortions necessitating hospital transfers.

duVergne Gaines, director of the Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Clinic Access Project, said surveillance tactics enable anti-choice activists not only to photograph and video emergency responders, but also follow up with Freedom of Information Act and equivalent state-level requests for records, including 9-1-1 tapes, if state laws permit their release.

“They collect data,” Gaines said in an interview. “They put that up on the websites themselves, on their own Facebook pages, and have no real knowledge about what or why an ambulance may have been contacted.”

Hospital transfers in some instances have nothing to do with the procedure. Contrary to initial anti-choice accounts, the Lincoln, Nebraska Journal Star reported that a woman transferred in 2015 from a local Planned Parenthood to a hospital “wasn’t suffering complications from an abortion, but had instead sought help at the clinic after being assaulted at her home nearby.”

At times, anti-choice activists may manufacture emergency scenarios, Gaines said. “The most obvious example is alleging that a minor is inside being forced to undergo a procedure against her will, and that can happen if they see a minor go in [to a clinic],” she said.

Rewire reported in March that police appeared at a Mississippi clinic and threatened to charge a single mother with fetal homicide after her daughter, a minor seeking a legal abortion, signed a bogus Life Dynamics document stating that she was being coerced into the procedure.

The prominent anti-choice group uses the document to deceive and intimidate patients and providers by threatening legal action should they go through with obtaining or providing abortion care.

NAF President Vicki Saporta said that many of her group’s members have experienced anti-choice tactics such as staking out clinics for emergency vehicles, placing calls to summon emergency responders, and trailing ambulances to hospitals with the aim of gathering confidential patient information. Preferred tactics depend on the local anti-choice community, she said.

Saporta pointed to a crisis pregnancy center that opened in the same complex as the Germantown, Maryland, clinic where Carhart practices. A Germantown Pregnancy Choices, which comes up as the Maryland Coalition for Life when entered into Google Maps, operates within less than 200 feet of the clinic. The Maryland Coalition for Life cited eyewitness accounts and a video in March to support allegations that an underage girl required a hospital transfer “due to medical emergencies related to a late term abortion.”

Anti-choice activists targeting clinics over safety share a common denominator. “Once their bogus claims are investigated, for the most part, no action is taken because nothing is actionable,” Saporta said.