Why is the abduction of these girls a Public Health Issue?
The reason that this is a Public Health issue is because it affects a population (country’s) mental, physical, emotional and even territorial health. It is also an issue of terrorism which is an area of concern for Public Health officials. Terrorism is when force is used to coerce a group of people, government, population into a mode of thinking or action. In this case, Boko Haram is pushing the populace into the arena of fear without any real clear aim. People are not sure what the course of action should be.
Public Health should be playing a pivotal role in this issue, in the area of surveillance, risk communication, intervention, planning and community wide response. It is unfortunate that because of the political structure (more historical than anything else) of Nigeria, there has been a lack of concerted effort to control this group. Controlling Boko Haram and bringing back those girls will take collaborations between Nigerian government, academicians, strategists, military and the international community.
A couple of years when Boko Haram started their attacks, it was labeled as a religious and location issue, and as such anyone that got caught in the bloody fray was blamed for choosing to live in the Northern part of the country amongst Muslims. But Boko Haram is not about Islam but rather about fear mongering. Once Boko Haram made that first attack, there should have been a plan to ensure that was the last attack. An earlier post on this site, relays some preventative measures that should have been taken in the past and that should be taken now to forestall, the further growth of such an organization.
What is Nigeria’s response to terrorist attacks from within? Nigeria has a big brother role in conflict resolution around the continent but it is interesting that the Nigerian military seems to be dragging its feet in controlling these renegades.
These are steps that ideally should have been taken concurrently after the abductions:
1) The president should have performed risk communication immediately. The purpose of risk communication is to ensure that a) your authority is felt and that your people feel safe, heard and that you are in control. b) it controls misinformation c) It also provides guidance.
2) Get the Media involved. The Media is your ally. You want clean, clear and relevant information dispersed. Information that should have been relayed immediately were the names of the girls, their pictures and the media should have made the stories of these girls, via a blurb, more personal. The media and the dept. of information should have worked together to disperse this information using several media tools.
Set up a hotline that is easily remembered. E.G ‘Call Boko, if you have any information that could lead to the arrest of members or could lead to finding the girls’. Of course, if the information is good and works, those informants will need to be rewarded financially. The media should also be involved in putting together the hotline or dispersing the information about the hotline -jingle creation, information placement, information dispersion etc. The media and dept. of information should work closely during this time.
c)Gain the support of Northern leaders particularly states that these terrorists are working in. Ensure that it is clear, that this is now a federal government issue, they either step up , collaborate to clean up the reputation of their states or step away and let the federal government do what needs to be done.
d)Work with community leaders because they are your influencers. Let the message be spread in religious as well as community meetings that these individuals are working against religious tenets and the community since they were willing to kidnap individuals who are of the same faith.
e) Since Boko Haram has shown a penchant for the use of technology to spread fear. Technology use is an Achilles heel that can be used because most information on technological tools are traceable. By creating a map of where these terrorists are posting from, tracking their cell use,what they use, asking the right questions – it is possible to get a pattern that makes it easier to find them.
f) Create a technology strategy which might involve using traces, tracking systems, bugs and maps in areas in which terrorists are likely to use to disperse their information, particularly if they are using public computer systems for their work. They must have a reason for choosing particular business centers. Is it because it is isolated or closest to the center of the town? Figure it out.
Find out who has the user name that they are using to post their threats/demands on social networking sites – can that be traced? That is if they are not hacking into regular citizens accounts to place their threats. If they are using the telephone, the question becomes what numbers are they using? Are they using one cell phone or is it a disposable phone? How are they paying for these items? Is the credit card/phone /phone number traceable? There are always patterns, it is just having the right individuals who are trained to look for those patterns. If these individuals are not in Nigeria, maybe that’s where the collaboration with international sources might come in.
g)Follow up on information. There are many rumors flying all over the internet that the girls are in Sambisa forest. If that is true, then there is a need to get those who know the forest involved in working with the military in coming up with a plan of where these girls are likely to be kept. These individuals, probably grew up around the forest and know its nooks and crannies, caves and the caveats and these are the best guides. Also, it will not hurt, to get some helicopters involved in flying over and checking if they see anything that looks strange. Nigeria can afford it.
h) Get other West African countries involved, particularly the border countries. An easy way for these militants to sneak these girls to other countries to be trafficked as sex or labor workers is via the borders. Make it clear that any suspicious activity from Nigeria into their country via their borders should be checked and rechecked until those girls are found.
i)If the media, technology, community, checking the forest, checking the surrounding localities as well as across the border does not work – then there is going to be a need to have a discussion with other countries that might have stronger military and better surveillance and tracking techniques. Many Nigerians are opposed to getting help from better countries who are well versed in handling terrorism because they feel that this puts the country at a disadvantage. But, people do not disappear into the skies. They have to be somewhere. These are young girls and not adults, they are a cause for international concern and international action.