By Emmanuel Ogebe
- Majority of Nigerian schoolgirl victims of terror in US not fully funded by US sources
- American journalist’s article on Chibok girls’ abduction stirred donations to NGO not working in Nigeria which refused to help
- BBOG: White Media Misappropriation didn’t help escaped schoolgirls in USA but enriched American NGO
- Humanitarian lawyer exposes how same medium that generated money for people not helping Nigerian schoolgirls then castigated him who was helping the girls
In 2014, former New York Time’s Pulitzer-winning columnist, Nicholas Kristof, narrated in an op-ed about Nigeria’s infamously abducted schoolgirls: “The principal of the school, Asabe Kwambura, told me that 219 girls are still missing and lamented that the international campaign to help — #BringBackOurGirls — is faltering as the world moves on.
“Continue this campaign,” she urged. “Our students are still living in the woods. We want the international community to talk to the government of Nigeria to do something, because they are doing nothing.”
Kristof pontificated that “The Nigerian government’s most obvious response has been to hire an American public relations firm for a reported $1.2 million. That money could be better used to pay for security at schools. Global leaders talk a good game about education, but they don’t deliver. Sad to say, that includes President Obama.”
In self-righteous self-adulation, Kristof crowed: “One group has been responsive: Times readers. After I wrote about the Nigerian girls in May and mentioned a group called Camfed that sends girls to school in Africa, Times readers donated nearly $900,000 to Camfed. Thank you, readers!
Camfed says the money will help 3,000 girls continue in High School across Africa — girls like Katongo, a 16-year-old math whiz in Zambia. Katongo is an orphan who had to drop out of school for lack of money for fees, but she is now on track to become the first person in her family to finish school. She plans to become a nurse.”
This was an epic editorial ending. Wielding a stroke of his mighty pen sword, almost $1,000,000 was raised, unlike stingy Obama or misspending Nigerian leaders. This was a classic journalistic success story. The Nigerian schoolgirls would be just fine. Or would they?
As a human rights lawyer who had worked to get one of the world’s deadliest terror groups aimed at destroying western education and Christianity designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the US Government months before, I’d met Nigeria’s Chibok girls during Congressional Delegation visits.
We wanted to relocate a few we’d met with to school in safety in the US as they had abandoned education. We reached out to Camfed who had an unexpected million dollar windfall on account of the girls’ abduction to see if they would help.
Camfed said they had no programs in Nigeria. We said the girls could be supported when they came to US but Camfed said they didn’t support any program in the US. Basically no help.
Almost eight years after I brought the 11 Nigerian schoolgirls to the US on a no-shoestring budget, one of them has just earned a Master’s degree without Camfed’s help.
Today, CAMFED says on its website that it “has launched a new 5-year strategic plan 2021-25, centered on our goal to support the education of five million girls in sub-Saharan Africa.
Since 1993, we have supported 4,885,221 children to go to school in Ghana, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.”
In other words, eight years afterwards they have not assisted and still have no programs to assist girls in Nigeria!
Yet Nicholas Kristof named CAMFED- the Campaign for Female Education – as Grand Prize winner of the 2020 Kristof Holiday Impact Prize. Again, “Nick unleashed a groundswell of support among the generous readers of the New York Times, with more than 3,300 individuals choosing to invest in girls’ education in Africa.”
A couple of months after his 2014 NYT column, Kristof and I were guests at a girl education event to which myself and some of the newly-arrived Nigerian girls were invited. I was impressed by his speech although we didn’t meet. I am pretty sure his travel to the event was covered though mine wasn’t. Still he came across as genuinely caring just like his words.
“A fierce ambition to study explains why those 219 girls in northern Nigeria showed up to take their final exams even though they knew the risks of terrorism. Some of those girls dreamed of becoming teachers, doctors, lawyers — and now they may be enslaved in a forest and perhaps married off to Islamic militants. I hope we’re doing everything possible to locate and recover those girls: This is a rare case where, if the Nigerian government asked for our help, the world would applaud us for assisting in a raid. So let’s #BringBackOurGirls. But let’s not stop there…
“Education is an escalator that can change the world, and we are now on the cusp of wiping out global illiteracy for good — if we sustain the effort.
“Boko Haram is assassinating teachers, attacking schools and kidnapping students because it knows that literacy is the enemy of extremism. Terrorists understand the power of education. Do we?”
But those words ring hollow when I see that Camfed had $ 3,135,828 in assets at the end of 2014 which was almost two million dollars more than they started the year out with.
This means that after doing all their existing programming for 2014, they still had $2,000,000 left which conceivably included NYT readers $1,000,00 that could have been used to start a Nigeria program or help the Nigerian schoolgirls in US!
By December 2014, we had airlifted and relocated 11 Nigerian schoolgirls to the US, most of their international plane tickets purchased by me until I was reimbursed from our paltry $25,000 budget – with no salary or compensation whatsoever. By February 2015, the project was bankrupt!
Unable to send two of the 11 schoolgirls who tested well for community college due to lack of funds and sabotage, we still relocated a 12th schoolgirl who’d been shot in the head by Boko Haram. Finally, thanks to a Canadian grant of $25,000, in 2016, she and the other two went to Community College. Camfed’s end of year net assets for 2015 was $2,773,526.
This is not a knock on Camfed which from all appearances is doing decent work. Paying fees for Katongo, a Math whiz for school in Zambia is good. The problem is that Times readers are unwittingly helping to send 3,000 African girls like Katongo to school, by donating nearly $900,000 but not a dime to the actual Nigerian schoolgirls Kristof wrote so searingly about. The misdirect came from media misappropriation but it gets worse.
In 2017, I left a death-row appeal trial I had been working on for a decade in Indonesia and flew to New York to join our three Nigerian college students at the UN to advocate for girl education on International Women’s Day.
It was hosted by the selfsame organization whose guests Kristof and I had been in 2014. After IWD, the New York Times defamed me in an op-ed claiming that my advocacy with the Chibok girls in US was harmful to the girls in captivity in thinly veiled propaganda for the Nigerian regime!
The article was written by a Nigerian columnist for NYT who in 2016 had contacted me that the Nigerian government told her I was “beating” the girls in America. The new attack was a more subtle dig after the failed, implausible and fantastical falsehoods. The Nigerian president who misspent $1 million dollars on a US PR firm to counter advocates like me was replaced by a regime that opted for media influencing and anti-activist covert ops by its diplomatic missions.
Camfed’s Advocacy budget for the previous year was over $721,000. Our participation at the UN event with newly-minted Nigerian Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed covered travel expenses only. No honorarium or compensation for the College girls or myself but the NYT article cancelled us from future IWD observances – because of the very advocacy Kristof had earlier written was pleaded for by the Chibok school principal Asabe because the government was “doing nothing” to which Kristof added “I hope we’re doing everything possible to locate and recover those girls.”
The College girls soldiered on nonetheless – all three graduated with B.Scs in 2019, 2020 and 2021. The young lady shot in the head earned an MBA last year after selling candy on the street and taking loans to finish her schooling.
This here is the point that by White media’s misappropriation of the story of the girl victims of Boko Haram for the benefit of an organization that did not do anything to help them, a grievous injustice was unleashed on the girls.
Kristof’s generic reference to kids “in Africa”, a gratuitous over generalization of a continent of 50 plus countries, is the equivalent of sending aid to Americans for a flooding in Mexico. It’s the same continent but not the same country!
Kristof may have had no ill-motive other than trying to help his favorite charity but he reinforced a terrible stereotype of ignorantly reductionist westerners who see Africa as one monolithic country and this is unacceptable for a journalist of three decades at NYT.
One will not go so far as to call this “obtaining by false pretenses” as I do not think it was fraud but I think in terms of media malpractice, it should be a misdemeanor. Kristof should have listed actual organizations working on Girl education in Nigeria and, if he really wanted to help Camfed, include it with a disclaimer that they did not work in Nigerian. This would have given NYT readers the information to donate accordingly.
According to UNICEF, 1,436 Nigerian School Kids and 17 Teachers were Kidnapped while 11,536 Schools were closed in 16 Months under Gen. Buhari’s Government – not in Zambia or Ghana. Last month, Christian teachers were ferreted out and beheaded or slaughtered based on their gender adding to the over 600 teachers reported killed years before.
Apart from the misdirect of funds to countries unaffected by edu-terrorism, the malicious attack on me by NYT for doing what Kristof did – advocate for the freedom of the girls and girl education – was particularly egregious as I was doing what Camfed failed to do – support the actual Nigerian schoolgirl victims!
Last weekend, one of them graduated with a Master’s degree. She couldn’t read when she first arrived in my home. Some others who would like to attend graduate school have no sponsorship or scholarships – yet their story helped others. Ironically, aside the recent Master’s graduate, most of the girls’ were funded from outside the US because of the withering defamatory attacks we continued to endure!
Although media misdirection and subsequent malice was primarily to blame, Camfed should at least have offered to help the Nigerian school girls too because it is simply the right thing to have done. For decency’s sake, they shouldn’t profit from the girls’ misfortunes.
Kristof is a hero of the human rights community but like knights in shining armor, occasionally there’s a chink in it. I don’t think anything unlawful was done but I think it was ethically incongruous at minimum. NYT readers deserved to know they were really helping the actual girl victims and not just someone of Kristof’s liking.
This month it will be one year since the young lady shot in the head earned her MBA – with tens of thousands of dollars in debt to pay off – in the health sciences discipline like several of the others. They could potentially be critical healthcare workers serving America’s pandemic-beleaguered medical system if they’re granted US residency post-graduation (one schoolgirl interned for Pfizer.)
It is not too late for Camden and Kristof to do the right thing by her – and NYT Readers who contributed – even if they can’t do anything to bring back the 109 still missing schoolgirls. Camfed’s net assets end of 2020 was $21.5 million. By 2017 the project was bankrupt again and I sold our townhouse to stay afloat.
I close paraphrasing Kristof: “Global leaders talk a good game about education, but they don’t deliver. Sad to say, that includes President Obama.”
And I would add, for the Nigerian schoolgirls- “sad to say but that includes Kristof.”
I conclude with one group of New Yorkers that was responsive. A women’s chorus held a chorus for the girls and gave a princely sum of $750 (before our travel costs). It was organized by a 70+ year old white lawyer Nancy who sheltered me as a young black political asylee fleeing Nigeria 25 years ago. I am privileged to know and love and once have been a New Yorker and I thank everyone who actually helped us help the girls.
- Emmanuel Ogebe, a human rights advocate, writes from Washington DC