David helping in Nigeria

Today, April 15 marks the 5th anniversary of 276 schoolgirls who were kidnapped by terrorist group ‘Boko Haram’ from a school in Chibok, in the north-east of Nigeria.

Blantyre man, David Smith is helping other Nigerian schoolgirls get an education despite the continuing threat of terrorist group Boko Haram.

David, who is the Department for International Development’s Head of Policy for Nigeria, discusses below, the impact this incident that shocked the world has had on Nigeria, five years on…

If you recall, the Chibok kidnapping atrocity sparked worldwide outrage with celebrities including former US First Lady Michelle Obama, actor Harrison Ford and model Kim Kardashian supporting a high-profile #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign demanding their release.

Still Captive

Five years on, at least around 100 of the 276 female students remain in captivity, still held hostage in a snake-infested forest in the war-torn north-east Borno state.

David, 24, from Blantyre, Lanarkshire, said: “The fact that parents are without their daughters five years on is truly tragic, and this is something that scarred Nigeria.It is impossible to imagine the grief the families have been experiencing in the five years since losing their loved ones.

“The Chibok kidnappings were something that caused shockwaves and revulsion across the world, and the memory of it lives on. There are around 100 girls still captive making it impossible for Nigeria to move on.”

UK aid has been helping to support some of the schoolgirls who have been rescued or have managed to flee from their Boko Haram captors. Since October 2017 DFID has supported more than 120,000 children aged  6-14 years old to access school.

Further Information and Background

On the night of 14 April 2014, convoys with heavily armed Boko Haram insurgents were spotted heading towards Chibok, where a government school had specially opened for students to take final exams. Around 15 soldiers stationed in Chibok desperately held them off for almost an hour, but the soldiers were overpowered and at least 300 girls were snatched. Around 50 escaped by jumping off the back of trucks.

Over 100 schoolgirls were released in 2017, after the Nigerian Government agreed an exchange for five high-ranking Boko Haram prisoners.

David added: “There is the famous Falomo Roundabout in Nigeria’s most populous city Lagos that features photos of the kidnapped schoolgirls around it. There are still photos of the schoolgirls hanging on walls all over Nigeria. It is a painful reminder not just for their friends and family, but for Nigeria as a whole. “

“When you go into communities and you speak to local people you visibly see the impact that this atrocity has made.It is a hugely difficult thing for families with daughters, who want to improve their lives through education, but still face this threat. It will take years for Nigerians to recover from that. It will be a stain on the history of the country for many people.”

The name Boko Haram translates as ‘Western Education is Forbidden’.But the UK Government has been defying the threat of extremist groups like Boko Haram by funding education programmes. Of the 10.5million Nigerian children who currently have no access to education – 60 per cent are female.

UK aid is helping 62,000 children displaced by violence in Nigeria’s war-torn north-east get back to school.

David said: “UK aid has helped reintegrate some of the released schoolgirls back into their communities. Mass kidnappings are less common but there are some horrendous acts of young girls being kidnapped and forced to be suicide bombers. “

“On a wider level, DFID has a significant education programme in this country. We are teaching females how to use modern family planning methods and a huge amount of effort is going into improving women’s rights.We’ve just had state and national elections, and the results of this work are illustrated by the fact we had the highest number of female political candidates in Nigeria’s history. “

“Better education and healthcare can only help give more Nigerians a ladder out of poverty. News reports and images that you see on TV cannot do justice to the suffering that some people are enduring here. I’ve seen appalling cases of malnourishment – people on the brink of death.

“It is difficult to deal with mentally, but I take a lot of solace in the knowledge that DFID, with its partners, is making a huge impact and making life better for ordinary Nigerians.”

David defended the UK Government’s commitment to spending 0.7 of GDP on foreign aid.

He said: “By investing overseas through international aid we are actually helping at home. Bilateral trade between the UK and Nigeria is worth nearly £4billion a year. If we help improve the country’s infrastructure, we provide people with an education and healthcare, and solve the threats and insurgency in the country, Nigeria will become more stable making them an even more viable trading partner. If your child or family was suffering in the way that Nigerians are, and someone could do something, you would expect them to do it.

“There’s an ethical and moral obligation to help, but our national interest is that peace and stability helps the UK, and we benefit as a country from having more partners to trade with.”

David is pictured as attached, alongside Humza Yousaf, who was then the Scottish Government’s Minister for External Affairs & International Development.

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