Africa is on the move. From politics to business to the arts, things are changing, being driven by innovators and visionaries, both good and bad. To reflect on a busy year for the continent, we profile the most influential Africans of 2014. Compiled and edited by reGina Jane Jere, James Schneider, James Wan, Jon Hayward and Wanjiru Kariuki.
Obiageli Ezekwesili, #bringbackourgirls – Nigeria
On the night of 14-15 April, members of the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram stormed a girls’ secondary school in the town of Chibok, Borno State, and abducted over 200 schoolgirls.
Obiageli Ezekwesili heard about the kidnappings soon after, and immediately got involved. She was slated to speak at an UNESCO event in Port Harcourt, and when she took the stage, she called for solidarity and demanded that the government “bring back our girls”. One young man listening to the event tweeted her words, which soon went viral.
With Hadiza Bala Usman, Saudatu Mahdi and Maryam Uwais, Ezekwesili then officially formed Bring Back Our Girls and marched on Nigeria’s National Assembly. The movement maintained a daily presence in the capital Abuja with daily sit-ins at Unity Fountain.
Ezekwesili sees inequality as a major factor in the government’s poor response to the girls’ abduction. “These girls only suffered such aggravated anguish because of the social class they come from,” she says. “If these girls were the children of the elite, including myself, it wouldn’t have required and needed my having to go out on the street with other citizens for their anguish to be acknowledged.
“For me, it was basically a matter of voice. These people were without voice… So I made that vow like all the others that I would not stop being a voice for these girls until there is positive closure on the matter.”
While Bring Back Our Girls maintains that it is not a political platform, it has at times been treated as a hostile adversary by the government. But harsh words and counter movements have not deterred Ezekwesili. “I knew that I was putting myself out for all kinds of things to be thrown in my direction but I have my courage of conviction,” she says. “I haven’t done anything wrong and there’s nothing to defend.”
Eight months on, the Chibok girls have still not been rescued or returned home, but Ezekwesili continues to fight and remains hopeful. “We are expecting all of them to come back.”
(Words by Belinda Otas)