ABUJA – In the month since the Islamist militia group Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 girls from a secondary school in the Chibok Local Government Area of Nigeria’s Borno State, the authorities have maintained a stunning silence. This has inspired distraught Nigerian citizens to create the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, in the hope that the simple demand would spur their government into action. In a country where citizens have few options to hold officials to account, can “hashtag activism” make a real difference?
The Nigerian government’s response has been marked by missteps. First, the military released a statement that the girls had been released, then retracted the statement when it was found to be untrue, deepening public outrage. The media narrative quickly spun out of the authorities’ control, forcing them to try to contain the damage as the country prepared to host the World Economic Forum on Africa in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.