As Jonathan Meets The Chibok Parents By Sonala Olumhense
In two days, Nigeria’s most powerful man will make his inaugural 2015 election campaign statement. He probably does not know it yet.
That will be when President Goodluck Jonathan meets the parents of the school girls infamously abducted by Boko Haram 100 days before.
Until last week, he had worked rather hard to avoid having to look into their eyes. Some of them will not meet with him, as they have since died of their grief.
I do not envy Mr. Jonathan: He is confronted by an election early next year for which neither time nor tide is in his favour.
Although he had previously and repeatedly stated he would not run in 2015 (Ethiopia, 2011; Turkey, 2011) I do not oppose his ambition to remain in office. The problem is that he has spent his current tenure advertising his lack of capacity for leadership or service.
I call these the ins and outs of the Jonathan presidency, a subject to which I will return shortly, but they make his meeting with the despondent parents a complete waste of presidential time.
These families have had three and a half months to lose respect for Mr. Jonathan, and he will not persuade them differently even if he wept on their doorsteps for three days.
He will not tell the families he has been forced on them by Malala Youssef, the Pakistani schoolgirl who gained global acclaim after being shot by the Taliban for openly advocating education for Islamic girls. Malala showed up in Abuja last week on a solidarity visit to the Chibok girls and their families, and members of the BringBackOurGirls movement.
But the parents know better.
Mr. Jonathan will not apologize for the campaign of his government that the girls were not abducted, a denial that permitted Boko Haram to get away with the crime, and much more.
But they know better.
The president will not tell them he gave a bewildering cheque for $1.2 million (nearly N200m) to a Washington DC public relations shark to shine and polish his image to the world so that he can look good while he looks down on such problems as Chibok.
But they know better.
He will not tell them that an unnecessary and overpaid foreign public relations manipulator is not the same as the byways and footpaths of Sambisa forest, or the convoluted and corrupt kleptocracy that makes Nigeria unworkable and keeps Boko Haram thriving.
President Jonathan will neither tell the people of Chibok why there is only a ramshackle military and security outfit left in Nigeria where there used to be a feared professional machinery, nor explain what has happened to the billions of dollars budgeted for those agencies since he took office five years ago.
He will not remind them that Gen. Owoeye Azazi, the former National Security Adviser who died in December 2012, blamed Boko Haram on the Peoples Democratic Party, citing its acting irresponsibly on security issues.
But they know better.
He will not tell them he has just requested of the National Assembly a whopping $1billion, allegedly to fight Boko Haram, knowing well that that our security challenges have little to do with money and that the $1b is guaranteed to disappear in a puff of 2015 election smoke.
Instead, Mr. Jonathan, wearing sweet-smelling scents and smiling broadly, will seek to deploy his snakeskin oil charm, telling them he understands their agony.
But they know better.
He will tell them how hard he is working to ensure the rescue of their daughters, but that, on account of some very important state secrets, he is unable to tell them what he has done in three months beyond avoiding Chibok.
But the families know better. And they ought to speak without fear, knowing the meeting is an afterthought, and that Mr. Jonathan, but for Malala, would be dancing elsewhere.
To that end, I encourage them to appoint two spokespersons for the meeting, one of whom ought to be Oby Ezekwesili, to speak for the families through their partners in the wilderness of the last three months, the BringBackOurGirls effort. This is important because without that movement, the Jonathan government would have since buried the Chibok file.
Ezekwesili, whose character has been assassinated by the Jonathan administration because of her tenacity, can be trusted to say what needs to be said, in language that will clarify the stakes as well as maintain the momentum within the international community.
The Chibok parents should insist that Ezekwesili visits as a part of their team. If the government refuses, the parents should simply refuse to attend the meeting, just as they did last week. More hurt has been inflicted on their families by the abduction of the girls than by their refusal to attend a government public relations meeting. What is Mr. Jonathan going to do: refuse to let them vote?
Mercifully, Ezekwesili is not Hausa, or they might have said she was acting to destabilize a southern ruler. She is not Muslim, or they might have said her target is the Christian South. She has made a simple commitment as a mother and a human being, for which she is being vilified. She has stood by innocent girls upon whom two great injustices have been visited: the lesser by Boko Haram; and the greater by their own government. The Chibok parents should persuade her to come with them.
The truth is that Chibok is symbolic of what has become of Nigeria. It has exposed the ins and outs of the Jonathan presidency: insensitivity, indifference, and incompetence.
The abduction saga demonstrates that Mr. Jonathan and his government lack the commitment, inclination and capacity to confront the problems of Nigeria. Rather than blame themselves for this, they blame everyone else simply for identifying it.
This is why Chibok has turned out to be a referendum on the Jonathan Years. Even non-Nigerians, who have no interest in politics, let alone Nigerian politics, are heaping insults on Nigeria. They feel somehow implicated in the scandal of innocent children being abducted in the hundreds in full view of Jonathan’s sub-leased government.
To worsen matter, the government is now hurling sorely-needed development funds and energies into image-laundering.
This is why it would be a mistake for Mr. Jonathan, when he picks up that microphone on Tuesday, to understand that this handshake has gone beyond the elbow. This is beyond Chibok and the abducted girls his government has betrayed.
This is about who we are and where we are and his role in our getting there. It is about the collapse of our collective humanity while his government eats and drinks.
As an individual, Mr. Jonathan will be trying to save his own political life from his own political life, swimming an ocean where no paid hacks are of any help.
Success in this daunting enterprise is not unheard-off but it usually comes from the preparedness to speak from the heart rather than the pedestal. The trouble is in first presenting that heart for the people to inspect.
- Twitter: @SonalaOlumhense
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