Mr. President, Where are the Chibok Girls?, By Niyi Akinnaso
It is exactly one month today since over 200 schoolgirls were abducted from their hostel in Government Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State. It will be recalled that the incident reportedly began around 11:45pm on Monday, April 14, 2014, and continued for several hours into the early morning of Tuesday, April 15, the day of Passover in the Christian calendar. To complicate matters, additional eight girls were reportedly abducted in another village in Borno State on Sunday, May 4, 2014.
In Dear Ebele (3) (The PUNCH, April 29, 2014), I urged President Goodluck Jonathan to take full responsibility by owning the incident and quickly proffering a workable and effective solution. Last week, in Theories of the Boko Haram insurgency (May 6, 2014), I repeated the appeal but also urged the President to consider the various theories suggested for the insurgency as well as the historical and political roots of the resistance by the majority Kanuri population in the North-East.
Within the past two weeks, the international community has descended on the President, describing him variously as “slow”, “insensitive”, “inept”, “incompetent”, “clueless” and “irresponsible”. His wife, Patience Jonathan, has also been condemned for blaming the victims and their sympathisers, instead of focusing on the criminal activity and its perpetrators. This has led to the interpretation of her tears during her press conference as no more than crocodile tears.
Between Jonathan and his wife, politicians, especially the North-East governors, are to blame for Boko Haram as are the parents of the abducted schoolgirls. Even protesters who sympathise with the victims and their parents are regarded as accomplices. It is evident in the body language of the President and his wife and in their attitude to the abduction of the schoolgirls. But this is not at all surprising. Every criticism of Jonathan, his wife, and his government is often considered as mischievous. Whether it is missing money, bombed innocent passengers, or missing schoolgirls, someone else is to blame, not the government. That’s why Jonathan has never directly spoken to the nation to take full responsibility for anything.
But if all they smell is sabotage, then why not go after the saboteurs, if they think that would put an end to Boko Haram? OK, he at least went after an alleged saboteur on money matters, namely, the former Governor of the Central Bank, Lamido Sanusi, for blowing the whistle on missing funds in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. Sanusi is gone, but we have not found the money. The lesson is clear: Jonathan must go after the alleged saboteurs and also plug the holes where sabotage could occur.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am not dismissing political mischief as a possible motive for the escalation of Boko Haram’s activities. It is a recurrent theme in my articles on the terrorist group. Besides, there is a thriving theory out there that some powerful Northern politicians are fighting a proxy war against the Jonathan administration through Boko Haram. Just last Sunday, May 11, 2014, the Northern co-ordinator of Grand Alliance, Mallam Bashir Ado, said that much: “We are aware”, he said, “that this terrorist group is an agenda of those who believe that ruling Nigeria is their birthright”.
The problem for Jonathan, though, is that he has been abysmally ineffectual in stopping Boko Haram or exposing its sponsors and bringing them to book. This is why the domestic and international criticisms of his handling of the abduction of innocent schoolgirls are well-deserved.
Be that as it may, we have now reached a point where criticisms are beside the point. It is clear that our security agents are ill-equipped and perhaps ill-motivated to fight Boko Haram effectively. It is clear that Nigeria lacks the kind of technology that allowed the United States to smoke out Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani village. Most importantly, it is clear that our President lacks the political will to act decisively on just about anything: He dragged his feet on the Academic Staff Union of Universities strike. He dragged his feet on Oduahgate. He has been dragging his feet on various probe reports. And he continues to drag his feet on allegations of fraud within the NNPC.
Now, I believe, he has realised that his slow response to the abduction of the over 200 schoolgirls is one foot-dragging too many. At least that much he learnt from the global protests against his lethargic reaction to the abduction. It is a shame that the international community has taken the bold initiative from our President to find the girls. One can only hope that he will not abdicate the responsibility of coordinating the efforts to some foreign power or organisation. It is also hoped that participating Nigerian security agents would learn something useful from the experience.
Whatever the case is, however, we must now rally round our President to complement international efforts to find and rescue the girls. We must realise that the matter has gone beyond Jonathan. It is about Nigeria. That is, it is about us, Nigerians. Everywhere I went in the US this past week, the question often posed to me was not about Jonathan but about the country: What’s going on in Nigeria? To be sure, this is a question I have had to deal with in the over three decades that I have lived in the US.
But the frequency of such questions this past week has been tortuous. This short conversation with a professional colleague is telling:
“Why is your country reeling from one mischief to another?”, he asked.
“What do you mean?”, I retorted.
“Well, if it is not Internet fraud or massive corruption, then it is armed robbery and kidnapping. Then, it was Niger Delta militants. Now, it is Boko Haram. Is abduction now Boko Haram’s form of kidnapping?”
“Wait, wait,”, I interrupted. “Does the US not have its own share of tribulations as well? School shootings. Self-defence shootings. Marathon bombing. Bank robberies. Sexual predators. Even the Internet crashed on Obamacare!”
We both laughed, but his message was not lost on me.
So, what can we do? Three things, for a start. First, while the rescue effort is going on, let’s suspend criticisms of the government’s handling of the abduction and move on to other issues. This applies to both politicians and the press.
However, this does not mean that we should forget about Boko Haram. Rather, second, let’s turn the spotlight on the terrorist group and its possible sponsors. What exactly do they want? Who are their sponsors and funders? Where do their weapons and uniforms come from? Who exactly are their leaders? If our President says he doesn’t know them and can’t find them, and they keep killing us, isn’t it about time we collaborated with Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and similar organisations to find out who and where they are?
Third, let us use all our connections – our governors, legislators, traditional rulers, religious leaders, intellectual leaders, businessmen, leaders of the civil society and socio-cultural organisations, and others who may have the ears of the President and opposition leaders to make a simple choice: Step up on national security or step down. This applies more to Jonathan, who will forever face the question, Where are the girls? until they are found, and hopefully alive. All politicians must be told that national security cannot and must not be used as a political weapon for the 2015 elections. It is in our collective interest to prevent that if we want credible elections.
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