Still On Chibok : What Jonathan Won’t Say Or Do By-Sunday Dare
Over 100 days have passed. The whereabouts and welfare of the 290 girls abducted from Chibok remain a unknown to us. Government seems not to have the key to unlocking this awful mystery.
Government’s handling of the matter has been a study in ineptitude and manifest disdain for the rural masses comprising the backbone of this nation but whose voice this government has never heard. Government has treated this emergency with a combination of disbelief, indifference and obfuscation. These tactics cannot resolve the situation in a way designed to bring the girls home. And they need to come home to begin the hard task of cleansing them of this ordeal and integrating them back into normalcy with love, empathy and understanding. What they have endured no child should ever suffer and no nation that cares for its children should ever tolerate. Every day that they remain gone takes us closer to the point of no return when most, if not all of them, may be gone forever.
At first, the government acted like the tragedy was a lie. They slurred anyone and everyone who told them something terrible had happened. So obsessed with remaining in office, they argued that reports of the abduction were cheap tricks to cast dirt on the president’s name and his obvious reelection project. They behaved as if the universe revolved around the president’s grip on office. Anything that complicated the objective would be tossed aside as if it did not exist. Thus, the girls were treated as an awful make-believe concocted by the president’s opponents to drench his political desires.
When the reports of the abduction would not disappear as they wanted, government showed its worst traits. It belatedly accepted the truth but acted like the abductions were nothing. After all, other abductions had occurred in that part of the country. These prior takings were simply buried by the events of the next day. Those who were previously kidnapped were gone and forgotten except by those who love and miss them. Their anguish was private. Government carried its private sector initiative to an obscene length. Government would not interfere but instead the aggrieved suffer privately and alone. Government thought this time would be the same as the many other private tragedies. It thought this would remain private, a secret hurt of the affected. This time, government was publicly wrong.
The sheer number of girls abducted should have alerted the government that this episode could not be buried as the earlier ones. But pettiness and arrogance made government blind to the fact that unprecedented tragedy had occurred on their watch while they were not watching because they were too busy reveling in the sweet life that important government office provides. Nigerians would not let this one be swept under the carpet. Conscientious Nigerians sensitized the international community to the tragedy and lack of government initiative to resolve it. The president and his government became an international laughingstock. Our nation became a question mark as people around the world asked how could such a wrong be done without the government exerting every effort to right it. A good answer had never been given.
Embarrassed that their ineptness had been exposed to the world, the government began to act by going through the motions that something was being done. They made pronouncements. Nothing came of them. They sent in more troops to the area. Nothing came of it. They asked other nations to help. Nothing came of it.
They ask us to wait because soon the crisis will end. They say they know the girls’ whereabouts but dare not act militarily because they don’t want the girls to be harmed in the struggle. This is probably the most sensible statement government has made during the whole affair. However, what follows next shows that the government has not acquired wisdom only that they are so wrong yet, on rare occasion, sometimes even the wrong do the right thing by accident.
They correctly assert that they should not seek to free the girls by force. If they cannot forcibly liberate our children, there is only one alternative. Boko Haram must be induced to release them. However, the government flip-flops almost on a daily basis about negotiating with Boko Haram about the release of the girls.
Things have gone full circle. Government is shadow boxing where there are no shadows. It busily engages in inaction. It makes public statements that it will soon make a bold move that will keep everything in the same place. They fill the national stage with smoke and mirrors. They give the illusion of action but their only action is illusion.
Saying that they know where the girls are is supposed to reassure us. Yet no action is taken. Time passes. Nothing happens. International attention has shifted to wars in other places. International attention on West Africa focuses on Ebola fever. The girls are no longer news. They have become history as far as the world is concerned. Even in Nigeria, attention has waned. Only the commitment of those participating in public protests and demonstrations keeps this matter in the public mind at all. If government had its way, the events marking the 100th day of the abduction, the visit of the Pakistani girl activist Malala and the oddly formal conference meeting the president held with the parents and some escapees, would be the end of any front page publicity. After this, the issue should fade into the back pages of the newspapers and of our memory. Government has returned to its original policy of waiting for new bad news to eclipse our remembrance of the girls and to weaken our demand that government resolve this matter.
This once-defeated policy of delay seems to be winning the second time around. This policy advances government’s purpose but not the national interests. Every day government procrastinates means the more unlikely this crisis will have a glad ending. Government statements imply the girls are in one place. But is that true? Most foreign security experts believe the girls have been divided into small groups and some if not most may have been trafficked outside of Nigeria. This makes sense. It would be difficult to conceal that number of people for so long in one location. The logistics of keeping them also would be difficult. The captors would have to fed nearly three hundred girls and also a sizeable contingent of armed Boko Haram terrorists needed to guard the site. It is doubtful that an immoral group like Boko Haram would expend resources to maintain a camp approaching 400-500 people for such a long time. Not that they are worried about government action. The costs would be too high.
Because government dawdled, the best chance to save most of these girls has passed. If the terrorists are so callous as to kidnap innocent children, they are also evil enough to trade them for money and arms. Many of the girls may be not only far from home, they may be far from Nigeria. This awful possibility is a prime reason for government’s policy of perpetual delay.
Government does nothing because it does not want us to know that its incompetence has sentenced many innocent girls to a fate too awful to contemplate. If the truth is known, government fears our anger would rekindle in a way that it cannot manipulate. They are afraid it will kill the president’s reelection. Thus, they fed us false hope so that, in false comfort, we turn from this to face the newer tragedies and killings that rush at us like a flood. This government hopes to continue to tarry, delay, wait and waste time until the 2015 elections come and go. That is the plan. They don’t seek to move regarding the girls until well after that. Then it will be much too late because it is already too late now. But by then, the president would have been reelected despite having failed.
Making matters worse, government’s strategy encourages Boko Haram’s violent chaos. Because government does not want the facts to be known, it does not decisively attack Boko Haram. The terrorists realise this. They also have taken advantage of government’s passive approach to their insurgency. Knowing that government will not go after them with strong commitment, Boko Haram knows it has great latitude to expand its operations and fortify its insurgency. Thus, they are now attacking into Kaduna and Kano states as well as seeking to terrorize commercial areas in Abuja. Boko Haram can act more viciously but still confident that, no matter the horror it inflicts, its base headquarters will not be attacked with vigor. Any government military action near the Boko Haram nerve center will be nothing but a superficial show, fireworks but little real firepower. For the time being, this government’s selfish interests are served by tolerating Boko Haram and not by tackling it.
Boko Haram’s expansion also fits nicely into the president’s election plan. Boko Haram’s havoc in the north will truncate or entirely eliminate voting in the several northern states most virulently opposed to his reelection.
Those who say government has masterminded Boko Haram are wrong. Their conspiracy theory is too crude and incorrect. However, Nigeria is a unique situation. The people are weighed down by a gradually expanding insurgency. But, government and Boko Haram, the two sides fighting each other in this nascent civil war, share common interests in maintaining the status quo. In Nigeria, fact is often stranger than fiction.
If government wanted to end this abduction crisis and if they truly knew the location of the girls, government would move with all haste to negotiate a release of the girls. Government would be willing to trade jailed and detained family members of Boko Haram terrorists and even some jailed Boko Haram members themselves in exchange for the girls. No reasonable Nigerian would chastise government for making this exchange if there is a chance to free our daughters from the hell they now occupy. This would remove a terrible stain on our nation’s honor, pride and moral standing. It would also free government and its military to deal more fiercely with the terrorist menace. A responsible government dedicated to the welfare and protection of the people would pursue this policy with no hesitation. The current government will not do so because it has placed the personal interests of the president above the lives of the captive girls and above the interests of the entire nation. While Boko Haram fights use with guns, bombs and bullets, our very government fights us with deceit, trickery and lack of moral courage. Boko Haram attacks the body but this government eats at our national spirit. Both may be fatal to our corporate existence. Both need to go.
–Sunday Dare is Special Adviser, Media to APC National Leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu
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