The Chibok Girls And Allied Matters - by Hope Eghagha

Until April 15, 2014, Chibok was not part of my knowledge of the geography of my native land, Nigeria. On that day, we woke up to the tragic, even bizarre story of the violent abduction of some 300 school girls from a hostel in the north eastern part of Nigeria. The shock was palpable, and I thought that it was not a time for apportioning blame. 

Since then, it’s been a kind of ding-dong affair between different groups and persons about location, reaction time, and rescue strategy. The summary is that over 200 hundred girls are in still in the custody of Boko Haram somewhere in the fearsome Sambisa forest or across the border. The picture of our girls (mark you, ‘our girls’, not ‘their girls’) was etched in our memory when CNN flashed an AFP-generated group photograph of the girls clad in the, well, symbolic hijab. Forced conversion, and perhaps other forms of forced entries flashed across our minds. Not a good flash, no, not a good one.

The Chibok girls’ kidnap soon became for us a metaphor for the dissonance that has gradually descended on our society in the last three odd decades, questioning our faith in a united entity, redefining our national and (or) religious consciousness, bringing the worst and the best in us and in leadership at all levels. It has created a bigger gap between the different peoples, between truth and falsehood, with the media ever willing to highlight the negatives in society. It has also shown how we all can become united in the face of a common enemy, judging by the way all stakeholders have shown concern for the return of the innocents, ‘our girls’, propelled by the common humanity which we share. To be sure, social media, where every contributor is an authority, is a veritable source of disseminating all kinds of information, true or false, defamatory or flattering.

This discordance started slowly, benign, after independence; then the Western crises, then the January and July coups, and the Civil War. ‘To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done’ slogan as a unity cry is unforgettable. After the Civil War, although unity was tenuous, there were definite efforts to keep the country together. Even the military years of governance, it could be argued, were attempts to hold the country together, balancing as it were the fragile forces across the country. Perhaps the fear of force did not encourage secession, until the Orkar pronouncement on excision in the heat of the attempted Babangida ouster. Was the resentment against certain forces so deep, so incipient, so veneered that we failed to notice the magnitude of the threat level? The on-going national confab is another attempt to keep the country as one.

But now the discordance has become cancerous and dangerous, threatening the corporate entity that we have called home in the last 100 years. Certain utterances from supposedly respected elders have altered the nature of discourse, if ever there was one. As usual, scavengers from the international community have descended on the land, along with blighting cameras and ‘cause-celebrations-managers and handlers’. Foreign troops, landing in our land or taking off from neighbouring countries have joined the rescue, to liberate our three hundred girls whom the Scoundrels of Sambisa snatched from the cradle. We have all become strident critics of our federal government, finding loopholes in almost anything the government does, pouring invectives on State officials, joining the bandwagon of protesters. I have just finished reading The Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, and this bustle of activities does not comfort me. The badgering is almost unbearable, and the grey hairs on Number One’s head show the gravity of the situation. It’s not an enviable situation. Not at all!

Of course we feel the trauma of the parents. I feel it too. Not vicariously. I had been a victim, violently taken away from my family for two long deadly, paralyzing weeks. As a parent, I feel what it means to be separated from one’s daughter for weeks, even months, in the most uncertain conditions. I feel the frustrations of the Federal Government too, being a government official who knows that all the instruments of repossession are not fully in the hands of the State: Cross-border crimes. Insiders and saboteurs. Religious fervor and overzealousness. Regional tension. Incompetent officials. Struggle over who gets what and how in a selfish manner. Contending forces over the national cake and, above all, 2015!

2015! The year of the great American Armageddon for British Nigeria! I haven’t read the actual prediction. Some diplomats have denied the ‘prophecy’. But we must not turn our country into a self-fulfilling vehicle of extreme tragedy. Abducting the girls was, and is about 2015. No? Sad. There was a poor, slow reaction to the kidnap. Perhaps because we are not use to rapid response when there is disaster. We must not appear to panic. The people see it as insensitivity. Administrative style to some. But because the people are central in a democracy, they must always triumph. And so, it came to be that the world took the centre stage, taking the shine out of us.

Yet, we did not have a choice in the matter, sort of. We did and do not have the capacity to invade the forest and return the girls. Nor do we have the facility to monitor the surreptitious tactics of Boko Haram. Their silent supporters inside the kitchen of government have not been caught. So in a sense, the Chibok girls remain a pawn in the power play of politics and politicking. Which is sad; almost tragic! How do we toy with the destiny of those innocents?

Ironically, it’s our good fortune that the hoodlums of the Sambisa forests picked on the most vulnerable of our society – young girls in a female hostel. How else would the world powers have taken the BH menace seriously? I remember them blaming the Nigerian government for failing to address socio-economic problems as the reason for the emergence of the rabid sect. Well, perhaps al-Qaeda and 9/11 were the result of the failure of the American government to create an equitable world! The Chibok girls’ kidnap redirected focus. So we thank the Smelly Hyenas of the Sambisa Forest for helping our national cause, the re-direction of global thinking towards the menace of BH. It’s cheering to see Michelle Obama raise a ‘Bring back our Girls’ cardboard, far away in the White House.

The Chibok girls’ protests received a ban from the PC of FCT, almost immediately reversed by the IGP. Good move by the IG. We know some mischievous persons turn protests into tools for discordance. Protests then become like a bee perched on the scrotum - you shoo it with away caution. Democracy allows protests, even if they are misdirected or senile. Of course, the frontlines all blamed Mr. President for outlawing protests on the Chibok matter. It turned out that some overzealous officer misread the lips of State.

We do not yet know how the Chibok matter will end. We are not prophets to prognosticate. But we know that it is the end of innocence. The stakes are getting too high for selfish forces to hold the hammer and the anvil. It is acceptable for the people to pressure government to do that which is right. But there is something about the Chibok protests that smirk of a vengeful attempt to embarrass the Presidency. Comparisons are made with President Obama visiting the volatile Afghanistan, forgetting the sophistication of the American Army, and the discordance in the Nigerian Army. A dog must be given a bad name before an encounter with the hangman. And when First Lady stepped in the form of a mother’s tears, social media turned it to ridicule. The Presidency can never be right, it seems.

The Chibok girls have to return home, somehow, even if it means making a swap with some dangerous, sword-totting empty headed extremists now in the nation’s cells. Their return would certainly be a triumph for the Jonathan administration and a restoration of hope for the traumatized parents and the shocked citizenry. The Boko Haram menace has received international attention through this cowardly act of abducting girls who were writing exams in order to find a place in this world. But the duty to get them back is ours as a people, not that of foreign powers even though we need help; in this our security forces need our support, not derision. In the words of our fathers, the BH vagabonds have taken enough for the owner to notice. Whatever it is, we must support our government to bring back ‘our girls’!

...Prof. Eghagha is Commissioner for Higher Education, Asaba, Delta State.