By Levi Obijiofor…It is astonishing to imagine that two years have elapsed since more than 230 helpless female secondary school students were abducted from their college premises at Chibok, Borno State, by callous Boko Haram terrorists. Even more staggering is the fact that two governments that have been in office since that time have not been able to find and free the girls from wherever they are being held hostage. This is the kind of scandal that would never happen in better organised societies where governments are accountable to the people.
The biggest mistake former President Goodluck Jonathan made was to allow the kidnappers to escape with their victims without pursuing the criminals instantly and forcefully. Government’s inaction simply allowed the Boko Haram terrorists to hide from public view the location where the school girls were being kept. The longer the government delayed action, the more emboldened and strengthened the terrorists became.
The idea that kidnappers could throw such a large number of school girls into vehicles and ferry them from one part of the country to another in day light without being intercepted by security forces defies human imagination. How could that happen? I ask this question because such a criminal action could never happen in other countries. The fact that it happened in Nigeria shows how disorganised and dysfunctional the Federal Government led by former President Goodluck Jonathan was. That government shamelessly abdicated its responsibility to provide for the welfare, wellbeing, security and safety of the Chibok girls.
It is a shame that the school girls were taken in 2014 and in 2016 we are still talking and asking pointless questions about whether the girls are still alive or dead, where they might be held prisoners, whether they are in good health or in failing health, how to rescue them without endangering their lives, and all that jazz.
Boko Haram took the audacious and notorious action of kidnapping the school girls because the terrorists understood fully well the lily-livered nature of the government we had at the time, government’s lack of preparedness to attend to emergency situations such as the abduction of the Chibok girls, and the fact that we had a government filled with garrulous officials who spoke more than they were prepared to act, officials who tended to leap before they looked.
The abduction of the Chibok girls is not only a national scandal and embarrassment, it is also a major dent on the country’s intelligence gathering capacity, the inability of the government to equip our troops with state-of-the-art equipment to enable them to engage in conventional and non-conventional warfare. Boko Haram terrorists were able to strengthen their defensive positions soon after they abducted the school girls because they knew government officials would do nothing other than bark, issue threats, and make the usual noises in the media.
Two years have gone and the troops in the war front are still no closer to locating the Chibok girls. All we have heard were tactless and unwarranted comments by Alex Badeh, former Chief of Defence Staff, who said rather carelessly in May 2014 that the military knew where the Chibok girls were being kept in the forest. He said, however, that soldiers would not use force to rescue the girls because to do so could endanger the lives of the girls.
Badeh said at that time: “We want our girls back; we want our girls back; we can do it, our military can do it but where they are held, can we go with force? If we go with force, what will happen? (they will kill them). So nobody should come and say the Nigerian military does not know what it is doing. We know what we are doing, we can’t go and kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back. So we are working. The good news for the girls is that we know where they are but we cannot tell you, we cannot come and tell you military secrets here. Just leave us alone, we are working, we would get the girls back.”
That public statement showed lack of discretion on the part of the former Chief of Defence Staff. How could a senior military chief give out the most prized secret within the armed forces, a statement that must have alerted Boko Haram terrorists to move the girls away or to disperse them so that any rescue attempt by soldiers would be futile? You do not tell your enemy what you know about his or her location. Badeh should have been more cautious with intelligence reports about the spot where the girls were being held. The fact that Badeh failed to deliver more than 12 months after he made that remark showed the extent to which government officials were bluffing.
Indeed, ever since the criminal abduction of the students from the Government Girls’ Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, government spokespersons have consistently equivocated and released statements that tended to contradict one another, particularly with regard to the condition of the school girls. In fact, ever since the girls were abducted, official explanations about their situation have been marked by vagueness.
The confusion that existed among government officials could be seen in what a former Aviation Minister said on the situation with the Chibok girls. Soon after Alex Badeh committed the blunder by claiming the military knew the location of the girls, the former Aviation Minister, Osita Chidoka, said in a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) HARDtalk program on Thursday, 5 March 2015, that the Chibok girls may never be located (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02l8kqq). This represented a contradiction of what Badeh said. While Badeh said the military knew where the girls were being kept, the former Aviation Minister hedged about whether the girls would be found and, if they were located, whether they would be found alive.
And the contradictions continued. Soon after Chidoka spoke on the BBC programme, Jonathan told the nation he was convinced the abductors would bring no harm to the school girls. Jonathan spoke on the African Independent Television morning programme, Kakaaki. Jonathan’s statement would have been taken more seriously except that it was not founded on firm proof. Jonathan said his reason for believing that Boko Haram had not murdered the school girls was “because when terrorists kill, they display the corpses to intimidate the people. So, these girls are alive. And so, we will get the girls. Luckily, we are narrowing down the areas of their (insurgents) control. So we will get them.” That was Jonathan.
Earlier, Jonathan had admitted on national television during his Presidential Media Chat on 4 May 2014 that he had no clue where the Chibok girls were being kept. This is not surprising. When he was in government, Jonathan was a typical politician who played consistently to the gallery. In this particular case, he said his government would rescue the Chibok girls but we now know he did not fulfil that promise. Jonathan’s pledge remains unfulfilled. It was a misleading statement intended to keep the hopes of the Chibok girls’ parents alive, even when there was no basis for such optimism.
It is unnecessary for Jonathan to lift the expectations of the nation and the girls’ parents without verifiable evidence that the girls were still alive.
Regardless of these contradictions, senior government officials have never ceased to express optimism about the expected safe return of the girls to their parents. How that would be happen has never been thought through. These inconsistencies confirm government’s lack of a clear strategy on how to approach the problem and rescue the girls. The contradictions also substantiate the point that have been made several times that the government does not even know what is happening to the school girls or where they are being held.
Right from the day the school girls were kidnapped, the government had struggled with how to handle the problem or how to launch a rescue mission. In the first week of May 2014, two weeks following the abduction of the girls, Jonathan set up a clumsy committee tasked with the responsibility to probe the abduction of the school girls.
Audu Ogbeh, current Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development in President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, former Minister of Communications, and former national chairperson of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), queried the basis for establishing the committee and indeed the ability of the committee to locate and unshackle the girls. Ogbeh said: “I don’t really see what the committee can do. I don’t… What can the committee do to help find out who or where they are? You keep hearing of Sambisa forest. Of course now, it is a bit too late to take certain measures otherwise there are ways of dealing with forests. They should know. If a forest becomes a place, a hideout for bandits, there are ways of dealing with forests. Dry the forest up.”
The time for talking is over. Buhari should take action. The struggle to liberate the Chibok girls is everyone’s responsibility but more so the responsibility of the government. The fact the girls have not yet been rescued after two years in captivity is a big national shame. As a nation, we are not free as long as the Chibok girls are in bondage. The girls deserve to enjoy their freedom and their fundamental human rights. No one has the right to hold the school girls prisoners in uninhabitable forest enclave that has become home to Boko Haram terrorists.
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