The Girls Denied their Tomorrow

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Dan Agbese

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By Dan Agbese  |

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MY eyes go rheumy when I think about them. My eyes go rheumy when I think of the helplessness of a nation that cannot protect its own citizens from such egregious harm. It is a cruel reminder that if we do not do right by them, the future of our young people, the recognised leaders of tomorrow, could be dancing in the wind. It has been 733 days, as of this writing, since the young Chibok girls were abducted. 733 days of parental agony. 733 days of a nation unable to disentangle itself from the clutches of a murderous band of insurgents that in the recent past, made our armed forces look like Boys Scouts.

The fate of the 219 girls abducted from their school by the murderous insurgents called Boko Haram, remains unknown but nevertheless, a national challenge. On April 15, the formidable and caring men and women who refuse to let the nation forget these unfortunate girls, and its responsibility to them, staged a public demonstration for the nth time in Lagos, asking the Nigerian government, for the nth time, to bring back the girls. A Daily Trust front page lead story on the demonstration dropped the ominous hint that “The government is in dilemma because it wanted all the girls released at once but the militants said they can only be released in batches of ten.”

I have problems with that. It is not usually the business of a beggar to be a chooser. I do not think the government, if indeed the story is true, is in a position to dictate the terms for the release of the girls. I can find nothing wrong with bringing them home in batches of ten or even five.  The release of the first batch would reignite our hope for the return of their friends.

The Daily Trust, quoting unnamed sources, claimed that negotiations were going on between the group and the government through a third party foreign country. How much hope can we place in this? Seems all so speculative.

Buhari promised through his media aide, Garba Shehu, that “we will explore all options to rescue them.” I have no reasons to doubt his commitment. Still, I think the president can get off the high horse of civil service speak and brief the nation at regular intervals and in concrete terms about the options he is exploring to bring the girls back home. Given the high security nature of the operation, we do not expect to be told everything but the information can be sufficiently filtered to help us appreciate what is going on. Keeping the people in the dark creates its own special security problems. An open government means just that – exemplified in a rapport between the government and the governed.

It seems to me that the word, dilemma, in the Daily Trust story, defines the apparent confusion and helplessness the Nigerian government and the rest of us face over the Chibok girls. The path to their freedom appears both murky and muddied by the depth of dilemma into which we have been driven, thanks to the do-nothing Jonathan administration. Each day deepens the agony of the girls and their parents and makes our government look clueless and incompetent as far as this is concerned.

Yes, President Goodluck bought us to this unfortunate pass. Yes, my eyes go rheumy when I think of a president who was not moved by this heinous crime, a crime that shocked the entire world. Jonathan loved power but hated the responsibilities that go with it. And so, when he was confronted with the most complex challenge of his presidency, he chose the easy option of loudly enjoying himself by showing the world what a great dancer he is by digging it in the Kano city stadium. I do not think anyone ever doubted his capacity for the trivial and the irresponsible.

He refused to lift a finger to hunt for and rescue these girls. He refused help from other foreign countries who have had the experience of dealing with similar situations. He and his cohorts had a simple, primitive and sad interpretation of the kidnap saga. They saw it as essentially a false report concocted by the power hungry northerners to deny him the right to continue his perch on the exalted throne and incompetently lead our country nowhere but down the sterile garden path where hope had since stopped growing. He and his wife must be proud of the fact that they are bereft of the milk of parenthood. They showed no emotion and no feeling. genuine or false, that children like theirs were cruelly and criminally separated from their parents and loved ones. I suggest we honour them as our most unfeeling first couple so far.

Be that as it may, Jonathan has become history. No matter how loudly we beat the drums of his monumental failure to do right by these unfortunate children, it would not rescue our government and us from the dilemma we face. We should leave him alone to do all the dancing and the jolly-jolly he wants.

The man who now bears this burden is President Muhammadu Buhari. It is a heavy moral burden because he cannot ignore the challenges it poses to his person and his administration. His election raised our hopes that the girls would be rescued and re-united with their parents and loved ones sooner rather than later because we believed that he has a) the capacity to turn the rescue of the girls into a major rescue military operation and b) he has both the feeling and the empathy to know that the judgement of history on his presidency is tied up with the fate of these girls.

We were probably unfair to him in our expectations. Perhaps, we should have moderated them, if only to recognise the fact that heaven is often lax in helping the sons of man turn dilemmas into victories.

But we cannot run away from this: Chibok would either be a defining moment for his presidency or a blot on it. The ball is in his court. He and his security chiefs can hunker down today and take steps that would raise our hopes that they have the capacity to win this protracted insurgency war. To make our country safe is a task that cannot be shirked. It is a task that must be done.

One formidable woman would not let us forget that. Mrs Oby Ezekwesili, the former minister for education under Obasanjo, has seared the Chibok girls on our national conscience, and indeed, the conscience of the rest of the world. She is tireless and she is focused. Each time she speaks and leads a demonstration on the Chibok girls, she challenges us to rise from our comfort zones and demonstrate our humanity, our humaneness and our empathy for the fate of these innocent girls who have been turned into sacrificial lambs and sex slaves by Boko Haram.

Ezekwesili stands out but she not alone in this tough, complicated and formidable struggle. Quite a good number of similarly committed men and women throughout the country have kept the Chibok girls on the front burner. My heart goes to them for their humanity. If these girls are not rescued, then Boko Haram would have defeated the Nigerian state. Perish the thought.

—  May 2, 2016 @ 13:55 GMT

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