Sometime between the night of April 14 and the morning of April 15, terrorists invaded Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok in Borno state, Northeastern Nigeria; they were clad in military uniforms, armed and in trucks. When they left the school, they reportedly carted away 234 teenage girls (roughly between 16 and 18 years old) who were then in the school to write a paper in the West African Secondary School Certificate Examination. Most schools in Bornu and other states of Northeastern Nigeria had been forced close before this time due to the recurrence of such attacks which often left students and teachers dead and kidnapped; these attacks were claimed by Boko Haram, a terrorist group. The group traces its inception to 2002 and has officially adopted the name “the Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad”, which is an English translation of Arabic, Jamā’at ahl as-sunnah li-d-da’wa wa-l-jihād. It is however better known by the Hausa name of Boko Haram which loosely translates to ‘Western Education is sinful’.
By name and actions, this terrorist group has made it clear that theirs is a fight against rationale and logic; surely, battle against education and all forms of new-age development while existing within the new age can only qualify as irrational, and by their manner of execution, evil. The kidnap of the school girls provoked outrage which has, thanks to technological perks of the new age, quickly become global as #BringBackOurGirls campaigns continue to trend all over the world.
A lot of speculations, suggestions, orders and cries have been issued as regards what ought to be done by the government of Nigeria, families of the kidnapped students, citizens, the world and even Boko Haram. This essay will not belabor that already thoroughly hassled subject matter, instead it will focus on what Nigerians ought NOT to do in this fight to stop the terrorism.
THE NOT-DO LIST
If we must rescue these Nigerian daughters from their captors, Nigerians must NOT:
- Stop Asking Questions.
After nearly three weeks since the incident happened, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, bowed to global pressure and held a media chat on Sunday, the 4th of May in which he took questions on among other pressing issues, the Chibok mishap. I was unable to watch the session but I read the transcripts and while a number of good questions were raised, the president’s answers were – apologies to Hon Obahiagbon – higihaga and lacked vital power of conviction. Two days later on Tuesday, the 6th, CNN reporter Isha Sesay held live interviews in Abuja with Messrs. Doyin Okupe and Labaran Maku, the Senior Special Assistant to the president on Public Affairs and Minister of Information respectively. I watched the live broadcast and in the few minutes it lasted, I learnt – and I am sure, most of the world too – for the first time about actions the government had taken to salvage the situation; most worthy of mention among these was the set up, according to the report, of an information centre not only to answer questions but also to issue frequent updates to the public on the matter of the girls’ kidnap.
The difference between the two live broadcasts, apart from the latter being significantly shorter and ironically, in even less conducive setting, is that the interviewer asked the right questions and insisted on concrete answers. Nigerians must emulate that; we must NOT stop asking questions, the right questions and having asked them, we must then insist on somewhat concrete answers.
- Value fear of foolery over human life.
Apart from the many questions begging the government’s handling of the disaster, there are many other questions which have arisen and been circulating social media. These questions, by their structure, relay the suspicions of a certain group of people that the entire kidnap debacle is a sham; this group hinges these suspicions on the premise that the kidnap has some undertones of political sabotage and general foul-play. Some of the questions are captured below in the forms they originated with very minor restructuring:
“Why aren’t the names and pictures of the kidnapped girls published by the school, state government, WAEC or mass media?
Why aren’t the names and pictures of their parents circulating as well?
How come the escapees (some of the girls had reportedly escaped while being hurled away by the insurgents) have not appeared on television for interviews?
How come all 234 students are in SS3 when the entire school has a population of 1200 students?
Did the Bornu state government really give N1m each to parents of the missing girls and if yes, was the money mere compensation for their loss or something more?”
While some of these questions are easily answerable by hitting Google, others such as the reason behind the dearth of visual information on the identities of the kidnapped girls remain unanswered. And suspicions have thrived on this; Nigerians are wary that the entire kidnap saga is a premeditated, even farcical drama orchestrated by the opposition to make the Jonathan-led government appear even more inept.
These suspicions have even carried over to cast wary eyes on the recent offer of military and logistical help to Nigeria from the United States; the doubters have cited instances of post-US involvement in violence-torn countries viz Syria, Liberia, Afghanistan, et al and they ask, “what will the United States want in return?”
While some might and have indeed voiced that – find these suspicions paranoiac and even outrageous, I believe that their existence is proof that Nigerians are paying attention and are thinking. This is good and must not stop because as the Igbos say, onye ajuju anaghi efu uzo. He who asks questions never loses his way. At the same time, the doubters and all Nigerians must realize that if indeed this kidnap is a staged make-up by the opposition and we are all going to look like fools when it is blown open, I daresay that this is one foolery worth practicing.
There are a number of things that could be done to defuse the possibilities of this ‘scam’ turning fatal for us as a country – for example, our local media could sit up to ask more questions even of the US-led aid, demand for information on the identities of the kidnapped girls and their families and promptly return feedback to the listening public regardless of the response to the demand, etc – but there are no other options to save the #ChibokGirls besides whatever little action can be mustered by an unarmed public in raising awareness and crying out for help. Assume for an incredulous minute that the kidnap is fake and the bragging video recently distributed by Shekau was a product of technological tweaking, the myriad of attacks, latest among which are the Nyanya bombings, have been real enough – we scraped real Nigerians’ razed flesh and bones off the floor and donated real blood to the injured; the Monday massacre of over a hundred also in the same Borno state was equally real enough.
If there is even the slightest chance that even one girl has been kidnapped and is right now being fattened for the sex-slave market in Sambisa, Nigerians must NOT stop crying foul. If the only price we have to pay, in the event of this truly turning out to be a hoax, is carrying the tag of fools, Nigerians must NOT be afraid to look foolish – it wouldn’t be the first time.
- Make this into a regional or religious matter.
A man residing in Southern Nigeria with his family is watching the news and the Nyanya bomb or kidnap of girls from Chibok breaks. He watches until the news presenter completes her report then he says, “Nawa oh, these Hausa people sef! God help them oh” and he retires to bed for a good night’s rest. This scenario is mirrored in many families in all parts of Nigeria except for parts of the Northeast and federal capital territory that have been affected by the terrorist attacks. It is an inclination by the ‘unaffected’ Nigerian to stereotype every Boko Haram insurgent as hausa or northern, and so long as they restrict their terror to the northern states – their ‘home states’ – it is okay. This thinking is not just wrong but potentially fatal.
Researching the uprising of Boko Haram, the distasteful but glaring truth is that Nigeria bred Boko Haram; first by leaving a vast amount of uneducated youths unaccounted and uncared for; second by ignoring the ‘minor’ violent operations of the group in the few years after its emergence under Ustaz Yusuf in 2002; and finally, by turning a blind eye to the cultivation of the idle youth into mercenaries and foot soldiers of the sect. Nigeria is responsible for the growth of this terrorist sect into a large debilitating and malignant global tumor. We did this collectively, as a whole nation of South, North, East, West, Central, Christians and Muslims. And in its bestial attacks, the sect has not spared any sections.
I am aware that some supposedly holy men of God, especially affiliated to the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) hold a different opinion. They theorize that the bombings and kidnap are all anti-Christian; an Evangelist Owojaiye published a list of 180 of the abductees to prove his claim that 90% of the girls are Christian and so – he affirmed – it was targeted at Christians. This is misleading and a cheap strategy to continue to live in self-denial while profiting from a pitiable situation.
Boko Haram has made it very clear that their enemy is westernization and anyone who is in support of it. Also on many occasions, elite Islam scholars have arisen to condemn the sect as a misrepresentation of the ideals of Islam which is primarily a peace-seeking religion. Anyone who is aware of Nigeria’s perilous history with religious crises and yet chooses to ignore facts in favor of this fanatic charade is either blind or thoroughly biased or both. And must NOT be heeded.
- Perpetuate a proven fruitless blame game.
On the morning of April 14, a few hours before the Chibok kidnap, a bomb explosion in a bus park in Nyanya claimed over a hundred lives. The president visited the scene of the blast later that day but was sighted the next day first in Kano for a political rally and then in Ibadan at the celebration of the centenary birth anniversary of the Olubadan of Ibadan. News of these actions sparked a lot of dissent among the Nigeria public who quickly launched into tidal wave upon wave of blames. People attacked Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s family, his university degree in Zoology and even his hometown of Otuoke in Bayelsa state. How could he have been so insensitive?
In all of these however, no one thought about the Olubadan who along with his chiefs and people, welcomed the president to his party barely 24 hours after the explosion and fewer hours after news of the kidnap started to trickle in. Nor did anybody consider the hundreds of Nigerians who turned up at the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) rally at Kano on that day, cheering and waving flags. How could they have been so insensitive?
The blame game was vituperative, biased, painfully tangential to the issue at hand, and overwhelmingly ineffective. As is characteristic with the art of pointing a finger, all other fingers pointed back at the pointers – Nigerians, until people decided it was time to really act rather than continue to ply the art. People took up the #BringBackOurGirls campaign on different levels, in different places, to different places, and in a few days, the world couldn’t help but notice. The entire globe has seen people in uniform colors, rallying with placards and songs for the return of the #ChibokGirls and the international news media are camped at our doorsteps. Because of the intense pressure generated by this campaign, we’re seeing action or at least, a very striking semblance of it from the president and his government.
An adage goes thus, “the lizard who sits in bed, blaming the sun for blazing too hot or the rain for pouring too heavy will die of hunger” Clearly, blames get no one anywhere and must NOT be continued, especially when they only serve to assuage one’s need to vent in a situation that requires much more than mere venting.
- Get distracted by the First Lady.
After having vowed to lead a protest to Borno state even at mortal risk to her person, the first lady of Nigeria, Dame Patience Jonathan convened another high-powered meeting in Abuja with concerned parties on Sunday, the 5th of April. She reportedly burst into tears in a video that has gone viral since then, tagged ‘Chai…there is God o!’ The first lady was also linked with ordering the arrest in Abuja of Naomi Mutah, a lead protester for the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. While the charge has been denied by her aides, the comments and actions of Dame Patience Jonathan in the face of this crisis have been summarily embarrassing.
The #ChibokGirls case is one which cries for a mother’s voice and a feminine touch, and in a world that is quickly awakening to the power of womanhood, one can only muse over what significantly commendable differences a more articulated, less compromised, less unwittingly jocular first lady would have made. Dame Jonathan’s peculiarities are not strange to Nigerians but in the face of a crisis whose magnitude has bared us all to the eyes of the world, we must not get distracted by her.
If you’re reading this and thinking “Didn’t he just say we mustn’t throw blames?” then please read again. The Nigerian focus cannot afford to be dislodged from the search for these children especially considering recent developments; not even for the first lady, it can’t.
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”
I am @ojukwu_martin on twitter