Sunday, March 22, 2015

Chibok Girls Must Be Found
Nigerian Punch

LATELY, the war zone in the North-East of the country has been witnessing a flurry of activities, including the belated visits of Federal Government delegations to Buni Yadi and Chibok, scenes of some of the most heinous and atrocious crimes committed against children by the Boko Haram terror group. If the visits were meant to commiserate with the people of those towns over the recent misfortunes that befell them, then it is doubtful if they could be termed a success, given the time lapse between the tragic occurrences and the visits.

In Buni Yadi, Yobe State, over 30 pupils were gruesomely struck down as Boko Haram, in February 2014, carried out a surprise midnight attack on the Federal Government College in that town. Some of the pupils died from burns as the Islamist terrorists set their dormitories on fire, while others had their throats slit. Yet some others died of gunshot wounds sustained while fleeing the horror scene, trying to escape into the bush. Assignment completed, the blood-thirsty terrorists, coolly and calmly, without any challenge whatsoever from state security agents, ghosted their way back to their evil forest in Sambisa to celebrate their exploits, while the families of the bereaved were left to mourn.

But if the fate of the dead pupils of Buni Yadi could be said to have been sealed, the boys having been dispatched to their early graves, that of the Chibok Government Secondary School, Borno State, presented a different kind of challenge altogether. In a characteristic, nocturnal visitation, Boko Haram members stormed the premises of the school, razed the buildings to the ground, loaded close to 300 schoolgirls who were preparing for their examinations into lorries, as if they were trophies of war, and then made good their escape.

At the time of their greatest need, the country failed the girls; the state security apparatus was nowhere to be found. On their way to their notorious Sambisa Forest hideout, one of the rickety trucks reportedly broke down and more than 50 girls made a bolt for it. Since that fateful day, April 14, 2014, when the girls were snatched away from the comfort of their familiar environment into the world of terrorists, they have remained in captivity till today.

From accounts of the events of that fateful day, it is obvious that if there had been an immediate response, many more of the girls, if not all of them, could have been rescued. But the government spent the first three weeks denying that the abduction ever took place. The military, which was enforcing a state of emergency in Yobe and two other states, did not respond to appeals for help by distraught parents. Responding to a question at a media chat on the 19th day after the abduction, an unmoved President Goodluck Jonathan said he did not know the whereabouts of the girls.

But while the reaction from the Federal Government was tepid, even callous, the outrage from the international community gave hope. Countries such as the United States, Britain, France, Australia, Canada, Japan and Israel either sent in military advisers to rescue the girls or promised to do so.

Unfortunately, one after the other, the assistance petered out due to alleged lack of cooperation from Nigeria.

Almost a year after the girls were kidnapped, the President has not visited Chibok. In fact, it took the visit of a Pakistani girl-child education advocate, Malala Yousafzai, to Abuja to convince him to have an audience with the parents of the girls.

But curiously, the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was in Chibok recently to lay the foundations for the rebuilding of the burnt school, in a classic case of putting the cart before the horse, while the Minister of Science and Technology, Abdul Bulama, was in Buni Yadi, to commiserate with the people. It was not surprising that the people of the two communities were in no mood to receive their august visitors. While the people of Buni Yadi told the visiting team that they had come a year late, the people of Chibok, likewise, said clearly that any attempt to rebuild the school should be preceded by the rescue of the girls who have now been missing for 342 days. The visits were unmistakable re-election gimmicks to boost Jonathan’s chances in next weekend’s presidential election.

Nothing better illustrates the contempt in which the government holds Nigerian citizens than the way matters concerning the two communities have been handled so far. In other parts of the world, matters of such national emergency attract prompt reaction. A good example is the way the French government reacted to the recent Charlie Hebdo magazine terror attacks in Paris. Not only did the security agents ensure that the perpetrators of that terror attack did not go scot-free by immediately hunting them down, President Francois Hollande also led world leaders to demonstrate their resolve to crush terrorism.

Not so in Nigeria. Whenever a group of concerned Nigerians, led by a former minister, Oby Ezekwesili, and her #BringBackOurGirls group, have any public outing, they are harassed by security agents. It would therefore be interesting to know the basis for this sudden renewed interest in Buni Yadi and Chibok. Could it be because the President’s team values his re-election more than the plight of defenceless citizens? Is it also the reason why Jonathan has recently promised to bring back the girls alive? He was recently quoted as saying, “So, these girls are alive. And so, we will get the girls.”
But Nigerians are tired of empty promises; what is needed now is action.

The 219 Chibok girls must be rescued. The Jonathan government had once claimed it wanted to secure their release through negotiations, adding that it was taking “discreet” action and did not want to do anything that could lead to the abductors killing them. Good. But now that claims are flying all over of rooting out the barbaric group from the North-East, this is the time to put everything in place to bring the girls back home.

Countries that have offered to help should be enlisted in the rescue operations. Agreed that a lot of ground has been covered by the military, backed decisively by Chad, Cameroon, and Niger Republic, in their bid to recover seized territory from Boko Haram, but there must be a concrete plan solely for rescuing the girls.

The government should set up a special task force to mount intelligence-gathering missions and lethal raids, saddled with this responsibility. The task force, as the structure is in most terror-prone countries, should be managed and overseen by a military-only chain of command. That is the only time the world will be convinced that something is being done about rescuing the girls.

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