Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Two years of Chibok girls


Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper

Sadly, a second year has passed since the abduction of 219 girls of the Government Day Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State by members of the terrorist group, Boko Haram. Since that fateful night, when those teenage girls, preparing to write their final Secondary School Certificate Examinations, were kidnapped from their hostels by the murderous elements, a lot has come to be part of the sad Chibok history.

From the initial denial and scandalous inattention of the government, to the viral global mobilisation campaign to ‘Bring Back Our Girls’; from the slow and reluctant response of government, to the comical melodramatic intervention of the former First Lady, Patience Jonathan; from the silence of nations that could help, to the mendacity of army chiefs whose minds were far-away from Chibok,  the abduction and its narratives have been  the most odious image-battering events in Nigeria’s recent history.

Two years after the Chibok girls’ abduction, many Nigerians have become desensitised to its initial shock. The fuel crisis, the power problem and the pains of a yet-to-be understood economic situation are gradually pushing Chibok into the dark side of living memory. And for the good people who still have the conscience and empathy not to forget, the feeling has remained the same: “Like a lingering, tiresome bad dream refusing to fade away, the ‘mystery’ around the abducted teenage school girls have distorted memories, stirred the world’s sympathy, re-opened wounds of despair and haunted our passions. And as if fated to the dictates of political chess game, Chibok is gradually paling into its original remoteness whence it came.” Yet, beyond this gradual erasure of memory and Nigerians’ uncanny toleration of suffering, pain and bad fortune, there is also the traumatised condition of the forgotten parents of the Chibok girls to contend with.

Every memory of the haplessness of the girls is an agony for their loved ones. Parents are continually caught between unconvincing faith and the stark reality of hopelessness. Drained by the brutal denial and hopeless resignation of pessimists, many parents are wallowing in complicated traumatic disorders. Some are already a mental wreck, psychologically disorientated and emotionally spent. So far, reports have it that 18 mothers and some fathers of the girls have died. Indeed, no parent, who has experienced such trauma of searing uncertainty and official apathy to his or her plight, would have the vitality and fighting spirit to carry on normally. In a culture where the belief is that children bury their parents, this unforeseen circumstance befalling the parents of these girls is a double calamity.

It is disheartening that, owing to the needless politicking which the abduction has attracted, the state did not own this agony. There seemed to have been no commitment, beyond routine administration, to inquire into the plights of the parents and family. Family members, scattered in different abodes, were hauled to and from Abuja, initially for reprimands and then official briefings that glossed over their predicament. The parents and family members were practically left on their own.

Today, a new narrative that invites the world to forget the Chibok girls is the hopeless resignation, brutal denial and the finality of hesitancy peddled by public officers. This is a calculated attempt to erase the Chibok girls from the spotlight of public discourse and thereby foreclose any possibility of rescue. Nigerians must resist this. As this newspaper admitted in an earlier comment, and still wants to admonish: “Nigerians should continually live in painful memory of the girls, and cause their consciences to prick them until personal commitment and official action cause the girls to be found.”

After two years, and as the countdown to the third year begins, Nigerians should unanimously call on the Federal Government to officially speak to its citizens and also to the world. The painful memories of this cowardly abduction, the tortuous thought of the girls’ hellish predicament, the deep concern for the traumatised parents and family members and the enveloping hopelessness onto which the whole nation has been thrown, should embolden all to ask this government what moves it has made so far.

It is gratifying that President Buhari called from China to express his sympathy and reassured the nation of government’s resolve to rescue the girls. Laudable as the president’s gesture seems, it is not enough. True, the family and kindred of Chibok are grief-stricken and psychologically broken, still the government can begin a healing process for them. If the president wants to demonstrate that his heart was truly with the parents and families of the Chibok girls, his government would begin by compensating the parents and family members by helping them pick up their broken lives.

Apart from providing healthcare and special counselling services for them, the president can express his commitment in a symbolic demonstration of care and fellow-feeling by paying a visit to Chibok. In doing this, it should banish from the purposeful act of statecraft, the routine, casual ritual that turns the Chibok event into an industry for politicians and government contractors. And as a mark of respect for their cultural integrity it should rebuild their communities so that they can go back home to embrace the emotional succour of their kindred and root.

Notwithstanding the streak of forlornness and self defeat evident in the statements made by public officers, Nigerians are convinced that the best of will and efforts has not been deployed to rescue the girls. As ongoing investigations into arms and ammunition procurement and contract relating to military ordnances have revealed, there seemed to have been so much misappropriation and diversion of funds that frustrated the operations of the Joint Task Force. But that was more than one year ago. Not much comfort has been shown the Chibok families in the last 11 months of this administration.

In spite of all this, Nigerians are hopeful. While no one can pretend that abductions and sacking of villages are still not going on, Nigerians are convinced that this government has the capacity to target the territories of the Boko Haram scattered all over West Africa; and in coalition with counter-terrorism forces of allied nations, prevent the dream of the Boko Haram to become the Islamic State of West Africa (ISWA). With Sambisa Forest still a possible refuge for some of the girls, if this government views the rescue of these girls as a priority, it can deploy the necessary resources to accomplish some praise-worthy tasks.

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