Written by the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspaper
It is a message of hope to Nigerians and indeed all concerned citizens of the world that 21 of the 276 Chibok girls abducted by Boko Haram terrorists more than 30 months ago, have been released. Irrespective of the process and the procedure, it is comforting that some young lives have been delivered from the snares of the wicked ones. The government should be commended for bringing this phase of negotiated release to some denouement.
In the same vein, the Bring-Back-Our-Girls (BBOG) group that persistently – sometimes at risk to themselves – kept the issue on the front burner at both national and global levels deserves a pat on the back. The BBOG activists sustained remarkable pressure on the Federal Government to be serious and proactive about the abducted girls. Everything has worked together for good, after all.
Indeed, this limited success confirms that government can achieve positive result if it is genuinely committed to any objectives. We should also praise the efforts of the Joint Task Force (JTF) and their civilian counterparts (including local hunters) that have also mounted pressures on the Boko Haram insurgents to negotiate. Besides, the roles of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Swiss Government must be acknowledged, despite their humility about the role they reportedly played, in this regard.
The point must be noted that the return of these girls, and the increasing evidence that others are alive, put a lie to the reported statement early this year by former President Olusegun Obasanjo on the possible release of the Chibok girls. In a publicised opinion, the former president had dismissed any hopes about their return. His words: “Some of them will never return because 72 hours after the Chibok girls were abducted was too late for their rescue, talk less of getting to two years by April . So if any leader is promising to bring back Chibok girls now, he is lying.” We dare to say that this disdain for life must rank arguably, as the most insensitive, most unbecoming, utterance of a parent, indeed any one, on so saddening an incident. It is gratifying to note that progress has been made in spite of some people’s pessimism.
However, it is cold comfort that 197 of the girls are still in the den of their abductors more than 900 days after. No one can be fully relieved of the terrible bruises inflicted on the girls, their parents, this nation and its foreign friends, until all the girls return and the Boko Haram terror is defeated. This includes, therefore, that negotiation will continue until every girl is accounted for. It is cheering that the Federal Government is alive to this responsibility if the Minister of Information’s promise is anything to go by. The Minister, Mr. Lai Mohammed said, “whatever it takes to get the Boko Haram situation under control, we will do it because there are still more girls in captivity”.
Besides, the medical condition of the returning girls should not be trifled with as some are reported to be pregnant, while others are already carrying babies. This development has raised some concerns about possible abuse of the underage girls and the health risks to which their abductors must have put them. We should think that, under international laws, the abuse of innocent children in these and other manners must not sometime, somewhere, go un-investigated. This is a serious crime that authorities should not overlook, after all.
Even as the nation celebrates the return of the 21, it is necessary to caution about the sensitivity of the deal that has come thus far. Lai Mohammed had noted that, “the girls’ release was secured based on a very delicate negotiation and confidence built over time.” It is indubitable that negotiating with terrorists is a challenging task that demands tact, trust, and secrecy. We, therefore, urge that the press, public affairs analysts of whatever hue and persuasion, and everyone else refrain from speculations, assumptions and over-stretched conclusions that may undermine on-going efforts to bring home the remaining girls.
To this end, the President should continue to take the bull by the horns in dealing with Boko Haram challenge. This should be done with a clear and sole aim of restoring peace to the North East and indeed Nigeria. As a corollary to this, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces is expected to develop a dynamic and purposeful counter terrorism strategy, in this connection. After all, the 1999 Constitution as amended, provides that, “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” This fundamental objective should not be compromised on the altar of politics.