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By John Daniel Obioma
Perhaps, the most heart-breaking incident that has ever happened to Nigeria since the Boko Haram insurgency started in 2009 was the unconscionable abduction of 234 innocent school girls from their dormitory on April 15, this year. For nearly three months now, there have been mass protests and campaigns all over the world calling for their unconditional freedom, all to no avail. The western nations of USA, Britain, France, including China, Israel and Australia, have willingly volunteered their intelligence/security agencies to assist Nigeria in the quest for the release these girls. What makes this incident unique and quite unprecedented in history is that a group of home-grown terrorists took away such a large crowd of young, vulnerable female students to their hideout located in the same country. It was not an attack like 11/9/2001 or a hijack of air passengers to an unknown destination.
Apart from the unimaginable physical assault and psychological torment the captors would unleash on the girls, that singular barbaric act is most likely going to retard the growth of female education in the North-East, a region already suffering from gross female illiteracy and gender inequality. For another pathetic reason, the innocent teenage girls are totally unaware of the interwoven and religious issues for which they were abducted. They are just victims of circumstance.
In the case of 11/9/2001, the American security agencies immediately pursued the attackers up their base in Afghanistan and never gave up until justice was done. Again in 1976, a Palestinian terrorist group hijacked a passenger airliner filled with Israeli tourists and took it down to Uganda. When talks and negotiations failed, the Israeli government, against international convention, invaded Entebbe, Uganda and got its citizens released from the captors. These two are ready examples of “hitting the iron when it is hot”, a quick response to a national emergency. It does not need wide consultations and meetings with stakeholders or prolonged dialogue with the enemy, at that early stage. Even in the Bible (I Samuel 30:1-21), when the Amalekites abducted David’s wives and children, he pursued them and eventually recovered all.
What worried many people was that the Nigerian government did practically nothing to free the Chibok girls for many days after their abduction. It was busy convening meetings upon meetings among security/service Chiefs and studying logistics of envisaged counter-operation. Obviously, the terrorists expected government’s immediate response, but when it did not come, they went ahead to virtually hijaik the North-East, especially, Chibok and Ashigashiya areas, with little or no resistance from Nigerian troops. Till date, no practical result has been achieved by government, except constant promises of being in control or getting closer to target.
To be fair, government is making efforts to release the girls in collaboration with foreign partners. Though its efforts came rather late, government had to contend with saboteurs in the military who collaborated with the insurgents. It also had to consider the terrain and delicate nature of the operation bearing in mind that the targets must be rescued alive not dead. That is why government came up with an offer of negotiation and amnesty while at the same time deploying intelligence and minimal force.
Another issue, probably due to its security implication, is that government has not been forthcoming with genuine information on the true position of things concerning the girls. This, according to the Finance Minister, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is a fundamental flaw in the rescue effort. She said this while in London to launch the “Safe Schools Initiative” of the federal government in collaboration with the British government. It is designed to make schooling in the North-East safer and attractive, encourage girls to go to school and protect them from terrorist groups.
Similarly, speaking in Abuja at a news conference to mark the 80th day of the Abduction of Chibok Girls, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, leader of the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign, said that the limping effort by government to rescue the girls after 80 days left a sour taste in the mouth. According to her, “there is no doubt that efforts are being made by government, but those efforts are neither decisive nor far-reaching enough. To her, this has weakened the confidence the citizens have in the capacity of government to play its constitutional obligation to save lives and property. Undoubtedly, the parents/guardians of those girls have suffered untold trauma since April 15. They need to be consoled with credible assurances/results in the rescue effort.
A few days after the abduction, Boko Haram announced that they had made arrangements to sell-off the girls to whom it may concern, across the Nigerian borders. When international pressure started to mount for the girls’ release, they now came up with the swap arrangement. As a precondition for the abductees to be released, the monstrous sect insists that 70 colleagues of theirs detained by the federal government must be released.
Naturally, no well-meaning government would be willing to accept this demand from a faceless terrorist group, especially given the huge cost of atrocities committed by them over the years. It would mean that government is extremely weak. It will also stoke the fire of greater terrorism in the country.
Nevertheless, looking at the issue critically, it makes sense to swap those girls with the detained criminals. The exchange rate of those girls is worth more than 70 never-do-wells. To demonstrate our love and care for them, their safety and freedom are not negotiable. Government should not see it as a game of surrender to a terrorist gang, but a sacrifice for our nation Nigeria and posterity. The detained terrorists are of little or no value to Nigeria. Ultimately, the government may either jail or execute them, but not at the expense of our school girls. The sultan of Sokoto, the Chibok community leaders and some Christian movements have advised government to take the swap option, if the terrorists are sincere. To do anything in the contrary is to mortage the life and future of the Chibok girls and generations unborn. In the words of President Barrack Obama at the last G7 meeting. “There can be no progress without sacrifice and no development without solidarity”. The freedom of those girls is not just a socio-cultural responsibility in honour of motherhood, fertility and procreation; it has also jumped into the political arena, a constitutional matter and campaign issue – a veritable tool for 2015 politicking.
Obioma is an Associate Editor with The Economy magazine