I have been cynical from the beginning of this 'deal' with Boko Haram. There was very little chance of it being true and coming to pass. There was a very strong probability that it was simply untrue, like so many other stories that came from the Nigerian military or government or media.
The lies they tell, the games they play, spark hope that invariably is yanked away within days. It's criminal what they are doing to the families and friends of the kidnapped children, and they're continued neglect of the hundreds of girls and boys captured by Boko Haram. It's also criminal that their military is so pathetic and so poorly equipped that they cannot even protect the people they are supposed to. Some people should be held accountable.
|Protesters call on the Nigerian government to rescue |
the girls taken by Boko Haram from a school in Chibok.
The Chibok girls have become a symbol of everything that is wrong with Nigeria. They were abducted because the state failed to protect them. They have remained in captivity, first because their disappearance was not treated as an issue of national significance and then because despite pouring billions of dollars into defence, the army tasked with finding them is worse equipped than Boko Haram. Almost the entire population of this country can give instances where state neglect or state greed or state indifference has led to calamity in our lives.
I wonder how many Nigerians have off-shore bank accounts with millions of dollars in them? I would bet the number would be in the hundreds and possibly in the thousands as multiple billions of dollars go missing from military and government coffers. It would seem that being a liar and a thief is a prerequisite for advancement in the military and government of Nigeria.
The Chibok girls are our plights magnified – a twist of fate, and we could easily be them tomorrow. Their loss was our nadir (rock-bottom) as a nation and their recovery would mark, for many, a return to cautious optimism. Until you have a leader with some integrity, there'l be no reason for optimism, cautious or otherwise.
For others it would take much more than that. Bringing the Chibok girls back will not solve the problem of the thousands who have been displaced by Boko Haram and are now living as refugees in northern cities like Yola. Bringing the Chibok girls back will not change the fact that 12 Nigerian soldiers were sentenced to death for mutinying against their commander, and more are mutinying because they are so poorly equipped.
On Wednesday the town of Mubi, home to Adamawa State University, was overrun by Boko Haram insurgents and Nigerian soldiers fled, leaving its barracks to be looted of weapons. Some two weeks after the announcement of the deal, newspapers continue to keep track of how many days the girls have been missing – but the main headlines have now moved on to more recent atrocities.
The western fixation on the Chibok girls is seen by some as a simplification of a war that has many victims: young boys, young girls, old men, women, children, Christians, Muslims, pastors, imams, soldiers, teachers, students, journalists, a list of casualties that has no rhyme or reason.
Conspiracy theories thus abound in some quarters, as people express scepticism about the wave of international concern over Chibok. The concern from western governments, some believe, is just a ploy to get a foothold in Nigeria. “After all, Boko Haram has been killing and kidnapping us since,” a friend summarised.
The concern from western governments was not about getting a foothold in Nigeria; it was simply an exercise in appeasing their own constituents. I believe they mostly left because of the impossibility of working with the Nigerian military and government. It is probably for the same reason that the west has little interest in your oil.
And for others, as well as bringing back the Chibok girls and equipping our army, how we win the wider war against terrorism is just as important.
In 2013, the US state department filed a report on human rights abuses in Nigeria. Ignoring the irony of the US filing a report on abuses that occur as a result of a war on terror, the facts presented were appalling. Extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, beatings – these have sadly become part and parcel of Nigeria’s response to Boko Haram. Innocent Nigerians are becoming collateral damage for our war on terror.
Things have so deteriorated that the US government has allegedly refused to sell arms to Nigeria because of human rights violations. Again, ignoring cries of the pot calling the kettle black, the more pertinent question is: is the kettle black? Are these allegations true? If they are, this is not how a democracy fights a war, particularly on its own territory.
In Nigeria this month, I witnessed incidents which suggest that in many ways my country is still only a nominal democracy. Waiting in traffic in Port Harcourt, in the south-east of the country, I saw a police officer run up to a traffic offender and deal him a vicious blow across the face. Bystanders did not even look up. Again in Port Harcourt, I saw a convoy with sirens blaring driving down the wrong side of the road to avoid waiting like the rest of us normal, plebeian people. And last, and most shocking, outside Lagos airport, I watched a soldier ram the nozzle of his gun, hand on trigger, into the shoulder of a driver who had formed a second lane at the drop-off point at the departure terminal.
My South African friends, very conscious of the apartheid struggle, are always quick to say, “Biko did not die for this”, or “Mandela did not go to prison for that”, whenever there has been a perceived infringement of their democratic rights. In Nigeria, we too have our democratic heroes. They were not tear-gassed, thrown in prison or killed so that 15 years later, 234 girls would go missing and no one would care.
Kudirat Abiola was not shot in the head so that I would watch a policeman almost shoot a driver for parking wrongly outside Murtala Muhammed international airport. The journalist Dele Giwa was not blown up so that, in 2014, the billions of dollars earmarked to fight a war on terror against a group much smaller and with fewer resources than the Nigerian army would unaccountably not suffice, and an additional $1bn would be needed to do the job.
And yet the play did not end in despair. These young ones grew and became great, and lifted Nigeria to her feet and discarded her rags and clothed her in sparkling green and white, and danced and danced and danced with the Nigeria they had recreated. Let’s bring back our girls to a country where they can become and blossom and grow to join in the work of lifting Nigeria to her feet and making her dance again.
I hope and pray this will happen, but it can't happen until the country's leadership is held accountable for lying and stealing and indifference to the sufferings of its own people. How that might happen, I cannot even imagine.