From Chi­bok to Dapchi: The tragedy and the shame

Sunday Trust - - VIEWPOINT -

Both the pres­i­dency and the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives set up in­de­pen­dent com­mit­tees last week to find out how the 110 girls from the Gov­ern­ment Girls Science and Tech­ni­cal Col­lege, Dapchi, Yobe State, were ab­ducted Fe­bru­ary 19. The na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, Ma­jor-Gen­eral Baba­gana Monguno, set up his 12-mem­ber com­mit­tee to as­cer­tain “the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the ab­duc­tion of the girls, con­firm­ing the pres­ence, com­po­si­tion, scale and dis­po­si­tion of se­cu­rity in place in Dapchi, as well as in the GGSTC be­fore the in­ci­dent and sug­gest­ing mea­sures that can lead to the lo­ca­tion and res­cue of the girls” and re­port back to him on March 15.

An hoc com­mit­tee of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives has been given four weeks to in­ves­ti­gate how and why it hap­pened and re­port its find­ings to the house.

On the face of it, these ac­tions look like a flurry of ac­tiv­i­ties of cor­rect of­fi­cial re­sponse to the very sad in­ci­dent. Do not be de­ceived. These ac­tions came more than one week af­ter the ab­duc­tion. What ex­cuses the tar­di­ness? In truth, both the pres­i­dency and the leg­is­la­tors are en­gag­ing in the very un­pro­duc­tive labour of chas­ing shad­ows. The chal­lenge be­fore the Nige­rian state and its se­cu­rity agen­cies at this time is not how it hap­pened and who to blame but rather the res­cue of the girls and re­unit­ing them with their griev­ing fam­i­lies. This coun­try can­not af­ford the lux­ury of the blame game at this time. To do so is to miss the point about the grave re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of the Nige­rian na­tion to the safety and the se­cu­rity of its cit­i­zens.

Se­cu­rity is the num­ber one con­sti­tu­tional charge on the Nige­rian gov­ern­ment. That our se­cu­rity chal­lenges have be­come nas­tier and more fright­en­ingly com­pre­hen­sive, sug­gest that the gov­ern­ment needs to do more than the cos­met­ics of tepid as­sur­ances to the Nige­rian pub­lic each time the na­tion finds it­self en­gulfed in avoid­able tragedies. As the com­mit­tees hun­ker down in search of the nee­dle in the pile of haystacks, valu­able time is be­ing lost - to the ad­van­tage of the ab­duc­tors. If we have to wait for the com­mit­tee set up by the na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser to tell our se­cu­rity agen­cies where the girls are and how they can be res­cued, then ob­vi­ously we have lost it - and lost the 110 girls too.

We do not seem to have learnt any lessons from what hap­pened in Chi­bok in 2011. The girls be­came vic­tims of stupid pol­i­tics by Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan. He chose to do noth­ing to res­cue them be­cause he and his wife be­lieved that the 260 girls were not ab­ducted and that their ab­duc­tion was a fic­tion con­cocted by north­ern­ers to deny him vic­tory at the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion that year. He ig­nored them de­spite the over­whelm­ing ev­i­dence that the ab­duc­tion was a fact at­tested to by the lead­ing global print and elec­tronic news me­dia. And the girls were never res­cued. At least, the bulk of them never were. We are walk­ing the same path - with ob­vi­ously pre­dictable re­sults.

Monguno acted out of em­bar­rass­ment, ob­vi­ously. There ought to be a more pos­i­tive re­sponse to this lat­est ad­di­tion to the many se­cu­rity chal­lenges the na­tion is grap­pling with. It is not the busi­ness of a com­mit­tee such as this to ad­vise our se­cu­rity agen­cies on how to lo­cate the ab­ducted girls and how to res­cue them. The Gen­eral should un­der­stand and ap­pre­ci­ate the se­ri­ous­ness and the ur­gency of the mat­ter at hand and do bet­ter than con­sign the fate of these 110 girls to an un­cer­tain fu­ture in the name of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion des­tined to un­earth noth­ing use­ful in the cri­sis at hand. I do not think any one in the coun­try trusts the ca­pac­ity of his com­mit­tee to do a lit­tle more than sit in Abuja and pro­duce a re­port that would nei­ther help the res­cue of the girls nor wipe the shame off the face of the Nige­rian gov­ern­ment and se­cu­rity forces.

Gov­ern­ment shelves are groan­ing un­der the weight of sim­i­lar com­mit­tee re­ports on the in­sur­gency it­self. Jonathan set up at least two sim­i­lar com­mit­tees to ad­vise him on how to com­bat the in­sur­gency in its then rel­a­tive in­fancy. It is fool­ish to do the same thing over and over and ex­pect a dif­fer­ent re­sult.

Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari de­scribed the in­ci­dent as a na­tional dis­as­ter. Two stronger phrases best cap­ture it, namely, na­tional shame and na­tional tragedy. It is em­bar­rass­ing that our se­cu­rity forces could not chal­lenge the ab­duc­tors who took away the girls in a long con­voy of ve­hi­cles. In the first few hours of the in­ci­dent, truth suf­fered painfully when the se­cu­rity agen­cies claimed that the army had res­cued about 40 of them. They owned up and apol­o­gised for their false claim but noth­ing ex­cuses the in­ep­ti­tude of these agen­cies in the loss of these girls. The ab­duc­tion was care­fully planned and pro­fes­sion­ally ex­e­cuted and thus left ashes in the mouths of se­cu­rity agen­cies.

It is sad that an­other rot­ten egg has homed in on the face of the Nige­rian state. The Nige­rian state need not look at the mir­ror to see that its face is not look­ing pretty The ab­duc­tion of these young girls, the sec­ond in seven years or so, how­ever char­i­ta­ble one might wish to be, speaks quite poorly of the com­pe­tence of our se­cu­rity agen­cies in con­tain­ing the in­sur­gency. On more than one oc­ca­sion, we were told that the back­bone of the in­sur­gency had been bro­ken. In no time, it re­grew its back­bone and shocked our se­cu­rity forces. In the same way, the Boko Haram leader, Shekau, has been killed by our se­cu­rity forces more times than we can re­mem­ber. But he is alive. Some­thing is wrong.

Yobe and Borno states have been the main theatres of the Boko Haram in­sur­gency since 2009. Schools in Yobe were re­peat­edly at­tacked at the height of the in­sur­gency. In 2014, 58 male stu­dents of the Col­lege of Agri­cul­ture, Bunu Yadi, Yobe State, were slaugh­tered in cold blood in their dor­mi­to­ries at night. The killers car­ried out the heinous crime un­chal­lenged by our se­cu­rity forces. The Yobe state and the fed­eral gov­ern­ments looked help­less at the time. They still do.

Our se­cu­rity men ought to know that the suc­cess­ful ab­duc­tion of the 260 girls from their sec­ondary school in Chi­bok, Borno State, by the in­sur­gents in 2011, would en­cour­age them to raid other fe­male sec­ondary schools in Yobe and Borno states sooner or later. The fe­male schools have be­come vul­ner­a­ble as lu­cra­tive re­cruit­ment grounds for child brides. The real tragedy is that the Nige­rian state is sup­pos­edly bet­ter equipped than the in­sur­gents be­cause, as the late Ad­mi­ral Au­gus­tus Aikhomu once put it, gov­ern­ment has the mo­nop­oly of vi­o­lence. So, tell me, why does the state look so help­less in this war with­out borders?

Goni Bukar Lawal, the mem­ber rep­re­sent­ing Dapchi com­mu­nity in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and who, in an im­pas­sioned speech, forced his col­leagues to register their dis­ap­point­ment with the crass fail­ure of our se­cu­rity agen­cies, said that “There was mil­i­tary pres­ence in the eight lo­cal gov­ern­ment ar­eas in Dapchi un­til one week to the at­tack. It was sur­pris­ing to us that the mil­i­tary with­drew its men and one week af­ter, there was an at­tack.”

I am sure we would even­tu­ally get to know who or­dered the with­drawal of those forces one week be­fore the ab­duc­tion. But the chal­lenge right now is for the se­cu­rity forces to re­deem their spotty im­age by res­cu­ing the 110 girls. They and their fam­i­lies do not deserve the fate that has be­fallen them.

Per­haps, for the pur­poses of record, we need to re­mind the pres­i­dent that the ap­par­ent in­ep­ti­tude of his se­cu­rity men rub­bishes him too. Time for him to wake up and per­son­ally con­front the se­cu­rity chal­lenges as a Gen­eral and Com­man­der-in-chief of the Armed Forces. No na­tion can af­ford to let its chil­dren, male or fe­male, be­come sit­ting ducks at the mercy of in­sur­gents such as Boko Haram.

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