From Chibok to Dapchi: The tragedy and the shame
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.