I AM one of those who have wondered why President Goodluck Jonathan has been unusually slow in taking a decisive action on the ‘kidnap’ of 234 students of the Government Girls’ Secondary school, Chibok in Borno state.
I was alarmed because the President has usually reacted much more swiftly to those wanton acts of terror since the Boko Haram insurgency took a turn for the worse; he may not have kept his promises to track down the perpetrators of those dastardly acts and bring them to justice, but his words have always been reassuring to Nigerians.
This time, however, those soothing words have been coming a little late—some say sluggishly, prompting criticisms from many quarters. Even Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, who has in recent times strongly condemned the sect’s nihilistic tendencies– and has been supportive of government’s efforts to neutralise them – has taken swipes at Jonathan, saying he ought to have shown more concern. In all these, however, a few commentators have raised issues with the gaps in the ‘kidnap’ narrative and how they pose an uncommon challenge to a President eager to avoid the pitfalls all terrorists dig for their targets. I am therefore thinking aloud, and many others may also be engaged in this soliloquy.
Since the girls’ abduction, so many questions have been raised, most of which, though commonsensical, remain unanswered. How were 234 teenage girls herded into trucks and driven off with little or no whimper from all around them, including teachers looking after them? Where did the convoy drive through, undetected and un-apprehended by either law enforcement agents or locals? Why did a predominantly Christian Girls school suddenly decide to register full grown Muslim men to write their WAEC exams?
All said, it is obvious that President Jonathan was as confounded about the surrounding issues in the ‘kidnap’ as many other Nigerians were, and had elected to be careful –call it circumspect, if you like — in responding to it. Questions continue to be raised about the circumstances under which the incident took place, especially since revelations have emerged that suggest that the ‘kidnap’ might not have happened if the Borno State Government had heeded the advice of the West African Examination Council (WAEC), on ensuring the security of the students considering the prevailing situation in the state.
While answering questions from First Lady, Patience Jonathan, wives of state governors, female legislators at federal and state levels, and leaders of various women organizations at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, the Head of WAEC’s National Office in Nigeria, Charles Eguridu revealed that his office had made efforts to get Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State to stop the conduct of the Senior School Certificate Examination in unsafe parts of the state. Mr. Eguridu, who had asked for all centres in remote areas in Adamawa, Yobe and Borno to be moved to the states’ capitals, said the Borno governor in particular agreed to do so but eventually reneged. According to him, the governor had convinced WAEC in writing that adequate security measures would be made. That was not to be, hence the kidnap that may break all records in its unprecedented magnitude. The question is, why did the governor mislead officials of the examination body on such an issue that involved security of the teenage students?
Is there a political undertone in the entire saga, considering the huge damage the ‘kidnap’ of the girls will inflict on the President in the run–up to the 2015 election? This appears likely, going by the ‘forked tongue’ defense put up by officials of Borno state government. Going by the strong rivalry between Governor Shettima’s All Progressives Congress (APC) and the President’s party, the Peoples Democratic Party, it will not be out of place to encourage any action, however criminal, that will harm the ruling PDP’s image in the eyes of Nigerians.
This is coming at a time prominent Kanuris are putting pressures on their governors in Borno and Yobe to justify their claim that the prevailing state of emergency should not be extended because in their view, it has not been effective in curbing Boko Haram’s violence. From available information, the Borno State governor, Kashim Shettima has more than a passing role to play if efforts to return the girls are to be fruitful, and the President said that much after the all-night meeting he held with the governors and their officials last Sunday.
So, have the girls been hidden in several houses across the state while security operatives go on wild goose chases across the Sambisa forest? Is the news filtering that some of the schoolgirls may have been taken to neighbouring states, especially Cameroon and Chad where they were allegedly forced to marry the militants, meant to divert attention? These are the kinds of questions that may have stymied authorities from decisive action or led to circumspection in responding to the kidnap; and rightly so, perhaps, as recent events have turned out. This suspicion becomes even stronger when members of the Chibok community, which has been thrown into this unpleasant limelight, have been most unwilling to offer information to assist security agencies that have been digging into the matter.
Those who criticise government for its ‘inaction’ may miss the point if the conflicting numbers and circumstances of the kidnap are also considered. There are conflicting reports about how the abduction took place, the contradictions in number of girls involved and those who have reportedly escaped from custody; yet none of the parents of the freed girls were forth-coming with information of their wards’ experiences in captivity. The public protests in the streets of Abuja, commendable as they were, also fell short of public expectation. Since when have grieving mothers abandoned their protest to be hijacked by the like of Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, Femi Falana and others.
The fact that President Jonathan has made no dramatic public show of his alarm over the missing girls does not, in any way, suggest lack of concern. He could jolly well have played into the hands and designs of the terrorists who want to pressure him into making uninformed comments or engage in precipitate action that might turn out more harmful to all concerned.
Instead of a road show, he has got the military to engage all plausible soft approaches to get the captives released—considering the threat that the girls will be harmed in the event of attack.
It may not sound right about a President who has all the security reports at his disposal, but not a few Nigerians raised doubts on that abduction until the names of the affected girls were released by the Borno state government following public outcry. Now, with the Boko Haram group finally accepting responsibility for it, it is time for action to get the girls back home. Since Jonathan, during the last Presidential media chat, has admitted to involving the international community for assistance in tracking the movement of the insurgents, we must however remain hopeful that our President will live up to his promise to ensure the schoolgirls return home.
ABBA ADAKOLE, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Abuja.