B y Muyiwa Adetiba
You had to be strong not to be moved by some of the pictures Sky News Television beamed to the world last weekend.
They were pictures of young and not so young faces contorted by pain and anguish. They were pictures that revealed dashed hopes and despair. And, as the moving camera rolled on, they were pictures that depicted poverty amidst widespread destruction in the nooks and crannies of the village.
They were pictures of mothers longing to see their abducted daughters. They were pictures of Chibok. And in more ways than one, they were pictures of Nigeria.
The young women spoke in their native language and the interpreters could have made a better job of it. Yet, in spite of that, they eloquently conveyed their message. The message that they were grieving for their children who had been abducted over a month ago; children whose abductors they know, whose whereabouts they can guess but are powerless to do anything about.
The message that their country which they once regarded as mighty and powerful now lies prostrate and demystified, unable or unwilling to rescue their girls. The message that these children, innocent till about a month ago, are now going through untold horrors and being forced ‘to grow up’ by their ruthless abductors.
The words they uttered didn’t need to be interpreted. The free flowing tears came from deep their grieving souls. They didn’t hide under expensive glasses and didn’t need fanciful handkerchiefs to dab. A mother’s anguish is a mother’s anguish whether you are a peasant or a princess, a Dame Patience of Nigeria or a Queen Victoria of U.K.
As the camera rolled on to show the devastation in the village, you were shown other things you would rather not see because of the embarrassment. You were shown poverty, you were shown neglect, you were shown a complete absence of facilities- recreational or commercial. And you wondered at the quality of life of these villagers.
Even a rural village life doesn’t have to be this forlorn. We who live in the cities, we who have fancy restaurants, cinemas, and night clubs to relieve our stress, we who have chrome finished offices and mahogany desks where we work, we who guzzle champagne and fly executive jets, and moan at NEPA but have powerful generators to provide light, we who live in state- of- the-art homes and send our children to state-of-the-art schools, should be highly embarrassed at the pictures of Chibok and the many Chiboks that are dotted all over the country. What are the State Governments doing?
What are indigenous elites who have made good doing to help their kith and kin? Poverty leads to desperation and idle hands soon become the devil’s workshop.
Chibok people need help. First and foremost, they need to have their daughters back alive. Then they need security and a better quality of life. Right now, they need sympathy; they need empathy. These, along with presidential assurances, are what Mr President would have provided had he been courageous and humane enough to visit the grieving souls. He needed the courage to confront the plethora of bad advisers who surround him and who told him it was unnecessary and unsafe to go to Chibok. General Gowon once said there are no bad leaders but bad advisers.
Our President has them aplenty; people who will strip him with words and fawning adulation and push him naked to the market place to dance. One of them was quoted as saying Chibok is a war zone forgetting that those who live there are Nigerians who have allegiances to the country and are owed obligations by the government. Besides, what manner of a Commander-In- Chief would shy away from a war zone?
The President did not help matters when he said what was important was to rescue the girls and his visiting Chibok would not bring the girls back. Mr President; soothing, caring words are always important. When you visit your bereaved cronies in different parts of the country, it is not to bring the dead back but to identify with the bereaved.
We alleviate pain when we show that we care. This is a lesson I don’t think any body who puts himself up for public service needs to be taught. It is your duty as President to visit Chibok and console your people. It is the duty of your security outfit to protect you. It is that simple. Unfortunately, we lionise our leaders to the extent that they don’t feel obliged to us.
An ex President once shouted in a fit characteristic anger; ‘shut up. I don’t have to be here’ in answer to an uncomfortable question when he visited the poor victims of the Ikeja cantonment explosion. We should not have allowed him to get away with that kind of attitude. We should not have given President Jonathan a precedent.
The whole Chibok affair has been badly handled by the presidency from the beginning. First, they doubted if any abduction really took place. Then they could not, even independently, ascertain the exact number of the abducted girls.
Then we heard nothing from the Presidency for two weeks until the world cried out and put pressure on them. The final blow was the President’s refusal to visit the over 200 anguished parents and the many more displaced families; even as a public relations gesture.
The rest of the world can see that the President needs help. The place to start is from the members of his inner caucus who are leading him along the undesirable path of isolation and disgrace. His public image at home and abroad is in tatters. His leadership qualities are being questioned everyday. And it is largely down to his team.