Soni Daniel, Regional Editor, North
Everything about this agrarian community hurts. The pain that flows from the abduction of the innocent school girls coupled with the inability of the security agencies to locate and secure their release almost two months after they were seized by malevolent gunmen, torments the parents of the affected Chibok girls like a timeless mirage.
Chibok is plagued by many ills that leave it at the mercy of fate and uncertainty. Although it serves both as a community and a local government headquarters with a population of 66,105 according to the 2006 census, it has not been blessed with the necessary security infrastructure to shield it from the slightest invader.
From the absence of basic amenities that support decent living to the establishment of schools, health and social services, the community is lagging behind. Tucked in a forest that is 140 kilometres away from Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, Chibok bears the imprint of a ghost town even at normal times.
It crawls behind in terms of development just as its natives have been stripped of modernity. Life in Chibok can at best be described as a natter with all that is uncivilised but the daring ones have managed to trudge on.
With a predominantly Christian population, this makes it attractive for Boko Haram that is opposed to any religion that does not recognise Islam. The April 14 invasion that saw the Islamists carting away over 200 girls was not their first onslaught and may not be the last, going by the apprehension that now pervades the town with an area of 1,350 square kilometres.
Why did they allow things to get to a precarious level leading to the seizure of the girls, whose parents had laboured to send them to school at a time when many others in the northern part of Nigeria do not consider education as important as begging or farming? Many questions have continued to poke the mouth over the failure in Chibok that led to the kidnapping of the young girls.
Why was it necessary to keep such a large number of children in a school that had no sufficient security arrangement to ward off potential invaders? Reports have it that only a handful of policemen were on hand to confront the invaders who were armed with more sophisticated weapons.
The ease with which the insurgents plotted their mission and accomplished it; and the time it has taken to even locate the victims, smack of a grand conspiracy. It remains a puzzle how the irritants managed to carry the children in over 30 trucks and drive through the myriads of checkpoints mounted at every pole in the city without being seen by soldiers and policemen on duty.
Now, tongues are wagging as to why the Borno State Government allowed the girls to take the WASCE in the school when it was clear to the authorities that it was unsafe to do so.
In fact, the Supervising Minister of Education, Mr. Nyesom Wike, has joined issues with Governor Kasshim Shettima, blaming him for allowing the girls to assemble in Chibok for the examination knowing the danger that was lurking around the environment.
Wike said in Abuja that Shettima should accept the blame for the abduction of the girls, having ignored his directive not to host the examination in Chibok but in Maiduguri, the state capital, which according to him, was considered safer.
Wike said he personally wrote on March 12, 2014 to the governors of the three northern states under state of emergency to make proper arrangements for their students to sit for the WASSCE in their respective states but that none of them responded to his letter with reference number HMSE/FME/147/VOL.1/150 and entitled: “Security challenges and the conduct of the 2014 WASSCE and SSCE in Borno, Yobe and parts of Adamawa States”.
The letter read: “In view of the current security challenges in the Northeast states of the country, the West African Examination Council, WAEC, and the National Examination Council, NECO, have expressed concerns over the safety of their officers who will be deployed to supervise the conduct of the 2014 edition of the examination in your state.
“In response to the concerns, I have directed that the candidates in the Federal Unity Colleges be assembled in the respective state capitals where they are to sit for the examinations in safe locations. You are please enjoined to make contingency arrangements for candidates from public and private schools in your state to sit for the examinations in safe locations”.
The three paragraph letter concluded: “Details of your arrangements should be forwarded to the Federal Ministry of Education and the two examination bodies for their information and necessary action”.
But the Borno governor, who managed to attempt a reply to the allegation that he did not do much to prevent the abduction, said that as a father he did his best to stall it. Shettima, said he would, however, not join issues with those who accuse him of stage-managing the abduction, saying such claim was as painful to him as the kidnapping of the children.
Whatever might have informed the governor of Borno not to respond to the minister’s warning and what has happened is now part of world history, which is difficult to retrieve but the danger is that government at the state and federal levels failed the Chibok girls and people.
In reality, if the provision of security as enshrined under the First Schedule of the Nigerian Constitution and the education of the girl-child had been accorded priority by the Nigerian government, no calamity would have befallen the children.
The odds against Chibok are legion: the other day on television, many of the school girls, who were lucky and brave enough to escape from their captors’ den, were seen speaking in Hausa as if they had never seen the four walls of a secondary school.
The questions arises: Could it possible that the girls who were writing their WASCE as at the time they were seized on April 14, 2014 were unable to speak and write English? If the answer is in the affirmative, what language were they using to write the WASCE?
Many have tended to argue that the girls featured on television as the lucky ones who escaped, could not have been the ones from Chibok while others insist they are the victims of the poor education system in the North, where Hausa language is used freely by poorly trained teachers, who can hardly defend their own certificates.
At least, such teachers, who can hardly spell their names, were recently discovered by Kaduna and Bauchi state governments, which have now decided to administer written tests on teachers with a view to flushing out those who have no business in the system. But can Governor Shettima afford to conduct a similar examination to gauge the true state of his teachers either in Chibok of elsewhere?
Chibok has become a metaphor for failure, pain and anguish for parents and exposed the level of decadence in the Nigerian education and security sectors to the world. But while the world watches with utter outrage and disbelief, the parents are the losers of an unending war by Boko Haram: head or tail, the poor souls are the losers. And, it really hurts!