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Buhari and BBOG: A love story gone sour

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By Omeiza Ajayi
There was apprehension in the Maitama area of Abuja yesterday evening after police deployed around the Unity Fountain, the venue where for more than two years, the Bring Back Our Girls, BBOG had on a daily basis gathered to clamour for the quick return of the 219 girls spirited from their secondary school in Chibok, Borno State.

In any event, just before the regular sit-in commenced at about 6.00 p.m. last night, the police made a quiet withdrawal, and by that, removed fears that the dramatic love story between the BBOG and President Muhammadu Buhari had collapsed irretrievably.

Only two days before, an indication of the souring love story emerged when against the advise of the police, the BBOG pressed on to protest the failure of the administration to make remarkable progress in rescuing the Chibok girls.

For an administration that came to power with the silent goodwill of the BBOG and its supporters around the world, the clash on Tuesday was a dramatic change of tone in the communication that had been developed between the group and the Buhari administration.

Indeed, at the flag off of Buhari’s campaign, the BBOG had been openly praised for their persistence and selfless service in succouring the parents of the 219 girls.

The “relationship” between the movement and the APC got to the extent that the incumbent Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh had at the declaration by former Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, for the 2015 presidential election noted; “We believe that one day, they (Chibok parents) will be reunited with their children even though those children have seen a lot of trauma.

Nigerian President Mohammadu Buhari (2nd L) and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo (L) listen to coordinator of the Bring Back Our Girls group Oby Ezekwesili (C) as she speaks about the ongoing campaigning for the release of Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram Islamists during a meeting with President Mohammadu Buhari in Abuja, on July 8, 2015.  AFP PHOTO
Nigerian President Mohammadu Buhari (2nd L) and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo (L) listen to coordinator of the Bring Back Our Girls group Oby Ezekwesili (C) as she speaks about the ongoing campaigning for the release of Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram Islamists during a meeting with President Mohammadu Buhari in Abuja, on July 8, 2015. AFP PHOTO (File)

“We commend the #BringBackOurGirls movement led by members of this party, we thank them for their commitment to Nigeria because they remain the only living evidence that Nigeria has a conscience. We hear that the Federal Government wants to take them to court, let the courtroom be large enough to accommodate all of us when they sue them.”

In referring to their members involved in the BBOG campaign, Ogbeh referred to Ms Hadiza Bala Usman, a co-convener of the group who at that time was already working as one of the secretariat staff of the Buhari Campaign Organisation. Ms Usman subsequently became Chief of Staff to the APC governor in Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai and was recently appointed as the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA.

When Ogbeh made the claim of the BBOG being part of the APC, another co-convener of the movement, Oby Ezekwesili immediately lampooned him for attempting to politicize the advocacy. But for supporters of the Jonathan administration, the claim was good fuel to the insinuation that had already become currency all over the country.

Early indications of the changing attitude between the two parties first emerged after its January 14, 2016 meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari.

As in previous encounters with the president, the BBOG was conveyed to the presidential villa in buses provided by the presidency. However, the movement said the president’s countenance and remarks at that meeting “gave him away as one who regretted being a civilian president as opposed to being a military dictator”.

Not long after, Ezekwesili restated an earlier declaration of the BBOG that its advocacy was ‘administration-blind.’ In effect, the group would not be swayed by sentiments on who was president in its goal of achieving the quick release of the kidnapped girls.

She had said: “It is unfortunate that there are those who continue to mock our Chibok Girls. And when you see them, you would know them. Many of them started with us but now feel that we have to keep quiet because there is a new administration. What are we demanding? Bring back our girls. Our aspiration is administration-blind and we shall not be cowed into silence”, she said.  Ezekwesili also added that the issue of rescuing the girls cannot be an open-ended matter without a timeframe. According to her, government has three options to pick from. “The first option is dialogue. The second option is military force and the third is the combination of the two”, she said.

FG clamps down on BBOG

After the initial cold shoulder of January it became apparent that both sides were now viewing each other with suspicion.

As relations continued to degenerate, the BBOG last month resolved to commence periodic marches to the villa to press its demands for more action.

Perhaps the love story further worsened to the point of near divorce on Thursday, August 25 when a march to the villa was stopped by security agents.

One of the leaders of the group, Aisha Yesufu speaking after the march was disrupted for the second time in four days “dared” the president to “stand up and behave like a man”.

“Mr President you are a failure, I dare President Muhammadu Buhari, you should stand up and behave like a man,” she said.

Noting that the president had forgotten the sweat of the people that brought him to power said:

“We are tired of hearing no credible intelligence, I can say that the president is not doing anything,” she added.

#BBOGmarchesToVilla
#BBOGmarchesToVilla

Whether it was Yesufu’s tone or not, by last Tuesday, the Buhari’s core supporters were in action and for the first time openly confronted the BBOG team as they made another abortive march for the villa.

The rival group #WithBuhariWeStand, argued that Presiident Buhari must be allowed to work for Nigerians.

However, what was remarkable was that the pro-Buhari group was mostly made of non-descript Nigerians and there were wild insinuations in Abuja that they were hired by a senior government official.

The presidency last night denied any relationship with the group and senior presidency officials were hesitant to speak on record on the group led by one Mr. Idris King.

One senior presidency official described the allusion as “simply preposterous to link either the president or the presidency to such a development.”

He said that Nigerians should have by now come to terms with the personality and credibility of President Buhari towards what he referred as trivial issues.

“How can anyone insinuate that, knowing the kind of president we have? In fact, reacting to such accusations will be giving life to it. I won’t say more”, the presidency source said.

However, the presidency’s stance was seemingly betrayed by the drama that played out last Tuesday.

On that Tuesday it was observed that while the police stopped the BBOG three times from marching towards the popular Bullet Building that leads to an entrance into the Presidential Villa, the rival group led by King was already well positioned as if in ambush against the BBOG.

The FCT Deputy Commissioner of Police, M.D. Garba, accused the BBOG of not having a police permit, but the group immediately brought out its permit and challenged the police boss to ask for the permit of the rival protesters. He never did.

Carrying placards saying, “We are for peace. Buhari is a man of peace,” King accused the BBOG of doing the bidding of the opposition.

Who’re the #WithBuhariWeStand?

Although, not much is known about the group as they surfaced that Tuesday, the seeming protection offered them by the police raised suspicion among the BBOG.

A frontline member of the BBOG, Dr. Emman Shehu alleged that it was a hatchet job by security agencies.

Although, Mr King had earlier denied being sponsored by anyone, Dr Shehu said, “Many of us believe that the security operatives had a hand in their emergence. They were not harassed like us, neither were they asked to produce their police permit”.

A top member of the BBOG who did not want her name mentioned in the story pointed fingers of accusation at “some hawks in the presidency” who she said have hijacked the administration.

Some BBOG’s Demands

*Implementation of a citizen propelled solution to terrorism dubbed Verification, Authentication and Reunification System (VARS)

Members of #BringBackOurGirls (#BBOG) group on a silence protest match to show  the sorrowful state of the abducted Chibok school girls who have being in captivity a year ago in Abuja yesterday. Photo  by Gbemiga Olamikan
Members of #BringBackOurGirls (#BBOG) group on a silence protest match to show the sorrowful state of the abducted Chibok school girls who have being in captivity a year ago in Abuja yesterday. Photo by Gbemiga Olamikan

*That the President direct relevant Government representatives to work with the BBOG Family to commence work immediately on an Accountability Matrix, which will define the protocol for obtaining and sharing information with citizens.

*Monthly meeting between security operatives and community stakeholders in communities most affected by these acts of violence e.g. Chibok, Gwoza and Bama.

*Establishment of a Commission charged with the task of transparently investigating and reporting on the security lapses that caused the abduction.

*That the Report of the Presidential Fact Finding Committee of the Chibok Girls and the Presidential Committee on Security Challenges in the North East be made public immediately.

*A process of proper sensitization and enlightenment to curb this trend of youth radicalization and extremism.

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