March 25, 2018

DAPCHI: Why questions overwhelm excitement

Soldiers (R) drive past a signpost leading to the Government Girls Science and Technical College staff quarters in Dapchi, Nigeria, on February 22, 2018. Anger erupted in a town in remote northeast Nigeria on February 22 after officials fumbled to account for scores of schoolgirls from the college who locals say have been kidnapped by Boko Haram jihadists. Police said on February 21 that 111 girls from the college were unaccounted for following a jihadist raid late on February 19. Hours later, Abdullahi Bego, spokesman for Yobe state governor Ibrahim Gaidam, said “some of the girls” had been rescued by troops “from the terrorists who abducted them”. But on a visit to Dapchi on Thursday, Gaidam appeared to question whether there had been any abduction. / AFP PHOTO /

BY CHARLES KUMOLU,  Deputy Features Editor

IF there were a few questions earlier trailing the abduction of students of Government Girls Technical College, Dapchi, the manner of their return has provoked not just more queries but widespread suspicion.

It was a situation that made an already bad case worse.

As it is now, the more people try to understand the incident and issues surrounding it, the more confused they become. In that process, an issue that ought to have attracted overwhelming nationwide empathy and excitement has become a subject of misconceptions and theories.

Although the 2014 kidnap of Chibok girls by Boko Haram insurgents is still a subject of conspiracy theories, Dapchi presents a more fitting case for such.

Ceremonial return

Just like the puzzle that surrounded the ease with which the girls were abducted, their ceremonial release by the insurgents created a web of contradiction, apologies to Stephen Miller, author of Web of Contradiction.

The sight of Boko Haram members making a triumphal entry into Dapchi with the girls raised more curiosity than any other aspect of the issue.

On the streets and the social media, Sunday Vanguard observed that people are yet to come to terms with the fact the abductors brought back the captives in a majestic manner.   Indeed, such a circumstance prompted the question of whether the girls were actually kidnapped in the first place.

The following questions were found to be on the lips of many: Why were the captives not dropped elsewhere like the released Chibok girls? Why were the insurgents allowed to fly their flag as they drove ceremoniously into Dapchi?   Did the government negotiate from the point of strength? Were the implications of this type of release considered?  Could any interested party be playing a political game for cheap popularity? Was there a high-powered official manipulation as being alleged?   Why negotiating with terrorist?

Certain questions that need to be answered

Near-similar posers were also raised by the Bring Back Our Girls Group, BBOG, in a chat with Vanguard two days before the girls were released.

Spokesperson of the group, Mr. Sesugh Akume said: “We saw the comments by the Minister of Defence. That is what we want. We want all the Dapchi girls back. Today makes it one month since the Dapchi girls were abducted.   It is also four years since the abduction of Chibok girls.  We want all of them back. Despite what the minister said, we asked certain questions that need to be answered. Whether they are back or not, we want the questions answered. The fact that they will be released does not do away with the fact that we want all our questions answered. We want to know why it happened.”

While the desire for response to most of the questions would remain for a long time, the Federal Government’s explanation on why it opted for negotiation did not resonate with some across the country.

Presidential directive

“The President had given a clear directive to security agencies to use peaceful options to ensure the timely and safe release of the girls. The exercise was arduous and quite challenging. The sensitivity of the operation and some uncertainties surrounding it, particularly routes to be used, nature of transportation, realization, and concern that the girls were not kept in one place, issues of encountering military checkpoints within the theatre and indeed keeping the operation on strictly the principle of need-to-know made the whole exercise more complicating,” the Director-General of Department of State Security Services, DSS, Lawal Daura stated.

Indeed, when it comes to negotiating with terrorists, Sunday Vanguard learnt that there is a clear disconnect between what governments professes and what it truly does.

Explaining the phenomenon in his piece, Negotiating With Terrorists, Peter R Neumann asserted that: “The argument against negotiating with terrorists is simple: Democracies must never give in to violence, and terrorists must never be rewarded for using it. Negotiations give legitimacy to terrorists and their methods and undermine actors who have pursued political change through peaceful means. Talks can destabilize the negotiating governments’ political systems, undercut international efforts to outlaw terrorism, and set a dangerous precedent.”

Legitimacy to terrorists

“The key objective for any government contemplating negotiations with terrorists is not simply to end violence but to do so in a way that minimizes the risk of setting dangerous precedents and destabilizing its political system. Given this dual goal, a number of conditions must be met in order for talks to have even a chance of success.   The rigidity of the “no negotiations” stance has prevented any systematic exploration of how best to conduct such negotiations. How can a democratic government talk to terrorists without jeopardizing the integrity of its political system? What kinds of terrorists are susceptible to negotiations? When should negotiations be opened?”

Dangerous precedent

Notwithstanding, Nigerians are agitated that a dangerous precedent had been set by the terms of the negotiation and as such want a different approach to the issue.

Sunday Vanguard recalls that the 32-day drama began on February 19, 2018, when 110 students of Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi, were abducted in their school by Boko Haram insurgents.   Three days later, precisely on February 22, Yobe State government announced that the Military had rescued some of the abducted school girls.   On the same day, the governor faulted the claim that the Nigerian Army rescued some of the girls, who were abducted.  The governor also visited Dapchi the same day but his visit was cut short as angry residents of the town pelted his convoy with stones.  On February 23, which was four days after the incident, President Muhammadu Buhari spoke publicly about it and also listed the steps his administration had taken to find the missing girls.   The next day, the British Military Advisory and Training Team, BMATT, in Nigeria offered to assist the Nigerian armed forces in rescuing the abducted   girls.

The General Advisor of BMATT, Major Ian Robertson, disclosed that his team was still monitoring the situation closely, after which it will come in.

Amid the ensuing confusion, the Nigerian Army and the Police on February 26, disagreed over who should be blamed for the February 19 abduction of the schoolgirls.

Indifference to the girls’ plight

The Army said it formally handed over security in Dapchi to the Police as its men moved to another operation, but the Police said there was no such thing.

As the Nigerian government extended to neighbouring countries, the search for the abducted girls, a human rights activist, Mrs. Aisha Wakil, claimed on March 2, that a Boko Haram faction had contacted her to confirm it has the girls.   Irked by what appeared like indifference to the plight of the girls, the leader of the Latter Rain Assembly, LRA, Pastor Tunde Bakare, on March 3, said he could not understand what President   Buhari and some governors were doing at the wedding Fatiha of Idris   Ajimobi, and Fatima Umar Ganduje in Kano when the daughters of other Nigerians were in captivity.

Lack of faith

Apparently moved by the criticisms trailing the official handling of the matter, President   Buhari on March 13, said his administration had opted for negotiation, rather than military action to secure the release of the girls.   Consequently, the President visited the school on March 13 and held a meeting with parents and teachers.

Defence Minister, Mansur Dan-Ali, on March 16, gave hopes that the 110 abducted students might be released by Boko Haram in the next two weeks, noting that the federal government was closing in on them.   But some parents of the missing schoolgirls on March 18, expressed lack of faith in President Buhari’s promise of rescuing the girls during his visit.  That was followed by an indictment of the military by Amnesty International on March 20.   The human rights group said Nigerian security forces failed to act on advance warnings that a convoy of Boko Haram fighters was heading towards a town where they abducted the schoolgirls last month.

However, on March 20, the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali denied saying that the abducted Dapchi schoolgirls would be freed in two weeks’ time, saying that being a purely operational matter, it would be absolutely unfeasible and impracticable to give a specific timeline.

And alas, amid the confusion, Boko Haram returned 101 of the 110 school girls in a ceremonious fashion, leaving many questions unanswered. One of the concerns is the non-release of Leah Sharibu, a Christian young lady who refused to renounce Christ.