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May 11, 2024

Chibok Girls: Time for some closure, by Muyiwa Adetiba

Chibok Girls: Time for some closure, by Muyiwa Adetiba

Muyiwa Adetiba

Vice President Kashim Shettima must have received many visitors during the Id-el-fitr weekend. As a Muslim and the second –in-command in the country, it was expected that many people would throng to his place to felicitate with him on the successful conclusion of the Ramadan. That is our way.

The young visit the old; the poor visit the rich; family members visit the head of their clan; and in this age of politics, it is a cardinal rule that patronage must be paid to political leaders at festive occasions like the end of Ramadan. But of the visits, none was more important – at least to me- than the visit of the sixty girls who used the occasion to say thank to the Vice President.

Those sixty girls, drawn from different parts of the State, and its two main religions, were among the girls the Vice President, as Governor of Borno State, sent to various institutions abroad to study medicine. This visit is deemed important to me and to many discerning observers, for a couple of reasons. First, that someone – this time the Governor – in a poor, badly ravished, and deeply Islamic State, thought the education of the girl-child was important enough to send them to study medicine, a profession that demands intellect, rigorous application and discipline.

This was at a time, remember, when Boko Haram, a movement against all forms of western education, especially for women, had virtually taken over the State. That visit was therefore, a confirmation that the vision had become a reality and the seed planted during those difficult times had borne fruits. It was also a confirmation that many people would excel in academics given the opportunity and right exposure. Race, gender, religion,financial circumstances and geographical location should therefore, never be a barrier to higher learning.

Second, they came back. Many Nigerians, including perhaps their sponsors, would have understood in this age of ‘Japa’ if they had elected to stay in the countries where they had studied or had disappeared into the thin European air given the state of their home front which is precarious at best and fraught with so many uncertainties. After all, doctors, especially those trained abroad, will always be in demand since they do not necessarily have to retrain.

And once liberated – education is a form of liberation – people these days, particularly in this part of the world called Nigeria, generally fly away without even a backward glance let alone to think of giving back. Unfortunately, when they disappear or ‘Japa’, they make such programs unviable and thereby spoil the chances of other peoplewho might otherwise have benefittedfromthem. Jesus, in the bible liberated – healing is also a form of liberation- ten lepers. Only one returned to say thank you. So these girls in returning to say thank you and to serve their State, beat many expectations, ancient and modern, to set examples for future beneficiaries.

Third, the visit was also important given the timing. Ten years ago, almost to the month, female students were taken away from their school in their hundreds. It is sad that we still haven’t agreed on just how many girls were abducted, even as a form of closure. They were from the same Borno State. The birth throughadolescence of these two classes of girls could not have been any more similar yet the trajectory of their adult lives could not have been more disconcertingly different.

The two classes were born into the same environment, secure in the love of their parents and the protection of the State. Among the latter, the Chibok girls, were at adolescence, girls who also wanted to become professionals; engineers, lawyers, journalists and yes, doctors. Unfortunately, all their lofty dreams for the future were shattered. Instead, they became sex slaves living in bushes due to no fault of theirs. Rather than attend the fancy universities that the other class attended, they studied at the university of life learning about brutality and survival.

They transited from adolescence to adulthood without parental guide and without enjoying the experience. Those who returned came with scars that may be forever etched in their bodies and souls. They came with children who will never know the love of their fathers and whose circumstance of birth may forever haunt them. In short, the past ten years added very little positive values that they can use to better themselves and the society. It is hard for them not to envy their age mates who have now come home distinguished and accomplished ready to contribute their quota to their community and State. And this is for those who came home alive. Many, again we don’t know the exact number, have long died, some in brutal and painful circumstances.

Things would not have turned out this tragically if the State actors at the timewere not too consumed with the politics of 2015. The then fledgling insecurity in the north-east which led to this unfortunate abduction could have been better contained if the political will was there. Instead, it was weaponized by those bent on Jonathan not remaining in power.

It may still happen again as long as people are prepared to weaponise anything including poverty, insecurity and religion to capture State power and as long as there are no consequences for certain actions – we saw the consequences of the January 6 attempted insurrection in the US. It seems to me that we are not ready for closure yet because closure will mean a rendering of report which should include apportioning blames where necessary; it will mean accountability which should include telling us just how many girls were abducted and what has happened to each of them; it will mean putting up measures to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Our body language shows we are not yet ready for this kind of closure. Yet closure we must have for the sake of those young girls, dead and living, who put their trust in the State and were badly let down by State actors. Closure we must have for the sake of parents who need to know whether their daughters are alive or dead. Closure we must have so that the people and the nation can heal. Surely, it is not just happenstance that the man in the eye of the storm then is now the current Vice President. Therefore, receiving those young doctors at the time he did – during the tenth year anniversary of the infamous abduction – must trigger something in him. For one, the circumstances of these two classes of girls had turned out so differently under his watch.

This should be one of the reasons for him to push for some closure.