On Tuesday when the world remembered the Chibok girls, saddened that one year after more than 200 students were abducted by the Boko Haram sect in Northern Nigeria, they are still in captivity, the only voice that was conspicuously muffled was that of President Goodluck Jonathan.
There was no national broadcast from the President, no remark whatsoever from the presidency on the fate of the girls about whom, just a little over a month ago, Jonathan had said his government was close to some good news on. Neither the Presidential spokesman nor the Minister of Information deemed it fit to utter a word on the one-year anniversary of the abduction of those girls from their hostel in Chibok, Bornu State.
There is something worrisome, if not untoward, about the ominous silence from the President over such an important issue. Could it be an oversight or incapacity; a shameful admission of failure or a bone-face indifference to a national calamity that has gotten the whole world empathising with Nigeria?
The European Union saw the need to show solidarity with us in Abuja on Tuesday, while Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani female education activist and Nobel Peace prize winner, who visited Jonathan in July last year, simply expressed frustration with the way the Federal Government has gone about securing the release of the girls. Her verdict is that Jonathan and his allies have not done enough.
Malala’s view tallies with that of the parents of the Chibok girls who also used Tuesday’s remembrance to express dissatisfaction with the pace of progress in locating and rescuing them. The representatives of the Chibok community and parents of the missing girls who met with Federal Government officials on Tuesday must be very disappointed that rather than meet the president or any top-ranking official, it was a Permanent Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Finance, who represented the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, that spoke to them in conveying the puerile message of the Federal Government.
Quite a disappointing day it was for the Federal Government that neither Okonjo-Iweala, for whatever reason she was supposed to have met with the Chibok representatives, nor the Minister for Education, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, was available to attend to the 219 students who visited his ministry under the aegis of the BringBackOurGirls campaign team as part of the activities marking the anniversary on Tuesday.
When the students led a peaceful rally to the Ministry in Abuja, they met a locked gate and a somewhat hostile ministry. Nowhere was Shekarau whose claim to fame, apart from being the former Governor of Kano State, was as a school teacher. Nowhere was the Minister of State for Education, Prof. Viola Onwuliri. No one was willing to attend to those who refuse to give up on the Chibok girls, until half hour later when the Director of Planning and Acting Permanent Secretary finally met with the students to offer the usual platitudes that their politician bosses deliberately avoided.
While those representing the Minister of Education admitted blames and made loose promises, Okonjo-Iweala’s words to the Chibok community was that the architectural model to rebuild the Chibok Secondary School was ready along with the budget and that the Nigerian Army Corps of engineers had been mobilised to commence construction. Perhaps, to give fillip to Okonjo-Iweala’s statement, the Director General of the National Orientation Agency, Mike Omiri, had to add his own slice of pledge to this task of rescuing the girls as a “top national priority.” The reported gains by the military in the fight against Boko Haram, according to him, are a pointer to the fact that the FG is unrelenting in its bid to rid the country of insurgents.
There was yet another statement; this time from the National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki, whose only promise was that every occupied territory under Boko Haram, especially the Sambisa Forest, where the girls were reportedly kept initially, would be liberated before Jonathan’s tenure expires on May 29. But in saying not only the abducted Chibok girls would be rescued, in his overall grand plan, but everybody – male, female, old and young – who has ever been abducted, Dasuki betrayed a needless sophistry.
Which other abductees does he have information about their whereabouts and in what specific way does he hope to go about this? I think the NSA should be told not to generalise or trivialise this type of issue. He should concentrate on finding the Chibok girls and let every other rescue operation be a bonus.
But then why are there so many people speaking for the Federal Government?
If Okonjo-Iweala is sure of her facts about rebuilding the Chibok School and Dasuki plans a masterstroke on storming Sambisa forest and rescuing every abductee, if indeed Sambisa is a camp where captured people are kept for years, then why are these facts not available for President Jonathan to reassure the country on Tuesday? Why have they allowed the president to keep mum on a day that the whole nation is expected to mourn? Why should the wife of the President, Dame Patience, who had shed some tears over the way the Chibok issue was being managed almost a year ago, be denied sharing her thoughts now and placate frail nerves that there is God o!? Could it be because of the curious silence of the President that the chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Alhaji Adamu Muazu, had to quickly express personal thoughts that “we can never forget about the Chibok girls”?
In the final analysis, it would appear as though the President who, hitherto, is being acknowledged for conceding defeat after losing the March 28 presidential election, is now losing the post-election perception battle for summarily ignoring one of the very issues that exposed his weakness as a leader and which ultimately led to his electoral defeat.
To his chagrin, this costly indiscretion must have further uplifted the in-coming President, General Muhammadu Buhari, as a more pragmatic leader, whose statement on the Chibok issue, even when it’s smartly non-committal, nevertheless portrays him as a conscientious leader who will be open about his limitations but won’t shy away from confronting every enemy of the state.