The Politics That Shaped the Chibok girls Story
The unfortunate kidnap of some secondary school girls two years ago in Chibok, Borno State, may have been mismanaged by sheer local politics, write Shola Oyeyipo, Segun James and Jameelah Sanda
The moment the abduction of the 234 secondary school girls took place in Chibok, Borno State, it ran straight into the web of local politics and through the sheer mismanagement of that critical security matter, the fate of the innocent girls were sealed – sadly, in bad taste. Unfortunately, for former president Goodluck Jonathan, the mood of the nation at the time did not give room for fair hearing. He had already been crucified before the girls were even delivered to the den of their abductors.
What many would describe as the propaganda machine of the now ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) had dominated public discourse, with agenda set and minds strategically swayed in their choice direction. Therefore, the Jonathan account amounted to nothing but sheer baloney in their estimation. Yet, many could bet that something was curiously amiss in the story as being told about abduction of the girls.
A few days ago, Governor Kashim Shettima, shed some more light on some of the areas that have hitherto coloured the propaganda that typifies the Chibok debate, when he said “I was too busy to call Jonathan for three weeks after the Chibok abduction.”
Immediately, the abduction became public knowledge and the Jonathan federal government was unable to do anything, a section of the public as allegedly instigated by the APC media machine pounced on the president for what many described as being both insensate and insensitive to the development. Indeed, the governor went to town, cashing in on the slant of debate, including visiting Lagos to meet with different categories of the media to exonerate and tell his own story.
But something was fundamentally missing which the APC and their allies in the civil society failed to address: it was the fact that the governor mismanaged the information process of the abduction, to the extent that reports would later come that the vehicles conveying the girls developed a problem on the way and that they were there for over an hour fixing it with no one doing anything.
Now, this is how to start analysing this particular debate. When the examinations were approaching, reports had it that a section of the nation’s security had counseled against holding it areas clearly identified as unsafe. To that extent, the neighbouring states to Borno were said to have hearkened to the advice and acted accordingly except for Shettima, who promised to protect the Chibok schools.
Unfortunately, this had paved the way for insinuations that the only reason he did that was because he had banked on the fact that he would appeal to the terrorists and possibly pay them to stay away whilst they held the exams. In fact, he was believed to have done so because he allegedly planned to score some political mileage from the initiative as it would give an indication that in spite of the media reports of terrorists’ attacks, the situation was not as bad if students could hold a crucial exam.
But the plan, those who believe in this theory claimed, failed because the terrorists might have asked for more money which he was unable to provide and in the process, used the kids as baits for more money before the abduction completely went off track.
Coming from this background of speculations and theories, expectations were that the governor would have respected the inter-governmental relations and immediately inform the president. But he was busy, according to him, for three weeks running after correcting what he was clearly and practically incapable of handling. And at the end of the day, he had to resort to the same Jonathan for help, having first damaged the man and his government locally and internationally.
It is therefore inconceivable that the governor had expected Jonathan to pick the news of the abduction from the grape vine, security or the media. It is to say the least, unbelievable since he was and still the Chief Security Officer of the state. But the whole story played out as if it was designed for election purposes, which later turned out one of APC’s best campaign strategies because by the time the former president realised that the abduction truly took place, knowing also the buck stopped at his table, it was already a complete mess and the nation is yet to recover from it, two years after.
The Suspense, the Drama
From when the abduction took place on the night of April 14, 2014, each episode of the drama had been filled with gripping suspense. The most intriguing however, was whether or not the girls will ever be reunited with their families.
Until recently, all hope had been lost on the possibility that they were still alive more or less. One of the developments believed to have heightened this apprehension took place at the twilight of the Jonathan administration, when a junior but powerful minister confided in a few journalists during a chat in a hotel on Victoria Island, Lagos, that “Nigerians had better forgotten about ever seeing the girls return alive.”
Though he did expatiate on the reason he made such a conclusion, as at the time he spoke, his confidence showed that he was sure of what he said. Thus, the hope of ever finding the girls was mired in disbelief when President Muhammadu Buhari said on national television during his maiden presidential media chat that he had no intelligence on the whereabouts of the girls.
What was to finally seal off the ray of hope that had sustained the unending demand by Nigerians and the rest of the world for the safe return of the girls, was when former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo came out boldly on Friday, February 7, 2016 to say the girls were not likely to return alive.
“Nobody can bring back the girls for they are nowhere to be found. So, if any leader is promising to bring back Chibok girls, he is lying. Majority of these girls would have died, while those alive would have been married off and others will be victims of sexual violence and human trafficking.
“Nigerian leaders should stop deceiving the populace as Chibok girls cannot return again. The disappearance of the Chibok girls is as a result of the nonchalant attitude of the previous leaders, who did not swing to action immediately, which constituted impediment to their return.
“Seventy-two hours after the Chibok girls were adopted was too late for their rescue, talk less getting to two years by April,” Obasanjo said when it was exactly 663 days after the incident during an interactive programme of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife Staff Club tagged Reflections of an elder statesman: An evening with OBJ.
Like him, hate him, not a few Nigerian consider Obasanjo a man with huge knowledge about the country. He commands a lot of respect both locally and internationally and as such, the information was devastating, particularly for the parents.
The Credibility Question
Two thousand and fourteen was a pre-election year. It was period characterised by stiff competition between the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the newly formed All Progressives Congress (APC). The frenzy was high and the political atmosphere was consistently charged as the situation was made worse by the tribal and religious colouration of the election that was to come.
Unmoved by the lackadaisical attitude of the statement government which politicised the incident from the very start, Jonathan too was condemned as too slow by nearly all. The Northern Elders Forum (NEF), the APC, several other human right groups and countless well-meaning Nigerians said Jonathan doubted the abduction of Chibok girls, although failed to establish why his doubts were genuine.
Deputy National Leader of the NEF, Dr. Paul Unongo, said Jonathan had the opportunity to be credited with ending Boko Haram, but he never listened. “He (Jonathan) doubted the kidnap of the Chibok girls and actually was seen on the television dancing azonto. Our people were being killed in hundreds. This was the height of insensitivity and we just had to complain about that. We complained creatively.”
It is that disbelief among most PDP stalwarts that again reverberated recently when the Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Ayodele Fayose said about a fortnight ago that the Chibok girls are not missing. He said President Buhari was deluding Nigerians over Chibok girls and that the abduction was a mere political fabrication.
Fayose, who spoke in Ado Ekiti during a two-day workshop organised by Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin-led Women Arise for Change Initiative, said: “The cries over missing girls were just a political strategy. What could Boko Haram have used to carry those girls? However, if truly missing, they should be recovered. One thing I know is that what is not missing you cannot get.”
The attitude put up by Fayose to the matter was a reflection of what permeated the Jonathan presidency and informed its slow reaction to the matter. Though the girls were taken away on April 14, not until May 4, 2014, before Jonathan spoke publicly about the kidnapping and when he did, he said the government was doing everything it could to find the missing girls. He also blamed parents for not supplying enough information about their missing children to the police.
Since then, there have been different stories on the issue of the girls. For instance, a journalist reportedly brokered a deal to secure the release of the girls in exchange for 100 Boko Haram prisoners held in Nigerian jails but that did not see the light of the day after Jonathan consulted with the U.S, Israeli, French and British foreign ministers in Paris, and it was concluded that no deals should be struck with terrorists, and that a solution involving force was required.
Still in 2014, on 26 May, the military authority announced that the Nigerian security forces had found the location of the girls, but ruled out the use of force for fears of collateral damage.
Sir Andrew Pocock, British High Commissioner to Nigeria said a couple of months after the kidnapping, a group of up to 80 of the Chibok girls were seen by American ‘eye in the sky’ technology but nothing was done about it by the Nigerian government. The girls, a camp and evidence of ground transport vehicles were spotted next to a local landmark called the ‘Tree of Life’ in the Sambisa forest.
The New York Times also reported that when the Pentagon came up with actionable intelligence from drone flights on information that might have indicated the location of some of the girls and turned it over to the Nigerian military commanders to follow up, they did nothing with the information.
The newspaper which attributed its source to Africa Command officials in Stuttgart, Germany, said shortly after the US offered to help rescue the girls, it flew several hundred surveillance drone flights over the vast, densely forested regions in the North-east Sambisa forest, where the girls were taken, but officials in Stuttgart said with few tips to guide the missions, the flights yielded little information, while diverting drones from other missions in war zones like Iraq and Syria.
Blaming the fruitlessness of the mission on mutual mistrust between US and Nigerian officials, it noted that American officials did not include raw intelligence data in the information it provided because they believed that Boko Haram had infiltrated the Nigerian security services.
Months later, the drone flights had dwindled, the advisers returned home and not one of the girls was found. Many are believed to have been married off to Boko Haram fighters, who in the past six months have seized hundreds more civilians, including children, planted bombs in Nigerian cities and captured the entirety of many towns.
When an Australian, Stephen Davis, a former Anglican clergyman, contracted by the federal government contacted three Boko Haram commanders, who said they might be prepared to release Chibok schoolgirls in 2015, he got proof of life (a first video of them being raped) and was told 18 of them were seriously ill, some with HIV.
How APC Scored with It
Before eventually ousting Jonathan, the APC had a lot to say about the Chibok girls’ saga and the Boko Haram terrorist group. The party castigated Jonathan, condemned him and described him as a clueless leader, who had no solution to the activities of the rampaging insurgent group.
The APC, through its former National Publicity Secretary and current Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed pummeled the Jonathan-led administration and called it various names.
In a statement, the party described as “Callous, morbid and insensitive,” the comments by Jonathan that the girls were still alive because Boko Haram would have displayed their bodies if they had been killed.
Mohammed thought that the comment was “deeply offensive to human sensibilities,” adding that the president ought to have spoken on the basis of actionable intelligence and not “twisted, melancholic and offensive logic.”
In another tirade, the APC Presidential Campaign Organisation (APCPCO) called on Jonathan to bring back the missing Chibok girls to their parents, rather than sending emissaries to them and making many more pledges as he has always been doing.
The Director of Media and Publicity of the APCCO, Mallam Garba Shehu, who made the call said about a year since the girls were kidnapped, all that Nigerians have received were failed promises and dashed hopes.
In yet another statement, the APC warned Jonathan to avoid attempting to make any political gains out of girls’ release. The party made mockery of Jonathan in January 2015, when he visited the war torn Maiduguri, the Borno State capital and congratulated the former president for finding the courage to visit the state to encourage troops battling the Boko Haram insurgency.
But to underscore that the president was fearful, the party urged him to visit Chibok, Buni Yadi and Potiskum, among other boiling points. Mohammed who issued a statement in Makurdi, said: “We have always said the President and the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces should never be afraid to visit anywhere in the country.”
It was an era of series of bashing for the past administration by the main opposition APC and for many people, the party seemed more on the side of the people and that got the party a lot of sympathy. In fact, former Akwa Ibom State governor and now Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, recently noted that the APC rode on the back of the girls’ kidnap to win the 2015 general election.
Akpabio said this during the deliberation of a motion moved by Senator Dino Melaye titled: “The Abduction of Chibok School Girls – Two years after.” He jocularly said the APC and some of its members had cashed in on the girls’ abduction but that they have suddenly gone quiet since winning the election.
“I wonder why those who led protests against the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan to rescue the girls have suddenly kept mum. I remember in 2014, Dino Melaye used to wear a T-shirt and he led the protest to ensure that the abducted school girls were released. He was always at the National Fountain to lead a protest against the government. He eventually cashed in on it and won elections. Other people in APC did the same thing,” he said.
Without doubts, the APC cashed in on the girls’ abduction to persuade the electorate to vote for President Buhari as a former military General with requisite knowledge that could help bring the girls back.
Buhari on the Fray
During a town hall meeting in Abuja, Buhari as the presidential candidate of the APC said in March 2015, a few days to the presidential election, that he would do all it takes to rescue the girls He claimed that the Jonathan-led administration lacked the sincerity of purpose required to tackle the problem of insecurity in the North-east and assured the people that his administration would come up with plans that would end insurgency and ethno-religious violence in the country.
“I have had the opportunity to serve my country in the military up to the highest level, as a major general and as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. In the course of my service, I defended the territorial integrity of Nigeria and if called upon to do so again, I shall rise to the occasion.
“As a father, I feel the pain of the victims of insurgency, kidnapping and violence. Under my watch, no force, external or internal, will occupy even an inch of Nigerian soil. I will give it all it takes to ensure that our girls kidnapped from Chibok are rescued and reintegrated with their families.”
On many occasions, President Buhari pledged to rescue the girls and one of such was during the activities marking one year of the girls’ kidnap. Buhari, who was then the president-elect insisted that he would ensure that Boko Haram was defeated.
Perhaps, none of the president’s comments on the girls was more reassuring than what he said during his inaugural speech, when he said: “We cannot claim to have defeated Boko Haram without rescuing the Chibok girls and all other innocent persons held hostage by insurgents. This government will do all it can to rescue them alive. Boko Haram is a typical example of small fires causing large fires.”
Still following up on his promises to bring back the girls, in December 2015, Buhari said he was willing to negotiate with Boko Haram for the release of the girls without any preconditions.
Though President Buhari inherited the case from Jonathan, the burden of getting them out now lies squarely on his government, not only because government is a continuum; it is so because the president promised Nigerians that he would do all that it would take to get the girls out of their predicament.
Many Colours of the Protests
Soon after the news became an international big deal, protesters marched on to the parliament in Abuja, where they called for action on the release of the girls. Following this, people in cities around the world also took up the gauntlets and organised their own marches in solidarity with Nigeria.
A social media campaign under the hashtag #Bringbackourgirls started trending in Nigeria and has since been tweeted more than one million times. It was first used on April 23 at the opening ceremony for a UNESCO event honouring the Nigerian City of Port Harcourt as the 2014 World Book Capital City.
A Nigerian lawyer in Abuja, Ibrahim M. Abdullahi, tweeted the call in a speech by Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, Vice-President of the World Bank for Africa to “Bring Back the Girls! Another mass demonstration took place outside the Nigerian Defence Headquarters in Abuja on May 6, and many other protests have since been organised in response to a social media campaign asking for people around the world to march and wear red in solidarity.
People came out in protest at the Nigerian embassy in London, in Los Angeles and New York. John Kerry, the US Secretary of State pledged assistance from the US. Michelle Obama too took the unique step of delivering her husband’s weekly presidential address to express outrage at the kidnapping of the Nigerian schoolgirls.
Speaking for the first time in place of her husband, before what is Mothers’ Day, she said they were “outraged and heartbroken” over the abduction of more than 300 girls from a school in Chibok on 14 April.
“What happened in Nigeria was not an isolated incident. It’s a story we see every day as girls around the world risk their lives to pursue their ambitions. I want you to know that Barack has directed our government to do everything possible to support the Nigerian government’s efforts to find these girls and bring them home. In these girls, Barack and I see our own daughters. We see their hopes, their dreams, and we can only imagine the anguish their parents are feeling right now.”
Ellen Degeneres was quick to jump on the bandwagon. Her original tweet, captioned ‘It can’t happen soon enough’, was retweeted 25,500 times.
American rap star, Puff Diddy posted 13 pictures on Instagram, the most widely circulated captioned: “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to protect my own daughters. I stand with the parents of the abducted Nigerian schoolgirls”.
Other celebrity posters include Cara Delevigne, Alexa Chung, Leona Lewis, David Cameron and Malal Yousafzai.
Outside of the White House, Hollywood, and A-list celebrities some others have also tried to do more. Simone De Kock, a South African model, posted a picture on Twitter of herself holding a #BringBackOurGirls sign.
De Kock, 22, heard about the kidnapping through a community service charity she is an ambassador for and was horrified to read more about Boko Haram’s views on education for women.
US Congresswoman, Frederica Wilson has been a persistent advocate for the girls. She first used the hashtag on May 7, and since then has posted/published hundreds of tweets in an effort to trigger/spark/whip up a “twitter storm”.
Wilson travelled to Nigeria to meet with government officials and families of the missing girls and has recently introduced a bill which would authorise US dollars for humanitarian aid to Nigeria and funds to support Boko Haram’s victims.
Social entrepreneur, Erica Greve has similarly maintained a high level of interest, travelling to Nigeria on multiple occasions. She was one of the first to speak to the three girls, who escaped the camp in May. In an effort to maintain the public awareness, she has been working with Hollywood talent agencies to keep celebrities posting on the issue
CNN’s Video as Hope Renewal
During activities marking the second year anniversary of the girls’ abduction a few days ago, the initial hopelessness expressed by some Nigerians about the state of the girls were allayed. The Cable Network News (CNN) came out with a video recording of 15 of the girls last week Wednesday. The satellite television station was said to have obtained the video of some of the girls sent to negotiators by their captors as a proof of life and the video had been seen by negotiators and some members of the government. But government has kept mum, not showing the parents of the girls until CNN went public with it.
CNN presented parents of the girls with the video and three mothers of some of the female students identified their daughters in the new video. The girls – all dressed in full length robes mentioned their names, their school and where they are from.
Rifkatu Ayuba, Mary Ishaya and Yana Galang were invited to the viewing centre in Maiduguri by the chairman of Chibok Local Government Area, Bana Lawan and seven of the girls have been identified. So, if the video is not a hoax, there is hope therefore that some of the girls, if not all, are still alive somewhere and could still be reunited with their families. This readily reduces the fears that the girls are never going to be reunited with their parents and loved ones.
Now the Ransom Issue
Although government has continued to deny it, the truth is that the issue before the front burner now is that Boko Haram is seeking a ransom to release the girls. There were reports that the group is seeking about $50m. It was gathered that the outlawed group presented the demand to the federal government during secret contacts with government and President Buhari, who was said to be willing to negotiate for the girls’ freedom.
Before now, part of the demands of the sect, as stated by the group’s leader, Abubakr Shekau, was the release of jailed members in exchange for the girls. The recent video was said to be part of the deal to assure government that the girls are still alive.
Government sources have hinted that the huge ransom being demanded is tearing the government apart. While some were of the opinions that the money was worth it, others were of the views that the video was not real and that money given to the group would only empower them to do more damage to the country.
As things stand today, it is unclear what fate would eventually befall the girls. But something remains certain: Nigerians, African and the rest of the world have not heard the last of the Chibok girls. Dead or alive, seen or not, their issue will continue to dominate public discourse and shall remain an all-important chapter in the country’s strive for an egalitarian society.
The Battle Continues…
In spite of the video and other indications that the abduction was real and that in fact, some of the girls are alive, there are those who still describe the development as a mere scam. This is why opinions have continued to be divided on the Chibok tales.
Mr. Tafal Falowo, a community head in Lambe, Ifo, Ogun State insisted that the “abduction” of the girls was political. He alleged that it was a conspiracy by some politicians to milk the federal government of some money without realising that it would boomerang.
This position was supported by Chief Kayode Ajiboye from Omu Aran in Kwara State. He said ordinarily, only a few of the mothers of the girls came out to cry over the abduction while their fathers were never seen. He stressed that Governor Fayose has said it all when he claimed the kidnap was politically orchestrated to embarrass the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Although Ajiboye could not prove this, he however accused some political leaders within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) of being the masterminds behind the abduction saga.
Personal Assistant to the Bayelsa State Governor on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Alfred Egbegi did not believe the abduction story either.
“I don’t believe in the abduction at all. It was one of the gimmicks of the then opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) to embarrass the Goodluck Jonathan government. Now it has become an albatross on their neck.
“The inability to find the girls two years after has also exposed the hypocrisy of the western nations, who were hobnobbing with the opposition at that time to do away with the Jonathan government. They have succeeded but now, let them produce the girls, even with their sophisticated gadgets.”
A very angry Egbegi stressed that “The Chibok Girls fiasco was the height of the APC opposition propaganda. Now, what goes around comes around. The APC and President Buhari have to find and present these mystery girls to Nigerians. It shows the height that some desperate people can go in their quest for power.”
But this position was not supported by Mr. Gbenga Oyinlola from Okuku in Osun State, who thought it was hypocritical for anybody to suggest that the kidnapping of the girls was contrived. He said with the activities of the Boko Haram in the north east, nothing is beyond the boys, and that he firmly believed the girls were abducted.
He however cried that the problem of the country was security and must be taken seriously. He asked: “I cannot see how someone can pick over 200 girls from a school in one swoop and two years later, they still cannot be traced. It is an indication that our security was left to the dogs.”
But the former Editor of the Port Harcourt-based defunct Sunray newspaper, Mr. Charles Tambou, insisted the Chibok debacle was a farce. He said there was nothing to show that any girls were abducted.
Former Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Bayelsa State, Chief Ebiowei Sokare, said “Sincerely, the look on the faces of the mothers of the girls as seen on television convinced me that there was no trace of pretension. I believe that they were abducted and I pray that they were found.”