The festering sore on the conscience of the nation – the April 14, 2014 abduction of over 200 girls from the Government Secondary School, Chibok – burst open on Sunday. It was the fifth anniversary of the dastardly kidnapping and, as heavy as the weight of that sad incident was when it occurred five years ago, so it still is now. Since that unfortunate night in April 2014, the tears of the parents, community and all well meaning Nigerians have not stopped flowing for these innocent girls who were whisked away in the middle of the night into dark forests and a destiny unknown.
Five years after, it is not difficult to imagine the agonies, the sleeplessness nights and the scary nightmares that must have been the lot of the families of these girls. It is not difficult to imagine the numbing fears of the parents and the bad dreams they must have been enduring. These nightmares will only come to an end when their daughters are returned to their embrace, safe and sound.
The information from the government is that 107 of these girls have either been rescued, escaped or returned by the terrorists. Sometime ago, about 84 of the girls were said to have been released but the information from those really in the know of the incident is that very few of that number were actually those who were kidnapped on the night of April 14, 2014.
The failure to secure the release of the Chibok girls, and the many other Nigerians in Boko Haram’s custody is an open wound, a dark spot on the social conscience of the nation. Whichever way we look at it, Nigeria has failed the girls, failed their parents; their communities and the nation at large. Five years is a very long time in the life of any person. It is also enough time for a nation and its military to either rescue or successful negotiate the release of the abducted persons.
So much has been said about the Sambisa forest, the assumed location of the girls, where Boko Haram is said to have built an impregnable fortress. But, how large can that forest be, and how impregnable its defences, as to withstand the onslaught of the Nigerian military for five years, if the country actually has the political will to bring the kidnapped girls back home?
Can the Boko Haram sect really withstand a serious onslaught from Nigerian’s military forces and sustain such resistance for all of five years? As a matter fact, this Boko Haram insurgency has become an insult to Nigeria, its leaders, military and people. Unless, as it has been said in some quarters, that certain unscrupulous persons are benefitting, financially and otherwise, from the insurgency, how can the military, with the full backing of the government and people of Nigeria, be unable to rout this sect from its Sambisa stronghold and set its captives free?
The excuses of the government for the failure to get the girls back home sounds so hollow. It has become unacceptable, more so, since the longer the girls remain in the captivity of the terrorists, the more difficult it will be to bring them back home and reintegrate them into their communities.
President Muhammadu Buhari, at the commemoration of the 5th anniversary of the abduction of the girls, was optimistic that they would soon be reunited with their families. He said he had not forgotten the girls and would keep his promise to ensure their safe return. He also spoke about the 106 Chibok girls who are now continuing their studies at the American University of Nigeria (AUN), Yola.
The effort to rescue the remaining girls, he has explained, was stalled by the factionalisation of Boko Haram, with one of the factions maintaining a hardline posture and continuing attacks on Nigeria, Cameroun and Chad, while another faction is negotiating with the government, with many of its members surrendering to the authorities. What this suggests is that the government still has a lot of work to do engaging with the faction that actually has the custody of the girls and the wherewithal to return them to their communities.
On the case of Leah Sharibu, who was abducted from Science Secondary School, Dapchi, Yobe state on February 19 last year, the president said her return was being hampered by the fear of the terrorists holding her that the heavy presence of military personnel in the area where they used to freely operate could hinder their safe return to their base after returning her to the authorities. Meanwhile, the government cannot afford to jeopardize the security of the entire North-East by withdrawing its personnel from the said areas.
Since the demand of Boko Haram that military personnel be withdrawn from certain places to enable them return Leah cannot be entertained for the wider security needs of the sub-region, it is necessary for the government to quickly find a way to get her back, probably by air or by receiving her in the highly militarized zone complained about by the terrorists. The important thing is that she should be returned safely to the country. I salute the parents and families of the Chibok girls and wish them the fortitude and strong faith required to hang on until they get their children back.
The Boko Haram insurgency is a sad development in the nation’s history that the government must do all within its power to put behind us. The belief that Muhammadu Buhari, as the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) would be in a better position to rout the insurgency is one of the reasons that Nigerians voted him into office as President in 2015. It is sad that four years after, the country is still in search of the elusive magic wand that would bring the girls back.
The fifth anniversary of the Chibok incident should serve as an impetus to refocus efforts on routing the sect and bringing all our kidnapped citizens back. This is one problem that the Buhari administration cannot afford to trifle with. Time runs fast. Before the government knows it, another four years would be gone. God forbid that the Buhari administration, like the Goodluck Jonathan government before it, would fail to rescue these girls and bring the Boko Haram insurgency to an end.
The ability to end terrorism in the country and stop the incessant killings with impunity in the North-East and several other parts of the country is one of the yardsticks by which the Buhari administration would eventually be adjudged by posterity. The security of citizens is the most important responsibility of the government. Without it, there can be no peace, progress or development. The government must not fail on this very important count. It must have all its hands on deck to end terrorism and move on to tackle the other serious problems of massive unemployment, the floundering economy and the growing threat to the continuing unity and oneness of the country.