In his Children’s Day speech last week, President Muhammadu Buhari used the occasion to task the nation’s security operatives, traditional rulers, civil society organisations and religious bodies to work harder to end violence against children. The President said the rising spate of violence against children was unacceptable and steps must be taken to ensure the protection of children in homes, schools, markets and worship centres. The Federal Government, on its part, he said, has directed the management of all Federal Government schools and all state-owned schools to implement adequate measures that would not only guarantee the security of students but also ensure their protection from abuse and exploitation.
The President emphasised the need for parents to send their children to school, especially the girl child, whose education, he observed, stems the tide of maternal mortality and child marriage. In the same vein, the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, renewed the call for the immediate release of the lone Dapchi school girl, Leah Sharibu, and the remaining Chibok girls, and all Nigerian children still being held in captivity by Boko Haram. He urged all relevant authorities not to relent until all the children held captive are returned safe and unharmed. “We affirm their right to freedom, to live carefree with their loved ones, to go to school, and for their dreams to remain intact,” Dr. Saraki said.
We must appreciate the wisdom in the remarks of the President and the Senate President. We do hope that security agencies and school principals and headmasters take the appropriate action to protect the children under their care. Nigerians are, however, sore about the continued captivity of the Chibok girls who were abducted from their school by Boko Haram on April 14 2014, which is more than four years ago. When the Chibok kidnap occurred, the government in power, then, could not do much until it was too late. And except for the few dozen girls who had the presence of mind to escape from the terrorists, a total of 219 girls were in captivity when the Buhari administration came to power in May 2015. During his campaign, Buhari promised to secure the release of the girls within weeks of his coming to power. Indeed, he said there could be no victory over Boko Haram which did not include the freedom of all the Chibok girls, a promise fervently believed by many Nigerians and which kept the poor parents of the girls in tender hooks.
Government’s efforts yielded the release of 21 of the girls in October 2016 and in May 2017, a large batch of 82 more girls was released from captivity. Two more girls were found wandering around the Sambisa areas and taken home. It is now a year since the government secured the release of the 82 with a promise to secure the release of the rest. But in February 2018, Boko Haram struck again and took away 112 school girls from the Federal Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State. Luckily in less than a month, all the girls were released less one, Leah Sharibu. Nigerians are still at a loss why the girl has not been released. No explanation offered by the government has sounded convincing. If the Dapchi girls were released on the strength of a pending ceasefire between Boko Haram and the Federal Government, it must be appreciated that the release of the Dapchi girls without Miss Sharibu was an incomplete release. The Federal Government had promised the girl would be released before Easter celebrations last month. She is still in captivity, like the rest of the 103 Chibok girls whose fate is now a subject of speculation because of the length of the captivity and the absence of any credible information as to their plight.
We wish to remind the Federal Government of its commitment to Nigerians and the parents of these girls. Expressions of intent are not enough; four years in captivity is like a lifetime for young girls who have been deprived of their educational and intellectual development. The government’s efforts will not count for much without the girl, Leah Sharibu and the remaining Chibok girls released.