The over 200 girls abducted by the Boko Haram terrorist group from Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, on April 14, 2014, have become symbols on both sides of the divide, the terrorists and Nigerians. The Bring Back Our Girls group (BBOG) has kept the matter on the front burner. The girls have not been lost completely, because some of them have returned. Two came back by chance. The others owe their freedom to negotiations that opened when their captors said they would free the girls, if government freed Boko Haram fighters in custody. We do not know what water passed under which bridge, but some of the girls regained their freedom soon after the offer.
Information minister, Lai Mohammed, said no ransom was paid for the girls. But comments like that embellish the saying that smoke usually comes from fire. Segments of the media, especially foreign ones, say the insurgents may have used trusted intermediaries to get huge sums in foreign currencies from the Nigerian government.
The Swiss government and the International Red Cross brokered the negotiations, it was said, but they did not reveal details of the deal. Twenty-one of the abducted girls regained their freedom just as two escaped. Pressure came on government from the global community.
Virtually every president across the globe took pictures with the “Bring Back Our Girls” inscription. President Muhammadu Buhari made it a campaign promise prior to his election. He would bring back the girls and defeat Boko Haram. I opined in this space that the continued stay of the girls with their captors meant that the insurgents still held sway. Now the BBOG insists that government must take the return of the girls to the next level and bring back the rest of the girls. The returnee girls are now enjoying the best government can offer, including scholarships from foreign donors.
The BBOG deserves a pat on the back, but its activities have tended to create the rather erroneous impression that the girls are the prime victims of Boko Haram insurgency. I also joined the euphoria created by the media to put the limelight on the Chibok girls, as though they were the only victims. But there are many other victims of Boko Haram. Thousands of children have been orphaned by the insurgents. No one has championed their cause and, with the technical defeat of the insurgents, what becomes of those children? Some of them roam the streets, just as others stay without hope at the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps.
Two days ago, those camps were forcibly brought to public attention by the mistake of bombs meant for insurgents being dropped on a camp in Rann, Borno State. The incident has not been fully explained but the process allows for an investigation. Such an investigation stands a chance of unraveling what happened but it would not detract from the fact that scores of people died in the process, including children. I have not been blinded by anger to call for the the head of the pilot and those involved in that ill-fated operation. The politics of numbers are also unnecessary.
There is always collateral damage in situations of war such as the nation finds itself in the war against terrorism. This could be a genuine mistake such as has happened in Syria, where a wedding party was bombed on account of a false security alarm. History is replete with such mistakes in war situations. Many books on the Biafra-Nigeria civil war paint pictures of such bombings. I make no excuses for the rather costly mistake but it has brought more Boko Haram victims to our attention.
Efforts must be intensified to get the rest of the Chibok girls back but there are more victims than those girls. The insurgents have not gone to sleep, now they have intensified suicide bombings, University of Maiduguri being the latest victim. The Professor of Veterinary Medicine who died in the blast has a family that ranks in the league of Boko Haram victims. Businessmen and women who have been forced to shut down their ventures to save their lives are all vicarious victims of insurgency. No one seems to stand up for them as the BBOG has done for the girls.
As the insurgents take their last steps, government has a bigger duty in winning the peace. The scars of war take long to heal. Those of Nigeria’s civil war, which ended nearly five decades ago, have not healed. The point to be made is that that, inasmuch as the girls remain on the front burner, courtesy of the BBOG, attention ought to be paid to other victims.
The bombing in Rann, which has left sorrow, tears and blood, may have stemmed from false security alerts. Such reports should not be swallowed, hook, line and sinker, by those who receive them. I have scant knowledge of military operations, but reports that have the capacity to send people to their early graves ought to be cross-checked again before implementation.
Such vicarious victims of insurgency seem to have no pressure groups, but these orphans, widows and countless others deserve no less attention. The tendency has been for the authorities to respond to issues in the public domain. Reports of severe hunger and near starvation in the camps trended for weeks and little or nothing came to those affected. There are more victims than we see and the authorities must not let them remain in the dark.
Victims of insurgency seem to have no pressure groups, but these orphans, widows and countless others deserve no less attention … There are more victims than we see and the authorities must not let them remain in the dark.”