Complicity in the Chibok Saga?
By Okey Ikechukwu
Following the piece 'North: The Two Missing Freedoms', which appeared in this column two weeks ago, there have been reactions and also revelations suggesting very disturbing thoughts and possibilities. If the truth must be told, the issue before us is not just a matter of lapses in security. Within the intervening period, the office of the first lady convened a stakeholder's meeting that threw up very alarming signs of negligence (and possibly complicity) on the part of those who have responsibility for managing the school and taking care of the children. At the said meeting in Abuja, the chairman of the area's local government explained that two out of the three routes into (and out of) Chibok were manned and blocked by the police. The other route was also manned and blocked, this time by the military.
So which route did the abductors take to get out of Chibok, when all the routes allegedly were blocked? That was one of Mrs Patience Jonathan's recurring questions at the meeting. How long did it take the abductors to assemble the girls and board, before departing? How can anyone explain the fact that the children actually trekked for nearly two kilometres to where the vehicles of their abductors were packed, before boarding and leaving? Were there no villagers, officials or security men who saw all of this?
The talk today is how to rescue the abducted Chibok girls, and rightly so. But in the heat of it all, and especially following the media mauling of the federal government, many fundamental questions are not only in danger of not being asked at all, but of actually being dismissed as unnecessary.
In the aforementioned article, this column held: 'There used to be one northern Nigeria, with one voice. It had the profile of an impregnable monolith, with leaders who enjoyed untrammelled freedom 'from' fear and the freedom 'to' act and determine means and ends in the Nigerian state. The leaders, elders and titled men were all nearly deified. But the story is different today. As I write, emirs, prominent persons and other leaders are in the line of fire from an amorphous invasion with unclear intentions. There are some as yet unverified allegations to the effect that some prominent northerners are aiding the mayhem. If this is true, then the persons concerned obviously do not see their political and economic graves down the road they are treading at the moment. Freedom is on the run and they cannot see it.'
Is it not curious, as was revealed at the first lady's meeting, that the 'abducted' students not only trekked for long minutes through the land before being finally taken away, but were taken away in such a well-choreographed manner as to suggest that there was more to the entire saga than exists in the public domain? There was no coherent response at the said meeting, when questions were raised regarding why the Borno State Government ignored the letters of the Minister of Education and WAEC calling for postponement of the examinations, the need to relocate the students to the state capital and/or provide serious security. Why was it only after the kidnapping of the students that the remaining students were moved to a safer place for their examinations?
Why, for instance, did the Borno State Ministry of Education and the school authorities provide only day security in a school that has arranged for the girls to sleep in the premises after the examinations? To recall the SS3 students to write their WAEC exams against extant warnings and directives and without providing security seems to be more than a mere administrative slip, if you ask me.
Why was it only the female students who were in the boarding facility without security, while their male counterparts could come and go during the day? Why were there no security/gate man, no house parents, and no light on the night of the incident? What provided the ambience for the students to believe that uniformed men who suddenly appeared in their school were there to protect and rescue them? What were they told that they were being rescued form, anyway? How come the local government chairman could not relay an early warning signal sent to him by an informant? How come he also did nothing after receiving information from the Director of SSS on the same matter?
And now, the clincher: no security operative or apparatus could reach the location of the broken down vehicles carrying the abducted girls. So their abductors made a leisurely exit with their 'booty' unchallenged; out of a town with three well-guarded (and even blocked) exits. This entire saga, and especially with the details that came from the first lady's meeting, sounds very much like fiction masquerading as an account of actual happenings. It is a beautifully scripted piece of insanity that will put the writers of Disneyland to shame.
But the public reaction to that meeting in Aso Rock has created what can best be described as an atmosphere of melodrama on a matter that does not call for frivolity. The good intentions behind the meeting, as well as the frightening revelations that emerged from it, may seem to be now overshadowed by the distortion of its actual intent. While everyone is griping about what the federal government is doing or not doing, the primary focal persons in Borno State to whom the nation actually handed over those children have maintained a degree of nonchalance that can best be described as incomprehensible. Before the meeting, neither the principal nor the governor's wife had visited the school after the incident. The principal and state officials could also not explain why, knowing that Boko Haram killed some WAEC invigilators in Borno State last year, decided to go along with an examination they had been told to put off; and without making any security arrangements whatsoever?
The principal admitted that the SS3 students were asked to return to their hostel to write WAEC exams without power supply, house parents nor any security arrangement in spite of threats in the area. Then it also came out that the women that demonstrated in Abuja, were not parents of the children and mostly did not come from Chibok but reside in Abuja. A special case was made of Naomi Murlah, a Deputy Director in the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), in this regard.
There are simply too many other baffling twists, conflicting revelations and distortions of statements and other details. The principal, who claimed to be residing in the staff quarters, only going to Maiduguri fortnightly for diabetic treatment, was found not to be riding in the school premises. Stakeholders were aghast that her school could go ahead and register males and over aged candidates (60 years and above) as internal students for WAEC at GGSS in Chibok, despite the security threats. To register overaged males who are actually not known and regular students of the school as day students, and then have the bona fide females enrolled as borders without any form a security is quite incredible.
Those who attended the meeting in question included the wife of the deputy senate president, wives of governors and their representatives, female legislators at the federal and state levels, the minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, special advisers, leaders of women organisations, focal persons in the Chibok abduction saga, women opinion leaders and other stakeholders. What have they done after that?
Besides the Borno State commissioners for health and education, the state's commissioner of police, director of SSS, the principal of Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, divisional police officer in charge of Chibok, the army commandant in charge of Chibok, the chairman of Chibok Local Government, the head of WAEC National Office and the WAEC zonal co-ordinators for North-east and North-central were also present at the meeting. Do any of these people have any public position in what is going on today?
Many are celebrating the advertised challenges the federal government seems to be facing at the moment. We forget that peace is disappearing everywhere. As was said here two weeks ago: 'The north is disappearing as I write. The leadership can still wake up to a reality it seems to be reading wrongly. The problem is not the bombs, or the mutual recriminations among politicians. It is not the pretended indignation of an elite that does not see how it can claim the moral high ground by being seen to distance itself from partisanship in this moment of national crisis'.
Some may celebrate the negative global media focus on Nigeria, believing that they are 'dealing with Jonathan and his peoiple'. Meanwhile it is all of 'us', as a people. Chibok is only symptomatic of a dimension of the malaise. Beneath it lies several brands of folly, all of which are predicated on the wrong assumption that somebody who perpetrates evil in order to make another look bad is thereby doing something good. Far from it!
First published in the Edifying Elucidations column in This Day