Chibok girls: Still missing 100 days after – Punch

By The Citizen
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It is 100 days today since 276 schoolgirls were abducted from a secondary school in Chibok, Borno State, by the notorious Boko Haram terrorists. During those hellish days, 57 of the teenage girls have escaped. For the 219 girls still in captivity, their agony and the horrors they have had to endure can only be imagined. It is an unfathomable despair and grief for their parents and families, too. Around the world, activists, statesmen and millions of ordinary people are sharing the pain and anguish of these innocent girls and their parents.

A few of the girls that escaped from the jihadists' captivity gave harrowing accounts of their tribulation. The evidently deranged Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, had threatened to sell the innocent girls into slavery. 'I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah… There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women,' he boasted in a video. The hashtag, #BringBackOurGirls, resonates worldwide and unites men and women of goodwill against an absolutely evil act.

Encouragingly, there are signs that many Nigerians' consciences are deeply troubled.Millions of their compatriots empathise with the parents and guardians and pray fervently for their return. For a people notorious around the world for their complacency and civic indolence, the Chibok girls affair has inaugurated a new era among Nigerians: it has provoked marches, rallies and a vigorous condemnation of the government. It should be sustained.

Alas, the popular passion displayed over the fate of the girls and the desperation to rescue them are not shared by the Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, or by the ruling party and the National Assembly. The failure of the Nigerian state to fulfil the fundamental responsibility of protecting the weak and vulnerable is palpable. If ever evidence was needed, the Chibok girls saga has exposed the reality of a failing state before the world. All key institutions failed, especially the Presidency, the military and intelligence services. Jonathan and his military ignored the kidnap for the first three weeks. Far away from the North-East theatre of pain, Jonathan finally met with 51 escaped girls, their parents and parents of girls still in captivity inside the cozy Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja on Tuesday, about 100 days after the abduction. To the despair of Nigerians and the amazement of the world, he has refused to visit the grieving Chibok community.

Indeed, the development epitomises the deeper crisis of modernisation and governance in the country. It is a sign of our government's failure to protect the citizens. It is difficult to find any civilised society where more than 200 of its teens will be facing grave danger and the President and key political office holders will remain immersed in political intrigues. Last week, it took the visit of Malala Yousafzai, the 17-year-old Pakistani girl who survived a vicious gun attack by Taliban Islamic extremists in Pakistan, to persuade our President to meet the grief-stricken parents of the girls. Our politicians across the political spectrum, religious and traditional leaders continue to live in denial while a bewildered world mocks our inhumanity. It is the collective guilt of a nation.

The Nigerian government must stop being irresponsible, find and bring back the girls by any means possible. It should demonstrate its sincerity and commitment to match the vigils and other activities being held today in Nigeria, elsewhere in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and America. The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, will join others and the Chibok parents to sign petitions urging Jonathan to act.

As Commander-in-Chief, Jonathan should compel the military, police and intelligence services to rescue the girls. Nigerians want to know why the girls who escaped have not been debriefed as alleged by Chibok residents. He should prove by decisive actions that his assurances to Malala that the government was 'proactively evolving and implementing policies and measures that would benefit the girls when they are safely rescued' are sincere. Facts on the ground belie this. Terrorists at the weekend slaughtered over 150 persons in attacks on Damboa and Askira, both in Borno State. Like Islamists have done in Iraq, Boko Haram has driven the military out of Damboa. The Islamists continue to attack Gwoza, on the outskirts of Maiduguri, Gamboru-Ngala and even Chibok, almost unchallenged and have killed about 15,000 people since 2010.

An Army, whose Chief of Staff, Kenneth Minimah, admitted last week harboured deserters and cowards on the frontline, cannot defeat insurgents and therefore needs urgent overhauling. Instead of blaming the opposition, threatening and intimidating campaigners and parents of the victims or harassing the press, Jonathan and the security agencies should reinforce and garrison the North-East zone; secure military assistance from Niger Republic, Cameroon and Chad to bottle up their common borders and destroy the insurgency. Incompetent security chiefs should be removed and competent replacements appointed. Some heads should roll for the serial failures of intelligence and the ineptitude of commanders. Jonathan should stop looking for scapegoats. Traitors within the security forces should be identified and brought to book.

There is still much more Jonathan can do. He must be his own man for once. He needs to seek assistance from friendly nations without succumbing to puerile nationalism and bogus political pressure at home. If the leading countries of the world can deploy their technologies in search of a Malaysian missing MH370 airplane for months, Nigeria will lose nothing by mobilising the world on humanitarian grounds for this rescue mission.

Boko Haram jihadists have amply demonstrated that they represent the vilest of Islamist terrorism globally. It deserves a more decisive response than the occasional boilerplate assurances from our President. Rescuing the abducted girls from their grip requires a surprise, daring, skilful and clinical operation that only special forces can provide. Even the United States succeeded in taking out the al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, through its cooperation with numerous intelligence agencies and the deployment of sophisticated surveillance apparatus.

Political parties and other pressure groups should stop playing politics with terrorism. The Northern elite, traditional institutions and state governments should mobilise their people to provide intelligence to the security forces and form well-equipped vigilante groups. The military should salvage its tattered reputation and deploy professionalism, intelligence and courage to confront terrorism, with finding and rescuing the Chibok girls as a priority.

The campaigners should not be deterred by the unscrupulous harassment from the government and stay the course. More Nigerians should come out and join this cause. We owe ourselves this duty. Already, 11 of the parents have died - seven killed in subsequent Boko Haram attacks and four through sickness. Hope must not dim on recovering the girls.

The Nigerian government has no moral right to demand loyalty and respect from its citizens until the captives have been brought back from the hell-hole. Until we rescue them, we remain a spineless, confused and bewildered country run by a callous, soulless elite.