Chibok Princess Amina: Matters arising
Miss Amina Ali, dainty 19-year-old kid mother has, not undeservedly, become the toast of the nation. It is no longer news that she was one of the 219 girls abducted by the Boko Haram insurgents from Government Secondary School, Chibok, on April 14, 2014. Last week, after spending more than 760 days in the Gulag called Sambisa Forest, this evil forest, which was thought to be impenetrable and impregnable, she was rescued by members of a vigilante group who were lying in wait to ambush a Boko Haram camp.
According to the reports, she was found wandering in the bush when members of the vigilante group came in contact with her. Two days later, another girl, Serah Lucas, daughter of a pastor, was also found in the neighbourhood of Sambisa forest and rescued. Unfortunately, the needless controversy surrounding the second rescue nearly drowned the significance of this laudable development.
The Bring Back Our Girls Movement deserves medal, if there is any to be given, for the way they brought the issue of the kidnapped girls to the consciousness of humanity all over the world. For them it calls for celebration amidst loud chest beating. But for them and the media the story of the Chibok girls might have been different today. At the time when some senior government officials and their spouses led by the Jonathan family chose to give a lie to the whole abduction saga, it was this movement who stood solidly behind the parents and mobilised more activists to drum home the need to bring back the girls safely. Their efforts brought Michelle, the wife of President Barrack Obama, into the Bring Back Our Girls chorus. Other world leaders joined the chorus and there were loud protests in many world capitals such as London and Washington. In Nigeria there were many protests and rallies. The movement’s hash tag became the international face of women in anguish.
More than any other group, these active women of conscience have more to gain from the release of these girls from their captivity. This is why I felt a bit disappointed when some of their members went into unnecessary controversy over the status of the second girl. Yes, they acknowledged that Serah might have come from Chibok. They also did not contend the fact that Serah was from the same school where the Chibok girls had gathered for the West African School Certificate Examination and from where the Boko Haram insurgents carted them away. Serah, an SS2 pupil, could not obviously have been there sitting for the examinations. The truth, as it is now made clear, is that, though a pupil of that school, she was kidnapped in Madagali her home town in Adamawa State, far from the school in Borno State. The point is that she was taken into captivity like Amina and thousands of other women and children from all the three adjoining states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa and she suffered the same fate with them.
The military, with the support of various vigilante groups, has in the last six months pushed the insurgents into a small enclave and has virtually rendered them incapacitated. With the ceaseless pounding of their positions, many of their captives, mainly women and children, have been rescued, though unsung and uncelebrated.
They are not the Chibok girls. But their release is not less significant. One life is as valuable as another life, even if all men are not equal. Haruna Mutali, a community leader in Chibok was magnanimous enough to recognise that “every citizen returned is victory for all of us.”
For the government and for all Nigerians who have been praying for this war to come to an end and for the girls to be brought back alive, Amina’s and Serah’s return is a great relief. Starved of intelligent information on the whereabouts of the girls, our obviously embarrassed President Muhammadu Buhari would be forgiven, if he became emotional when Amina was presented to him in the villa last week. Her release from captivity, said the President, has provided the government a unique opportunity to get information vital to the success of what remains of the operation.
It is clear now that the girls, though forcefully married off, may not have been scattered in Chad, Cameroun and Niger as we were all speculating. Amina said only six of the girls have died. It is bad enough, but given their circumstances, the number of those who died could have been higher. Is it possible for her to confirm, if these six were among those suspected of being used as suicide bombers? If Amina was brainwashed, perhaps her so-called husband might not have suffered the same fate and would therefore be in a better position to squeal more on their captors and provide more useful information.
Another dimension to the war against Boko Haram is the one highlighted eloquently this week by Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima. This war, he said, cannot be won militarily. True, Boko Haram members can be vanquished and put out of circulation militarily but the issues that gave rise to bokoharamism would require more than guns and other sophisticated armaments to resolve. Issues of poverty, unemployment, social inequalities and marginalisation and, above all, lack of access to better education are becoming all pervasive and they are not restricted to the North-Eastern part of the country. Nigeria from North to South, East to West is becoming a breeding ground for all manner of social malcontents. From among those who feel utterly deprived have sprung up the army of kidnappers which have spread round the country. From among them, these social deviants have also sprung up a battalion of cultists who are willing, at the drop of the pin, to kill and maim, not only rival gang members, but anybody unlucky enough to come into contact with them.
Many of these atrocities are happening in the rural areas almost every day unreported by the media. For instance, a couple of weeks ago, suspected cultists descended on Idah town in Kogi State and from Saturday night to Sunday morning, at least 12 young and able bodied Nigerians met their untimely death. Only last week, uncountable number of kidnappings took place in other parts of Kogi State. The authorities know the bad spots but with all their determination, they have not quite succeeded in stopping or reducing this recurrent malfeasance.
Speculations are now rife that some of the runaway Boko Haram members are moving from the North East, mingling freely with people in the day time and robbing them in the night. It is also possible they are part of the so-called herdsmen terrorising innocent people. The next stage of the battle against these undesirable elements requires sophisticated intelligence, not arms and ammunition, dialogue not the Odi and the Zakibiam treatment. We are now entering a dangerous phase where we have to take to heart the immortal sayings of William Shakespeare: security is mortal’s chiefest enemy.