Rebuilding Chibok school and liberating the girls
AMIDST declining expectation that the abducted school girls of Chibok would be found, the visit to the Chibok community the other day by the Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister for the Economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, expectedly stirred controversy and justifiably called to question the government’s priorities. The minister had during the occasion compounded an already tense situation when she announced government’s plans to rebuild the Government Girls Secondary School razed by the insurgency group Boko Haram as well as resettle some of the displaced inhabitants. Rebuild the school? For the yet-to-be found girls? Or the ones who escaped the gruesome onslaught of Boko Haram?
Not surprisingly, the caretaker chairman of Chibok council area, Ba’ana Lawan appeared to speak the minds of many Nigerians when he retorted in a tone laden with emotions that bringing back the girls was of utmost priority to the community and not rebuilding the secondary school. According to him, his community was tired of failed promises by government on the release of the girls. More so, after all, as he and other parents agonised over the fate of their daughters, the Federal Government failed to send a delegation to the community since the abduction of the 219 girls nearly a year ago. And only after a national outcry did the same government make a show of herding some members of the community to Abuja for what would seem a perfunctory consolation.
However, in contradistinction to the caretaker chairman’s position, the Director of Publicity of Kibaki Area Development National Association, Manessah Allen, another community leader, stated that the rejection of government’s plans by the caretaker chairman was not the position of the parents of the abducted girls and the Chibok community. He stressed that the need to have the other students who had remained at home since the unfortunate incident back in school made it imperative to accept the overture of the government even though he also complained that the minister’s visit was belated.
Beyond the controversy that the issue has generated in Chibok community, it is important to observe that the community and indeed the entire people of Nigeria remain traumatised by the abduction and the continued cloud over the whereabouts of those girls. Re-building the school certainly should not be the priority at the moment but liberating the girls. The national anxiety is even now heightened by the comments of the Army chief, Lt. Gen. Kenneth Minimah that the military still had no clue as to the whereabouts of the girls even as another supposed escapee has claimed they have been located in captivity in Gwoza. In Minimah’s words, “there is no news on the Chibok girls for now. In all the liberated areas, we have also made enquiries but the truth is when the terrorists are running away, they also run with their families.”
So the government must exert itself to bring back the girls. This is the least the Chibok community and indeed the country deserve in these trying moments.
Also, it should be noted that the scar of that abduction on the soul of Nigerians and, indeed, humanity, is such that, the burnt school ought to be preserved as a monument to that national tragedy and the idea of rebuilding the Chibok school would seem a way of seeking to obliterate collective memory. This is not necessary. More important, the Goodluck Jonathan administration should snap out of its impulsive mode. The president needs to be more careful, should not respond in panic to every pressure but must strive to do the right thing at the right time.
As for the Chibok community, it makes for unity of purpose to speak with one voice over their current predicament and not create the impression of disunity by pandering to the antics of politicians. The students who have been redundant at home as a result of the attacks on the community need to go back to school but they need a safe environment to do so.
While the government deserves commendation for the on-going counter-offensive against the insurgents in the north-east, a cardinal part of the overall objective should be to bring back the girls. Turning the sod for the reconstruction of the school may seem all right but it is not a comforting step. Finding the girls and rehabilitating them is the most important thing now.
Whatever the case, a blueprint for the rehabilitation of the Chibok girls and the entire community is essential. Panic measures and/or public relations stunts are usually not the best course of action in matters of national trauma.
Get the latest news delivered straight to your inbox every day of the week. Stay informed with the Guardian’s leading coverage of Nigerian and world news, business, technology and sports.