Postscript By Waziri Adio; firstname.lastname@example.org
As the marchers hit the main road, dark clouds massed in the sky. It was clear that within minutes the sky would open up. But they marched on. And it finally came down, shy at first, then with the ferocious intensity that Abuja rains are known for. Soon, everyone was drenched. The rain kept lashing out, pouring down for almost eternity. But they stayed the course. Neither the elements nor the barricades at the National Assembly would stop them. They kept chanting: “Bring Back Our Girls, Now and Alive.” They were marching for the abducted girls of Chibok.
Among the marchers were mostly well-heeled women. One was a former minister and a former vice-president of the World Bank; another, the wife of a former vice-president of the country; and yet another, the wife of a former Chief Justice of Nigeria. They and their families were not immediately at risk or in distress; and if they were, they wouldn’t be as helpless as those agonising parents in faraway Chibok. These well-heeled women didn’t have to march, and at least not in the rain. But they chose to.
Alongside so many other women and some men, they chose to stand with the stolen girls of Chibok and their distressed parents; they chose to amplify, in the stony seat of power, the faint voices of those burdened with anxiety and grief hundreds of kilometres away; and they chose to demand that government should perform its most important duty to its citizens. It was a moving act of solidarity, a symbolic but powerful gesture that has since been replicated in different parts of the country and in different parts of the world, and might have added to the pressure that finally roused our government to a recent flurry of activities, some of which are still wrong-headed.
Remarkably, the Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and his deputy also came out in the pounding rain to receive, listen to and re-assure the marchers. Equally remarkable is that the police cleared the way for the marchers, protected them and stood in the rain with them. And among the marchers, coordinated by the Hajia Hadiza Bala Usman-led Women for Peace and Justice, were women and men from different parts of the country and of different stations in life, including some who are physically challenged. It was not only a poignant show of solidarity, but also a touching act of unity, lots of which we will need to win the war against the depraved Boko Haram terrorists.
I went to the march with Olusegun Adeniyi, Chairman of the Editorial Board of THISDAY, straight from this newspaper’s editorial board meeting of April 30. We were embarrassed that the women kept thanking us for joining them. But we don’t have to be women to relate with the girls of Chibok and their parents. Apart from being parents too, we are clear in our mind that identifying, even if symbolically, with the girls of Chibok and their parents is more than mere empathy. It is even more than an affirmation of our shared humanity. It is an exercise in enlightened self-interest, as it is clear that a society that cannot protect the weak will eventually not be safe for the strong and the privileged.
Yes, in demanding that the government should do, and be seen to be doing everything within its powers to ensure that the girls be rescued urgently and alive, we are all doing something for the girls and their parents. But ultimately, we are doing much more for ourselves. This is beyond altruism. A country where school kids could be slaughtered, as in Buni Yadi, or kidnapped, as in Chibok and Konduga before it, without vigorous efforts at protecting or rescuing them by the security forces is definitely hurtling towards state failure.
If not effectively checkmated by both government and society, the Boko Haram terrorists and possible copy-cats would be emboldened to do more. And before you know it, what happened in Chibok could become so commonplace even outside the North-east. The two terrorist attacks in Nyanya, Abuja within two weeks show that we are all now in the frontline of the terror war. So it is in our collective interests to start walking in the shoes of those anxious and grieving parents of Chibok and to start insisting that our government should do its duty by those girls, and ultimately by all of us.
Truth be told, the Nigerian state failed those kids in Konduga, in Buni Yadi, and in Chibok. And in the failing those kids, the state has diminished and failed all of us. To be sure, fighting terrorists is a difficult enterprise even for countries with the most sophisticated armies and the best surveillance systems. Conventional armies are trained and programmed to engage in conventional warfare. Engaging in asymmetrical warfare with those whose sole purpose is to strike soft targets, blow themselves and others up, and convoke a state of fear is still uncharted territory and is never going to be easy. Also, it should be acknowledged that our security forces are stretched too thin, and they have gallantly put their lives on the line to keep us safe and they have done so under very difficult circumstances.
However, we can also insist that the Nigerian state definitely has more capacity than it has put at the service of the abducted girls of Chibok. It is extremely distressing to think that some crazy terrorists would go to a school in a state where emergency rule is in force, operate for hours and herd hundreds of girls into trucks (some of which reportedly broke down on the road), pass through villages before disappearing into the forest unchallenged.
To be sure, it is difficult to prevent all terrorist acts. But the speed and quality of response matter. Who were the first responders after the Chibok incident happened and what level of response did they offer? And if some of the girls could escape by themselves and find their way back home, would a more swift and robust response by our security forces not have yielded better result?
When you add the way the Defence Headquarters bungled information about the release of the Chibok girls with the fact that our president should have known and acted on this tragedy at the time he was dancing in Kano and that it took the marchers and growing international pressure to put the fate of the abducted children high on the agenda of this government, it is clear that we have not pressed the full weight of the state in the service of citizens in distress. Even now that the president has set up a fact-finding committee and the First Lady is summoning people and threatening her own march, it is difficult not to miss the point that more emphasis is on pointing fingers, taking us back to the need to urgently exorcise the persecution mindset that is standing in the way of necessary action.
Even if it is established beyond reasonable doubt that the Borno State Government was negligent or complicit in the abduction of the girls or that there is serious discrepancies in the number of missing girls and that the president’s political opponents are the sponsors of Boko Haram, all these do not excuse the tardy way the Nigerian government has responded so far nor remove the president’s obligation to those girls. (Just imagine what an American president or a British prime minister would have done in a similar situation.) Now that the government seems to have woken up, it shouldn’t get distracted by a predictable lapse into fault-finding. The urgent task is to rescue the girls and secure the rest of us.
Also, now that Wyclef Jean, Chris Brown, Erykah Badu, Mary J. Blige, Malala Yousafzai, and others including Western NGOs and media organisations have helped to internationalise the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, we as citizens of Nigeria can all do more to ensure that our government does its job, and that it does it competently, and does it on time. Government’s failure to secure lives should not be an option; neither should self-help. That can only foreshadow the road to Mogadishu. So if you can’t march for the Chibok girls, write about them (even if on Facebook or Twitter or BBM), sign a petition, or at least offer some prayers. No action or gesture is too small for these girls, and ultimately for ourselves. Let’s build on the remarkable unity demonstrated by those rain-soaked marchers because Boko Haram is our common enemy. We are all now from Chibok.