With the video released last Sunday, purportedly by Boko Haram, showing some of the schoolgirls kidnapped from Chibok who are still alive, Nigeria must keep the resolve to bring the girls home resolute. Since relatives have identified some of the abducted girls in the video, the government must, however, be cautious with the next step of action it has to take to rescue the girls alive. Having advertised its gross incapacitation, having demonstrated in word and deed its cluelessness over the whereabouts of the girls, the government must appreciate the gravity of the situation. The lives of Nigeria’s daughters are involved and any faux pas will only make the traumatizing debacle worse and hand the insurgents the propaganda victory they crave. The point must be made, with emphasis that the President must use all powers vested on him by the constitution to bring those girls home. The times call for strong and decisive leadership not empty grandstanding. Pride and love of country demand no less.
This is the second time Shekau has ordered a video of the girls to be released to the public since their abduction 857 days ago. “They should know that their children are still in our hands,” said a man whose face was covered by a turban in the video posted on YouTube. The 11-minutes 25 second video showed girls with veils sitting on the ground and standing in the background at an undisclosed location. One of the girls had a baby boy with her. “There is a number of the girls, about 40 of them, that have been married by the decision of Allah,” said the man in the video. “Some of them have died as a result of aerial bombardment,” the man said. One of the girls in the video called on the government to release jailed members of the terrorist group and to end its air strikes against Boko Haram camps.
In reaction to the video, there has been a flurry of opinions regarding the modus operandi for rescuing the girls. Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said in a statement by his special adviser, Segun Adeyemi, that the government was in touch with those purportedly behind the video. “We are on top of the situation but we are being extremely careful because the situation has been compounded by the split in the leadership of Boko Haram. We are also being guided by the need to ensure the safety of the girls. Since this is not the first time we have been contacted over the issue, we want to be doubly sure that those we are in touch with are who they claim to be,” he said.
The video is the latest release from embattled Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, who earlier this month denied claims he had been replaced as leader of the terrorist group. The mass kidnapping of 276 Chibok schoolgirls in April 2014 provoked global outrage and brought unprecedented attention on the Boko Haram conflict, in which at least 20,000 people have been killed since 2009. More than 200 of the schoolgirls remain missing. The initial slow, tacky and inept government response was viewed as deliberate, raising questions whether the government was genuinely interested in the plight of the girls. How would the president, vice president, senate president, any governor or minister have reacted if their daughters were so abducted, Nigerians wondered?
It is understandable that in this state of glaring uncertainty, and considering the global dimension the Chibok event has taken, the Nigerian government would be inundated with all kinds of proposals suggesting modalities to rescue the girls. While some have urged the government to open negotiations in so far as it will encourage meaningful dialogue; others have denounced it as morally and legally wrong and therefore unacceptable since it would entail exchanging criminals for innocent children. The government must explore all available options at its disposal and carefully weigh the odds against any choice it deems needful. This is the time to be very astute and methodical. Officials should extricate themselves from primordial sentiments that may impair well-thought out resolution of the crisis.
The Chibok tragedy and international embarrassment in which over 200 school girls were abducted represents the climax of Boko Haram’s audacity and its consequent embarrassment to the pride of Nigeria’s security forces. The shoddy manner, in which issues have been handled so far, especially information management, leaves much to be desired as not a few officials have advertised monumental individual irresponsibility, playing discordant notes with unguarded utterances, leading Nigerians to wonder how the highest quarters of the military and the Buhari administration can be so imprudent.
The height of such buffoonery was the statement by the Nigerian Army declaring journalist Ahmad Salkida, Ahmed Bolori and Aisha Wakil wanted over alleged links to Boko Haram and concealing information on the whereabouts of the kidnapped girls. Army spokesman, Colonel Sani Usman, in a statement after the video was released said the three knew the exact locations of the girls but have failed to volunteer the information to security agencies. This flippancy certainly calls to question the presence of strategic thinking and panache within the operational architecture of the security formations in the country. Even if the information were true, should it be for public consumption? And in that manner? Would that statement not have further jeopardized the safety of the abducted innocent girls? Making such information public is certainly a big gaffe that betrays ignorance about what the responsibility of the army should be in the scheme of things.
The army’s gaffe has brought the country to further ridicule as a people unable to get their act together. Apart from underlining the low quality of leadership in the country, it simply reinforces the cynicism of outsiders about Nigeria’s capability even in just keeping sealed lips on intelligence matters. It can only be to Nigeria’s utter shame that one of the declared wanted persons, Ahmed Bolori turned himself in but was neither interrogated nor detained and instead, asked to go home. As a matter of policy and for the girls’ safety and wellbeing, the army should not even be discussing such information publicly, regardless. The army’s statement was unnecessary and could practically hamper efforts to rescue the girls. This should be corrected. The complexity and multilateral dimensions of the insurgency calls for tactics and a high sense of responsibility, not beer-parlor-and-marketplace chatter.
As matters stand now, there is need for an urgent robust military intervention to bring those girls home. The President must stop playing the ostrich and making Nigeria an international laughing stock. Buhari’s lacklustre and kid gloves response to Boko Haram is perhaps borne out of a naïve believe that there is a military solution to the insurgency. Events will continue to prove him wrong. As the world waits and hopes for the kidnapped school girls, Buhari must abandon his accustomed indecisiveness and lead from the front. Until he rises to the power and authority of his office, he will never be able to raise Nigeria from the throes of death to a new dawn of peace and prosperity.
To garner some credibility for his administration in this trying time, the President as Commander-in-Chief must hold the gavel to direct an immediate, transparent action and result-oriented government response to rescue and bring the girls home. The Buhari administration has no right to peace until it brings back the girls.