The global outpouring of outrage and the social media interest spawned by the audacious abduction of 276 schoolgirls from the Government Secondary School in the rustic town of Chibok, Borno State, on April 14, 2014 have all but petered out. But the depth of grief and bitterness, from the sense of loss and frustration felt by the abducted girls’ parents and loved ones, continues to abide.
Four years after that criminality by the Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram, over 100 of the girls are still in captivity, despite all assurances by the Nigerian government that they would be rescued and reunited with their respective families. After the brave escape of the initial 57 on the night of their abduction, and the intervention of the international community, especially the International Red Cross and the Swiss Government, which produced 103 other girls in two batches of 21 and 82 girls, the remaining ones in captivity appear to have been left to their fate.
Nothing so far has been able to attenuate the feeling of hollowness created by the lengthy absence of these girls. President Muhammadu Buhari had promised that no efforts would be spared “to see that they and all other Nigerians who have been abducted safely regain their freedom.” However, as days turned to weeks, months and now years, even that promise and the flicker of hope it ignited now seem like echoes from a distant past.
The sum total of what has unfolded so far is that we have a nation that has failed her citizens in more ways than one. First, this is an abduction that should never have happened at all had the government carried out its responsibility of providing the schoolgirls with the security that they rightly deserved; they were on their school premises, preparing for their final examinations, and did not err in any way by doing so. Second, the privacy of the school, having been violated and the girls taken away, it was the responsibility of the government to mount a prompt response for their rescue. Sadly, none of these was done.
It is not surprising that, recently, Nigerians suffered the indignity of yet another mass abduction of over 100 schoolgirls in a similar fashion, this time in Dapchi, Yobe State. However, the dispatch with which they were released after a negotiated settlement shows what the government could achieve if it explores all the options available on this matter.
Unfortunately, this is not a nation that places premium on human lives. Otherwise, the President would not be praising himself on what he sees as a relatively better performance than his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, during whose tenure the girls were taken captive, especially when all the girls have yet to regain their freedom. Having acknowledged that government is a continuum, by taking up the challenge of freeing the girls by whatsoever means, he should have known that anything short of that vow is a failure.
Negotiation has emerged as the surest way of freeing the girls; it is an option that should be vigorously pursued. It is no longer anathema to negotiate the release or swap of captives with terrorists. If mighty military powers like the United States and Israel could embrace this option to free their citizens in captivity, there is no reason why Nigeria should not stick with it to free the girls. This should be the girls’ last anniversary in Boko Haram custody.
In spite of the negotiated release of about 103 girls, as long as over 100 others are still out there in the wild, not much of an achievement can be claimed. Even the release of over 100 Dapchi girls rings hollow without the brave and courageous little Leah Sharibu returning home to her parents. That mass abduction of girls is still taking place in the zone despite full military presence is an indictment of the government, which claims to have “technically” defeated Boko Haram.
Although the government recently approved the withdrawal of $1 billion to fight the insurgency, it is clear that the war at this stage should be more about the deployment of intelligence. By now, the Nigerian military and their allies should know where Boko Haram is holed up, from where it launches its kidnap bids and the numerous suicide bombings.
While Boko Haram may have been chased away from most of the Nigerian territory it once occupied, a lot still remains to be done. There is nothing wrong in seeking more international collaboration on this, since the war on terror transcends boundaries. The benefits of collaboration are already obvious following the facilitation of the release of some girls held by the terrorists.
This is the time to court the friendship of countries such as the US, Britain, France, Japan and Israel. These countries have developed capacity in counter-insurgency campaigns. To rescue the girls and end this interminable war, it has to be all hands on deck.