Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, recently led a Federal Government delegation into Chibok, Borno State, where she laid the foundation stone for the rebuilding of the Government Girls Secondary School from which 276 students were abducted on April 15, last year.
As part of the Safe School Initiative, the Chibok School which was completely destroyed by the insurgents, is now to be rebuilt and provided with a state-of-the-art library, laboratory, a computer and ICT Centre, sports arena, clinic, observatory post, new staff quarters, administrative block, a brand new principal’s residence and dormitories for the students. By the time the new school is completed, it is expected to be a beauty rising from the ashes of the destroyed one.
While we commend the government for the move to rebuild the school, we fear that the good gesture may ultimately not be fully appreciated by the people if the girls are not found. The school may then continue to evoke memories and fear as it will stand as a lasting monument to the government’s inability to secure the unfortunate students and rescue them from the captivity of Boko Haram. This is the sad reality which some of the Chibok stakeholders tried to communicate to the Federal Government with their protest over the foundation laying ceremony.
Their protests also brought out salient questions on the timing of the foundation laying ceremony and the planned rebuilding of the school. The question on the lips of many people is: Which one should come first: the rescue of the missing school girls or the rebuilding of the destroyed school?
It is no surprise, then, that the stakeholders at the press briefing in Maiduguri said they would rather have the safe return of their daughters first. They also accused the federal government of not doing enough to assuage their pains and address their fears since the tragic incident.
While we identify with the pains of the families of the abducted girls, however, we urge them and the entire Chibok community not to throw away the baby with the bath water. The abduction of the girls is undoubtedly an unending nightmare for the country, and the government in particular. That is why the intensified war on terror should be seen as part of the efforts to get them back. We cannot in good conscience dissociate one from the other, and the plan to rebuild the school does not in any way signify an end to the search for the girls, or that the government does not care about their plight
Although another group of Chibok citizens have since pronounced their support for the rebuilding project in a statement signed by the chairman of the Parent/Teacher Association of the school, Mallam Dunoma, it is glaring that the government may have allowed a communication gap between it and the Chibok stakeholders which led to the initial protest. The Chibok people, at the initial press briefing in Maiduguri addressed by the Caretaker Chairman of Chibok Local Government Council, Mallam Ba’ana Lawan, had alleged that government had not done enough to address their pains or assuage their fears.
Closely tied to this, is the overt politicization of the national misfortune from the start. Much time was wasted by government’s prevarication and lack of focused action in the wake of the national tragedy. Worse still, valuable time was wasted on attempts to find scapegoats and score political points instead of focusing on the problem and mobilising the security agencies for the challenge of rescuing the girls.
Sadly, the blame game still persists, prolonging the search for the girls. Can anyone imagine the pain the parents of the abducted girls have been through? This is apart from the odium the failure to rescue the girls has brought to Nigeria’s image. Efforts should be intensified in finding and ensuring the safe return of the girls to their traumatised parents and community. Since it is never too late to do the right thing, government must now move quickly to bridge the apparent communication gap between it and Chibok people. It must win the confidence of the critical masses of the Chibok community and refocus on the challenge of recovering the girls.
It goes without saying that whenever these girls are eventually found, a lot would still be needed to assuage the pains and trauma that they, their loved ones and, indeed, the entire country have gone through. The fate of the kidnapped girls calls for utmost patriotic zeal and the best of our leadership abilities.