As efforts continue to find the nearly 300 secondary school girls abducted by the militant Boko Haram sect, it is heartwarming that the Borno State Government has recognised its obligations to the 53 girls who were able to escape the insurgents’ clutches. Speaking in Maiduguri, the governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, announced a N150 million programme of rehabilitation for the girls and their families.
At an average of about N3 million per family, the state government’s assistance is a substantial investment in citizens who have undergone a terrible experience. The girls will receive assistance in overcoming the trauma caused by the abduction and their parents will get help in rebuilding their livelihoods. It is particularly welcome that the state government has not forgotten these citizens even though most of the girls have not yet been found. Such actions are a happy contrast to the usual Nigerian practice of abandoning victims to their fate as soon as the television cameras have departed.
In the specific case of the escapees and their parents, it is vital that the process of healing and rehabilitation commences as soon as possible. Too much emphasis has been placed on defeating the insurgents to the detriment of restoring the well-being of their victims, when in actual fact both should proceed simultaneously.
Despite Borno State’s commendable measures, it should not be forgotten that the whole Boko Haram crisis demands a more holistic approach necessarily incorporating a variety of approaches. These include coming to grips with the widespread poverty and exclusion that provide terrorist groups with foot soldiers and ostensibly justifies their activities. The creation and deployment of armed thugs by politicians must also be curtailed; public office holders who use them must be identified and prosecuted. The porous borders which have made it so easy for insurgents to conduct cross-border attacks with impunity must be tightened up.
Perhaps the most urgent requirement is that of stepping up the fight against the terrorist activity that has continued to plague the country’s north-east. The most immediate need is for proper coordination. The clash of accusation and counter-accusation going on between the federal and Borno State governments must stop. Not only does it waste time and energy, these quarrels poison the atmosphere, thereby creating resentment, hardening attitudes and inhibiting cooperation between all parties. It also presents an extremely unflattering picture of the country to the world.
There is also the obvious fact that most of the girls abducted from Chibok are yet to be rescued. Four more students are reported to have escaped from their captors; the military high command claims to now know where they are hidden. In practical terms, however, the girls are no closer to freedom than they were when they were first taken from their school.
International assistance has come in from the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel and China, and their resources have been deployed in trying to discover the location of the abductors. President Goodluck Jonathan seems to have finally grasped the full dimensions of the kidnap saga, as evidenced in his tough-talking Democracy Day speech in which he declared total war on all forms of terrorism and insurgency. What is now needed is for these positive steps to be translated into results.
The recovery of the abducted girls is the most immediate priority. Everyone involved in the rescue operation must unite around the achievement of this aim, regardless of party affiliation, national interest or any other consideration. When they are found and restored to their families, it is to be hoped that the Borno State Government and other bodies will ensure that they are reintegrated into society as quickly as possible.