The search for these Nigerian schoolgirls will probably be the most difficult search in human history, not the Malaysian Flight MH370.
I am sure many of our readers still remember the story of Julie Ward, the 28-year old British wildlife photographer who was killed in Kenya in 1988.
Julie went missing on a lonely photography safari in the Masai game reserve.
The Kenyan authorities seemed at that time to be more interested in the preservation of the integrity of their country’s profitable tourism business. They went into a denial. When her burned and dismembered body was first discovered, they said that they believed that Julie was struck by lightning, or that she had been eaten by lions.
The burned remains of her leg and part of her jaw were found near a tree in the bush. Her skull and spine were found nearby. Julie’s father, John Ward put a lot pressure on the local authorities to admit that she had been murdered, to direct their investigation in that direction.
He was noted all over the world for the campaign he waged in the effort to discover what actually happened to Julie. In the course of this, the retired hotelier spent nearly two million pounds and made more than 100 visits to Kenya.
In the end what unraveled the real cause of his daughter’s death were pictures he procured from a European Satellite of the incident as it happened and NDA evidence indicting two park rangers including the head park warden. Although attempts to bring the suspects to justice were unsuccessful as all three were acquitted by Kenyan Courts, it was instructive that the failure of the case had more to do with the lack of full cooperation of the authorities.
The important thing about this case was that as far back as two decades ago, the potential has been established for the use of satellite imagery to bring to criminal trial the park wardens who, as is believed by many, were those that conspired to assault and murder the lonely photographer in thick bushes of the game reserve.
The narrative of Julie Ward comes in handy at a time when schoolgirls, not one, not two, or three but in their hundreds have been stolen from their dormitory and today being the fifteenth day since the incident, no clue has yet emerged about where they are in the Sambisa forest of the North-Eastern State of Borno, Nigeria.
Accounts by the “Civilian JTF” yesterday rendered on radio suggested that the 200 or s0 missing schoolgirls may have already been shared out in forced marriages to terrorists scattered across the vast forest spanning over 100 kilometers. An interviewee said yet some others were ferried across Lake Chad, taken to Cameroun and Chad. Grieving parents have been shedding tears, threatening to charge into the forest to obtain their daughters. Some actually have gone in there, accompanied by the Civilian JTF, following which they said they saw a lot terrorist infrastructure but no police or soldiers carrying out searches.
From every indication, the search for these Nigerian schoolgirls will probably be the most difficult search in human history, not the Malaysian Flight MH370 as cited by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
The difference between these two is that while both Australian and Malaysian officials issue daily bulletins and addressing press gatherings to report virtually nothing new in terms of substantial information, the Nigerian federal government which controls the army and police has retreated into a cocoon in the past one week.
It is probably that the Defence Headquarters, leading the operations got their hands burnt when they made a major faux-pax by announcing the rescue of the missing schoolgirls, only to be countered by local officials including the school principal that the girls had not been found. While the damage, both local and international to the credibility of the Nigerian Armed Forces arising from this incident may never be quantified, it is easy for us to understand how much damage is being done to the government of the day, led by Dr. Jonathan Goodluck, by the prevailing sense of cluelessness and inactivity the silence of the military is creating. Instead of engaging with Nigerians, government in its usual way of politicizing every issue, has surreptitiously launched a campaign against its hate-pet, the Northern political leaders.
A sponsored group says “the disappearance of the girls is part of the Northern elders’ agenda to embarrass and distract the Goodluck Jonathan government”.
The group is also blaming the victims, saying that the school authorities “deliberately ignored the government’s directive”, that schools in that area should be closed down. This rubbish reminds many of the Abacha days when NADECO was blamed for everything, including the failure of the dictator’s toilet to flush.
Nobody benefits from silence in times of crisis. Rather, it is the time when all “gates” to news-flow are opened and everyone relishes live coverages as they are relayed by the international media, whether this is from the search for the Malaysian plane under the waters of the Indian Ocean, a bomb blast in Pakistan or earthquake in Latin America. Famous sociologist, Lucien Pye once wrote that problems of development are essentially problems of communication.
Without informing and educating the people and subsequently mobilizing them, there is no way government can succeed in pushing back this violence, including the tracking of the insurgents in their whereabouts and recovering the girls. In addition to mobilizing local support for this, government needs to talk to the international community about its successes and shortcomings. Satellite was used to partly unravel Julie’s murder in the Kenyan foreign forests because someone bid for the pictures and obtained them.
In a recent article, I wrote about the upcoming World Economic Summit in May in Abuja about which Nigerians know very little or nothing. When South Africans hosted the World Cup in 2010, taxi drivers were trained for a re-branding of their own country. Every London taxi driver is serving a government purpose. People don’t get to drive taxis mere on account of being beneficiaries of constituency projects.
The Nigerian defence establishment has started something good by pooling all the spokesmen of the various services so that they can speak with a common purpose. To regain credibility, they need to repose confidence in the people as represented by local journalists. They must carry the people along. And for the sake of their own credibility, they need a new face for their public information in order to move away from the scandalous misinformation they dished about which they had to make a painful u-turn.
Someone must make the sacrifice or be sacrificed.