In May of this year the story of the abducted schoolgirls of Chibok topped the agenda of a meeting jointly held by the European Union and the African Union committees on politics and security. This was coming a month after Boko Haram attacked Government Girls Secondary School Chibok and made off with 279 girls in trucks in the middle of the night.
Last Friday, just six months later the AU Special Envoy for Peace Women and Security Benita Diop landed in Abuja accompanied by the Nigerien ambassador the the AU, Diallo Amina Jibo and a former president of the African Court of Human and People’s Rights, Justice Sophia Kufor, among others. According to the news release their purpose was to reinforce the commitment of the AU to “continue to engage officials and all concerned on the best measures to protect the girl-child through robust policies on education, employment opportunities and better welfare.”
Seems quite clear that what ensued from that meeting in May in Brussels did not make any difference to the fate of the Chibok Girls and the matter has now morphed into a general concern about the welfare of the girl child that has less urgency than an emergency situation requiring immediate response.
There is a repetition of a pattern here, where what was once an anomaly becomes part of an everyday reality and merges into normal life. And normal here means there is no yesterday or tomorrow, only today.
When I was growing up in the sixties I lived in a city called Lagos, where we could drink water from the tap, and it was only when we travelled to the village that our parents would insist on boiling the local stream drawn water. I remember in Form One a Geography class trip to Iju Waterworks and the schematic drawing we all had to produce in class the next day of the filtering system that delivered clean, potable tap water to my home.
Then as I got older, we got to the stage in the city where all water was first boiled then filtered for drinking and washing vegetables. The filters were imported from England and almost every home I ever visited had one. They were heavy and unwieldy and guarded like gold because replacing the filters was a mission
Now we live in an age where a baby, or as award winning writer Noviolet Bulawayo would say, ‘even a stone,’ knows that water is bought from tanks and Mummy buys pure water sachets for school. Electricity flows from generators, which run off diesel, and that ugly mess stuffing the open drains is from millions of discarded pure water cellophane bags.
While judging this year’s entries for the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism awards I came across a story about defecating in the open in Lagos city. The writer described it as ‘a habit’ of a good number of Lagos’ inhabitants.
Now, shitting is a necessity, even a tree knows that, but defecating in public has to do with an absence of intelligence in urban planning, to put it politely. In fact it is only a slight remove from getting a permit to build an entertainment mall in a central business district like Victoria Island, without factoring in the need for a parking lot! But if you have never experienced an environment where development is planned and anticipated then you might be excused for thinking that the concept does not exist and that people who shit in public just like doing so.
Last month, in the second week of November, Boko Haram seized Chibok. A couple of days later the Nigerian Army took it back. Speaking to Deutche Welle, Colonel Sanu Usman the army deputy director of public relations said: “We have made adequate arrangements to guard the lives and properties of the legal inhabitants of that town and area.” But Chibok refugees nonetheless, are appealing for help to set up a camp near Abuja where they can wait it out.
In June of this year Boko Haram attacked Attagara in Gwoza local government area of Borno State, and a massacre took place. Rifkatu Samaila, 63 years old was one of the women ‘lucky’ enough, as reporter Nathaniel Fredrick Akhigbe wrote, to bury her husband. Samaila dug the grave herself.
“On that day, anywhere you go in the village there were dead bodies! The matter of numbering the dead was very challenging because it was too many! Women were the ones burying their dead because there were no men.”
According Akhigbe, “the Boko Haram sect started the onslaught on Attagara on the 1st of June. The terrorists had attempted to invade the village on two occasions but the villagers successfully defended their village without the help of the Military, killing five members of the sect with locally made arms (arrow, javelins, gun and cutlasses). The sect enraged with this defeat, mobilised all their members in the region and returned with sophisticated weapons to annihilate the village completely.
The notorious sect deceived the villagers into believing they were soldiers sent to protect them. The deception worked. “
Akhigbe went on to say: “Samaila’s account reflects the fierce method of killing that has been adopted by Boko Haram not only in Attagara village but also across the state. The killings were often gruesome and barbaric. But even more disappointing is the failure by teeming Nigerians to make the important link that the Boko Haram campaign is one of the key phases of the brewing Genocide in the north.”
This is an enterprising piece of reporting but the most stirring part of Samaila’s account was a request she put to Akhigbe.
“What I will like to beg the world is to help us ask our government whether we are still Nigerians.”
This week the news has been all about party primaries for next year’s general elections and the publication of a three volume set of memoirs by Nigeria’s longest serving president in agbada and in khaki and still going strong through decades of no water no light. Maybe for those involved, this is the substance of life but for some of us watching from the sidelines it has an air of unreality about it, the sense of a kingdom built on dust with the thinnest of layers between those hidden from sight in a dark and treacherous forest and those cavorting in the hazy sunlight.
Eight months and counting…
Amma Ogan, veteran editor and newspaper woman, contributed this piece from South Africa.