As 2014 ends, it’s clear that the story of the year is narrated by the Bring Back Our Girls Movement. It started with the abduction of the girls but soon thereafter became the signifier of the crisis facing the Nigerian State, which has been hovering between comatose and near death experience. The story is however about the urgency and imperative of rebuilding a State that can carry out its constitutional responsibility of promoting the welfare of Nigerians and providing them security. On 15th of April, over three hundred girls were abducted from Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok while preparing for their examinations. It was not the search for education that created their problem. The source has been the extremist, wicked and anti-humanist ideology of the insurgents who abducted them.
The character of the insurgents was revealed last week when the story of Zahara’u Babangida emerged. This thirteen-year old girl was given by her father to Boko Haram to be used as a suicide bomber. Accordingly, she was sent on mission on 10th December to kill and maim innocent people in Kantin Kwari in Kano. It was only the detonation of the two other bombs by the two other girls she was sent on mission with that stopped her detonating her own bomb. A person that would send his own daughter to this type of terrible death is not going to have any human feelings for the innocent victims of the on-going war, and certainly not for the Chibok girls. The innocent girls used as suicide bombers need our sympathy because clearly, their action is dictated by a combination of brainwashing and threats of being killed themselves.
This is where we need the State. It is today 259 days since the abduction of the Chibok girls and since then, Nigerians and indeed the whole world has been asking our State authorities to #BringBackOurGirls. State response has been shockingly absent. It was only on the 19th day after the abduction, following growing protests all over the world, that the Nigerian Government decided to set up a fact finding committee to investigate what happened. A responsible State would have followed the insurgents in hot pursuit immediately the incident happened which would have made the likely recovery of the girls faster.
Meanwhile, the wife of President Jonathan called a stakeholders meeting to demonstrate that the girls were not abducted. What has been most shocking about the Chibok abduction were credible reports that the communities affected were constantly providing information to security agencies immediately before and after the abduction on the unfolding events but no response was forthcoming. Indeed, the trip from Chibok with the girls was monitored by the community for 48 hours during which the abductors stopped to get food prepared, had vehicle breakdowns and spent time trying to fix them and burning them when they failed to do the repairs.
One of the reasons why the whole world, minus the Nigerian ruling class has shown so much empathy for the abducted girls is the suspicion that the purpose of the abduction is to use them as sex slaves and for forced labour. Indeed, over the past three years, thousands of girls and young women have been abducted by Boko Haram, but the kidnappings did not hit the news headlines because they were being captured in small numbers. The world cannot stand by and accept the return of slavery in 21st century Nigeria. The Nigerian State had the responsibility to stop the practice; it failed in its responsibility.
There has been an extremely positive outcome of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. It has placed the question of why the Nigerian State is not doing the work the Constitution stipulates – providing for the welfare and security of Nigerians on the table. Of course the response of the military establishment, mainly through the Director of Defence Information of the Defence Headquarters, Major-General Olukolade has been to accuse the movement of pitching public opinion against the armed forces and projecting the Nigerian military in bad light and further heat-up the polity. The movement complained that the armed forces were refusing to fight and the response was to malign us for saying things that would strengthen the enemy. Today, the armed forces are prosecuting many men and officers for desertion and enemy action. If they had listened to the movement earlier, things might not have deteriorated to the level we find ourselves in today.
As the year-ends and the girls remain in bondage, we recall Graça Machel, Mandela’s widow, poignant letter to the abducted Chibok girls. As she put it “I decided to break the restrictions of my mourning because silence is not an option. I know however, that Madiba will understand and approve.” Her message to the girls was moving – “We send them waves of love and comfort, to warm their hearts and dry their tears. We pray for them and look forward to the day when they will embrace their parents and families at home. We send them waves of energy to keep their inner selves strong and resilient. When the dark night in the forest is overwhelming, they must lift their eyes to the sky. The stars are watching over them. They must not lose hope and they must not succumb to fear and despair, even in the most adverse of circumstances they find themselves in.”
The question on almost every thinking person today is what is the state of the Nigerian State? Are we drifting into the abyss? Are we being governed and what is the state of governance in the country today? Our Constitution defines the purpose of the state as the protection of the security of Nigerians and the pursuit of their welfare. Nigerians however know that they have to pay for their own security guards and even the bulk of the Nigerian police personnel are used to provide security, not for the people, but for individuals who can afford to pay for the services. Nigerian citizens are forced to provide their own electricity with millions of generators they purchase to power their houses and pollute the atmosphere. Hundreds are killed regularly through carbon monoxide poisoning as they bring these killer machines into the privacy of their rooms.
Nigerians go to the stream to fetch water or buy it from water vendors. The water is not potable and poisons families through water borne diseases. The elite is able to pay for personal boreholes in their houses and the result is that they wipe out underground water sources for future generations while surface water is not captured and treated and allowed to flow into the sea. Of course health and education have largely been private and the state is completely disdainful of Chapter Two of our Constitution that directs it to provide for the welfare of citizens. The state of the Nigerian State is serious. The State is crumbling before our eyes and it is clear to me that a rescue mission is necessary. That rescue must take the form of a new approach based on good governance in which there is effective, transparent and accountable use of public resources to provide public goods for citizens. If those who exercise State power cannot use it to improve the lives, livelihoods and security of citizens, then they would have to be replaced. Bring back our State.