On 14th April, the world commemorated one year in bondage of the 219 Chibok Girls. It was a dreadful day because no one imagined that the girls would be in captivity for so long. I listened to comments around the world and the words that recurred were “the irresponsible and corrupt Nigerian Government” that simply refused to prioritise the search and rescue of the girls. We had been demanding that the Nigerian Government #BringBackOurGirls for one year and all we have seen is the “I don’t care” and “clueless” attitude of the Jonathan Administration. The Chibok Girls became a huge statement about the Nigerian State because it revealed to the world a clear narrative about the Nigerian State that was shocking and went way beyond the issue of the girls, and it is important to restate the narrative.
The first element of the narrative was that strange as it might sound, the armed forces of the Federal Republic were not fighting the terrorists that were killing and destroying the North East. Yes, each day, the Defence Spokesman will tell Nigerians that 20,000 soldiers were bravely fighting but as we were to find out, the instruction in the field was – do not fight. It was the Chibok mothers that first brought this fact to our attention. While the abduction was on going, the Chibok community leaders called all the army formations in the area to come and help but they simply refused. After the abduction, the youth followed the insurgents at a safe distance and for two weeks were briefing the military on exactly where the girls were but no help was sent. The Chibok mothers told us that the armed forces simply refused to rescue their girls.
Armed with this information, we marched to the Defence Headquarters to demand why no action was taken and met a group of generals. It was at that point that the military high command revealed the bombshell. They did not deny the story, they gave an excuse that the Nigerian armed forces had not received new military assets since the Shagari regime of 1979-1983 and were not in a position to fight the rag tag insurgents. This information however should be kept secret, we were told, so that Boko haram will not know. It was the most stupid argument I have heard in my life. Boko Haram was killing people and taking over territory so how can our saying that Nigeria’s military assets had been degraded be an advantage to Boko Haram who are in the field fighting and knew already that nobody was fighting them back. My position at the meeting was that if that was the situation, we should engage in advocacy to get the Presidency and National Assembly make immediate provisions to upgrade our military assets. Clearly, with a war that was not being fought, there will be no secret, as the insurgents will continue to make progress. We decided to intensify our advocacy for the search and rescue of the girls with the full knowledge that it was not happening to embarrass and disgrace the Government and military into action. It was in that context that we became the “enemies” of the regime and thugs were hired to beat us up. The Government declared us unpatriotic when we marched on the President and the Secretary of the Government and five ministers came to meet us.
As for the year, we were in constant touch with parents and community leaders from Chibok; it soon became clear that the problem was much larger that degraded military assets. The troops were demotivated and were not receiving their allowances and were running away from the fight. It was clear that there was an accountability problem that was not being addressed. In addition, there was an attitude problem; many soldiers and officers, contrary to their oaths, were not ready to risk their lives. The obvious solution to the problem was general mobilisation to recruit people who were ready to fight, and there were enough of them among what came to be known as the civilian JTF. The general mobilisation did not happen for a long time. It was only when the insurgents started penetrating Gombe and Bauchi States that it became clear to the powers that be that they would soon be taking over Abuja that they sat up and started fighting.
Throughout the one year since the abduction of the Chibok Girls, the message of the military high command was that they were making steady progress in the fight, which every one knew was simply not true. At that point, the President should have made the call that the Nigerian State was in serious crisis and needed all of the nation’s energy to work together and save the day. Rather than do that, the Government pursued the line set by Patience Jonathan, the President’s wife that the whole abduction was an elaborate political scam designed to embarrass the regime. It was a sad statement about the cluelessness of President Jonathan and his High Command. It meant he did not even have access to genuine intelligence on what was going on. He was not in charge and the cabal around him were simply toying with him.
The in-coming Buhari Administration will be the next to face the challenge of extracting truth from the country’s security agencies. For too long, security agencies have defined their role as sycophancy to the sitting President. This must stop. The reconstruction of the Nigerian State must begin with having men and women who can talk truth to power. The president-elect can test the seriousness and commitment of his security team by the priority and success they achieve in recurring the liberation of the Chibok Girls. These girls have become the global symbol for the defence of the dignity and sanctity of human life; of the girl child, of women, of the right to education and for defending all those that are oppressed. The insurgency in the North East is an expression of the underdevelopment in the zone, which would require urgent action. The crisis has created a vast humanitarian crisis affecting millions of internally displaced Nigerians and hundreds of thousands of refugees spread across the three neighbouring countries that must be addressed.
The challenge before the Buhari Administration is the reconstruction of the Nigerian State and the placement of the safety and welfare of Nigerians at the centre of the governance agenda. The Chibok mothers came marching to the National Assembly demanding where is the Nigerian State that has the responsibility to bring back their daughters. The State was absent while those in charge were wining and dining. The message from the electorate is that #BringBackOurGirls and above all #BringBackOurState. Lets hope the in-coming Administration has heard the message.
Dr. Jibrin, a development expert and political scientist, is a senior fellow at the Centre for Democracy and Development in Abuja. He is also Chairman of the Editorial Board of Premium Times.