As the father of three daughters, two of who were in school together in one secondary school for a number of years, the vision of 200-plus school girls being carted away by wicked kidnappers – girls with hygienic, dietary, sanitary and other needs, and traumatized by the prospects of all kinds of evil designs, including enforced marriage and sexual slavery – is quite haunting. This event should represent a tipping point for all people of conscience. The political, social, revolutionary or religious credentials or antecedents of the Boko Haram are now irrelevant: this is a criminal enterprise without reprieve, as two of the most vulnerable groups in any society – women and children – apart from the elderly and the disabled, have now been combined together in one massive fell swoop.
Unfortunately, echoing (and taking some poetic licence on) activist Shehu Sani’s lamentation on his Facebook;
* Nigerians want Federal Security Chief President Jonathan to rescue the Chibok girls,
* Jonathan (G and P ) want State Security Chief Borno Governor Shettima to find the Chibok girls,
* Shettima wants Security Rank-and-File to get back the Chibok girls,
* Security wants frightened and hapless Nigerians to ‘help in finding the Chibok girls’
Lord have mercy, this is quite messy: Nigerians and the world just want our girls back….don’t care how or by who…
But for goodness sake, how many are these school children – 0, 80, 180, 200, 230 or 276? How can it be that after 20 days, we are still at a total loss about this exact number? Are we even sure that there are no boys among the abductees, because we now understand that the “Girls School” had actually become mixed for some time now, but just – inscrutably – never changed its name to reflect that coed-edness?
To get this number right, let us, like stricken First Mother Dame Jonathan opined, start again with the parents: do they know where their children are who went to Chibok to sit for exams? Whether they do or they don’t, they should please come forward and tell…otherwise, are we looking for ghost girls or what? Let us call this number A+ and A- of parents who step forward one way or the other.
Let us move on to WAEC (eg national official Charles Eguridu): what are the names of the students who registered to do exams at Chibok? Let us call this number B; it appears to be 530. All of them students should be invited to Abuja to do their aborted exams – with assurance of safe passage, transportation and lodging – and count those who show up: let us call this number C. Those who do not show up (D = B- C) might be reasonably assumed to be either ghost exam takers, or abductees.
Next we move to the Principal of the Chibok school (i.e. Mrs. Asabe Kwabura): how many the heck were the students who reported to your school to take the exams – let us call this number E – and how many of those who reported have been accounted for since the abduction – let us call this number F?
Somewhere between the arithmetic of the numbers A through F is the “passing grade” that shows the actual number of abducted students, so that we can actually begin to know the real immensity of our search mission – if we are not to leave any girl or boy behind afterwards. It matters not whether they are all Christian or all Muslim, all Northerners or Southerners…or even whether they are all Nigerians or of mixed parentage or religion.
Final points: the major cause of escalation of the criminal corruption, bombings and kidnappings etc. in our country is impunity, wherein the first actors are allowed to just get away completely, or if punished at all, to get away with light sentences due to outright bribery or some ethnic, religious, political or other elite considerations. On quite a number of occasions, alleged infractors are eliminated extra-judicially without society being assuredly comforted about due process – this happens most often with armed robbery. All of this is coupled with inadequate security intelligence, personnel, equipment and speedy dispatch to prevent crime before it occurs; or to stem it and collect credible court-tender-able data while it is occurring/has just occurred; or ability to successfully prosecute and punish the crime after it occurs.
Consequently, we must work hard and pile pressure on officialdom to eliminate impunity in our society, with a relentless press and dedicated civil society always in hot pursuit. We must punish criminals swiftly and publicly, not with kid gloves, but iron fists, with terms commensurate with the crime. We must also improve our security and judicial value chain – starting with community and state policing as a sine qua non.
Specifically what else exactly might be done from here on to ensure a safe return of the abducted school children?
1. There must be a commitment to DO ALL THAT IS NECESSARY, WITHIN THE POWERS OF GOVERNMENT, to ensure that EVERY SCHOOL CHILD is released ALIVE by their kidnappers….that means no unilateral provocation of their captors to fatally harm them, and readiness to negotiate – but with a commitment to NO financial ransom. Everything else short of dismembering the country should be on the table.
2. No negotiations should begin until ALL THE CHILDREN in captivity – names and location in captivity – are ACCOUNTED for BY SIGHT – by their captors and by those parents missing their children.
3. Only expert negotiators must be brought in, along with those that the kidnappers may be more comfortable with, who for example understand their language.
4. The face-to-face negotiations – or at least their most important aspects – should be available (by sight or sound) to the world, so that we don’t get shafted – or in case something goes terribly wrong somewhere, because tragedy can still happen.
5. It is only when ALL the school children have been delivered safely, that we must start talking tougher……yes,that will have to come, but also only after security cordons have been placed around vulnerable targets in the country.
Yes, let us make haste slowly..for the sake of the children….
Meanwhile, we must continue to watch, work and pray to #BringOurGirlsandBoysBack….and remember to build secure fences and provide security personnel around educational institutions and public places, and have an accurate record always of the students within.
And there you have it.
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