Opinion: Chibok school – Jonathan’s action is a tad too late

by Abimbola Adelakun

In a matter of weeks, it will be a whole year since Boko Haram kidnapped the Chibok schoolgirls. In that agonising period, Nigerians have witnessed the government demonstrating its own impotence on their rescue.

First, there were strident denials by both the government and their echo chamber. When the eyes of the world were fixed on Nigeria, they retreated in humiliation to set up a committee to unravel what the Police could have done within hours of the abduction. Then, the First Lady, Patience Jonathan, gave her Nollywood response to the abduction by shedding over-dramatised tears on live TV.

Since then, the government has traded in promises including to rebuild the girls’ school gates. Some of the parents were invited to meet the President in Abuja to listen to more promises firsthand. As if all the pussyfooting has not been distressing enough, the President recently asserted that the girls must still be alive; that if it had been otherwise, the terrorists would have made a public display of their corpses. Now, how do you respond to that without joining him to trade in the macabre?

Notwithstanding this series of failures, some of us still hold out the hope that providence will eventually bring every one of these girls home one day.

One would think that with that embarrassment of how the Nigerian politics underwrote the trajectory of the Chibok saga, politicians would sensibly avoid that terrain and resist making political capital out of an issue so sensitive.

Otherwise, why would the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, travel to Chibok last weekend to lay the foundations of the school that was destroyed by Boko Haram the night the girls were kidnapped? Her trip was ostensibly done under the veil of the Safe School Initiative under the auspices of the ministry she superintends; but, take a look at the calendar, check what date it is.

It is conclusive that as the elections draw near, politicians are going to be playing the politics of I-remain-loyal by showing the “Ogas at the topmost top” that they have invested in the outcome of the election. Just like the #BringBackOurGirls famous hashtag was snagged by President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election campaigners, one can be sure that there will be no opportunity that will be too immoral, too sanctimonious, too sensitive for these political actors to claw at in the bid to redeem their many past acts of negligence.

The school rebuilding effort comes with many mouth-watering promises: the new school will have a “state of the art” library; laboratory; a computer and ICT Centre; sports arena; clinic; observation post; new staff accommodation complex; official residence for the principal; brand new administration block and new dormitories. The school will also run on solar power and there is a water reservoir proposed to be built as well.

You look at the array of promises and wonder what manner of benevolence would make the government put such an array of facilities in an obscure part of Nigeria like Chibok if there is no political agenda to it. If public schools in Nigeria were like this proposed one, would Nigerian officials tuck their own children away in either private or foreign schools leaving public ones to provide poor education for the children of the poor so they can remain poor?

If this were about the people of Chibok, would the timing not have been considered? Would Okonjo-Iweala not have been sensitive to the political hue her presence invests in that exercise?

Rather than go to Chibok to seize a photo-op with the miserable mothers whose children are still not home, why not at least send an official of the ministry? By the way, why is a facility-studded school a sudden priority for a town likely still hung over on the trauma of unredressed assault on them a year ago, and the continued precarious safety of their town?

One of the photographs taken at the event showed Okonjo-Iweala surrounded by the Chibok women and you wonder how she reconciles the contradiction of her persona with the futile attempt to act as if she and the women are coevals. Because, no matter how she tries to spin it, the truth is that she is not them and she does not – and perhaps can never – share their misery.

Her presence in their midst is more or less feeding off their pain to advance her politics. The act of situating yourself in the victim place to momentarily experience their pain and separating yourself from the encounter, back to the life of privileges you enjoy, is voyeurism.

Whatever motherly love Okonjo-Iweala wants to claim compelled her to undertake that trip cannot be viewed in isolation of the fact that the government she serves is not making a genuine effort to find the girls. Just lately, the person most intimate with the President, Dame Patience Jonathan, out of the abundance of her heart, gave away the private attitude of those entrusted with finding those girls when she insinuated that northerners do not love their children.

In a moment of rhetorical excess while on a campaign trail, she said, “We for the South we no get almajiris because our men no dey born children wey dem no go remember their names. Our men no dey born children wey dem no dey fit count. Our men no dey born children wey dem go thruway give Imam… For them that side, na born. Give Imam. Oya go. Because they no know them. One man go born children leave am for Mama…”

To her, northern children are mere abokis – rejected by their parents; merely born to be condemned to a meaningless existence. Even the way she referred to northerners as the people on “that side” shows disdain. They are the Nigeria’s “other” who act as a foil to the “better-behaved” southerners.

If her husband shares her bigotry, then we can be sure that if not for politics, they would not even touch an average northerner with an electric pole. That perhaps explains the nonchalance with which the President has approached Boko Haram for most of the time. If Okonjo-Iweala cannot find a higher moral ground to tread here, she needs not exploit people further for political gains.

Perhaps, one can hope she saved enough memories of Chibok in her conscience for another time she will announce spurious figures of job creation. Hopefully, she will remember that like the people of Chibok, there are real people out there facing real issues and who have remained untouched by the unreal figures being bandied all over the place.

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Abimbola Adelakun is a writer and author, who works with The Punch newspaper.

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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