It feels very much like Nigerians have been here before. Having failed to learn from the past, the most distasteful internal security crisis of the past half decade is repeating itself.
On Monday February 19, many girls numbering about 50 were kidnapped from Government Girls Secondary School Dapchi in Bursari Local Government Area of Yobe state. The Presidency did not deny or confirm this immediately even as various conflicting reports filled the news space. Via the Twitter account of the presidency, it was later confirmed with a statement that President Buhari shares the anguish of the parents of the kidnapped children, that the Military had been ordered to Yobe and that all would be done to return the girls.
Thursday morning, there is huge news of their rescue. The source is a security agency involved in the fight against Boko Haram which there should not have been any reason not to trust. That was how the Yobe State Director-General of Press Affairs would later explain the regret of the false alarm of rescue. The girls had not been found or returned.
Throughout Thursday, various local and international reporters including Mercy Abang, CNN’s Stephanie Busari and the BBC’s Nigeria reporter Stephanie Hegarty, expressed their frustration following attempts to get official correspondence from officers of the Nigerian Army on the situation. Requests for information were apparently met with silence or hung up lines, and the Government channels would not reveal anything for much of the day.
The eventual press release by the Yobe State Government and the implied corroboration of its content by a quote from an official Government Twitter account was the crushing confirmation of déjà vu. The kidnap that has taken place in Dapchi and the Government’s response to it is a near replication of the situation at Chibok two months short of this time in 2014.
Carefully ignore, subtly deny, hurriedly triumph, then shamefully retract. What follows is the agony of an endless wait, the period it appears we have now entered with Dapchi.
Besides those who debunked it as false solely for political reasons, majority of Nigerians were positively desperate for the news of the kidnap to not be true in the first place. Following reports of a rescue, both groups were nevertheless united in relief. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar had expressed relief at the safety of the girls, while Dr Oby Ezekwesili, a Bring Back Our Girls co-convener, had also burst out in thanksgiving at the news of a rescue.
But those joys have now been cut short; it is back to square one. It is back to asking questions of the Government on what it is doing to find and rescue the girls. There may be a difference between the present scenario and Chibok in that the denial period will not been as long this time, and we do not expect the First Lady to organize televised crying sessions citing blackmail. But we know for a fact that school girls have, once more, been taken hostage by Boko Haram under the leadership of an administration which specifically campaigned on the point of making such experiences a thing of the past. Taken with other recent incidences of insecurity, the Nigerian experience has rather become an immersion into the deep fractures in the security infrastructure in Nigeria, as well as the persisting economic and political strains at play in the country.
The economic strains are significant at this time considering the financial costs to the Government of the return of some of the kidnapped Chibok girls. The terrorists appear to sense a potential cash cow in their trade and they will be setting up table for next round of negotiations. It is a wretched situation that brings into question the so-called “tactical” or “complete” victory in the war against Boko Haram and any further calls to dig larger holes in the nation’s treasury under the guise of prosecuting the war.
Most wretched and depressing, however, is this debilitating condition of indefinite wait by parents and guardians of the kidnapped children who now wonder if they will be joining parents of yet-to-be-returned Chibok girls in counting from more than three days to more than three years.
Speaking for the Government, Minister Lai Mohammed says they need more time to assess the situation; sounds like this too had been said sometime before.