Over the last month, many Nigerians had to relive a nightmare we were promised we would never experience again. Armed gunmen affiliated to the religious terrorist group Boko Haram, drove into the town of Dapchi in Yobe state and abducted 110 girls from a secondary school. As a nation, we watched in horror as the Buhari presidency, the very same coalition of people we’d voted in on the promise that they would do everything different followed the exact script the Jonathan presidency had followed four years before. They refused to acknowledge the mass kidnapping, accused mysterious naysayers of trying to tarnish the presidency, even went as far as listing their questionable achievements as a weak counter to the fact that 220 parents were currently unsure of the whereabouts of their daughters, some barely into adolescence.
Oby Ezekwesili and Aisha Yesufu, who had jointly started the Bring Back Our Girls movement in 2014 and shamed the Jonathan government in 2014 had to march on Aso Rock to even get the government to release a comprehensive list of the names of the girls abducted in the attack, and even then the President didn’t physically go to visit the families of the girls abducted in their state until March 14th 2018, nearly a month after the event actually happened. According to the President’s spokesperson, the President was taken with other more pressing issues, but apparently not too busy to sneak off a few days to fete with governors Ajimobi and Ganduje as their children married in one of the most lavish and bourgeois weddings the country has ever seen, a display of affluence, appallingly in its scale and its proximity to the extreme poverty that surrounds these pockets of wealth.
President @MBuhari in Dapchi, met with parents, teachers & community of the #DapchiGirls at the Government Girls Science & Technology College, Dapchi, Yobe State. #PMBinYobe pic.twitter.com/E0b2PiJWra
— Government of Nigeria (@AsoRock) March 14, 2018
6 days after the president’s visit to Dapchi, and amid rising concerns that the 2015 elections might have been influenced by an analytical company that mined illegal data from social media platform Facebook, the presidency announces the abducted Dapchi girls were to be released soon. And they were, the very next morning. According to reports, Boko Haram insurgents, unarmed and unafraid, drove into the town in a large truck, spoke to the residents who hadn’t fled at the news of their arrival, dropped off the abducted girls and drove off. Local and international press were barred from documenting the ‘release’, and there were no security personnel on ground to arrest the insurgents who returned the girls to their town. There is so much to unpack about this exchange; the lack of security personnel in a town that recently received a sitting president and was simultaneously the site of the country’s second biggest abduction of teenage girls. Why did Boko Haram feels so assured of their safety to attempt such a brazen return? What did we have to pay to get the girls back?
The government says there was no ransom, but the Buhari government also said this of the 84 Chibok girls that were released in 2017, girls that it was further revealed were bartered for 3 million Euros. The government is also yet to report officially that five of the girls abducted have been killed, and one more, the only Christian is still in Boko Haram custody, with no information of when or if she will even be released.
In late 2015, President Buhari declared categorically that Boko Haram had been ‘technically defeated’. He had recently been voted into office and was riding on a wave of good will that saw even the most skeptical of Nigerian pundits hopeful that the new president would bring in a regime of change, give him the benefit of the doubt. The president held on to the assertion, defending it in February 2016, even when it was clear that that Boko Haram was still active and dangerous. In time, he would disappear in 2016 and 2017, treating an illness that he is yet to disclose, 3 years into his presidency. Boko Haram regained much of its influence in the North East in that time, and continues to terrorize the citizens of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe through acts of premeditated violence. The Nigerian government has inadvertently financed their activities through a series of ‘back-channel negotiations’ that saw millions of Naira redirected to the cause, either directly through amnesty payments, or indirectly through ransoms on expatriates and professors exploring the Chad basin and policewomen.
Teenage girls have proven most lucrative to Boko Haram. The Chibok girls brought the sect millions of Euros, and already rumours suggest that the government paid the equivalent of $10 million for the return of the Dapchi girls. Even if we believe the federal government that no ransoms were paid, how did the Federal government agree to the return of the Dapchi girls when five of them were killed and one is still being held by the terrorists? Of what value is their lives if their deaths can be overlooked as a minor set back in the presidency’s plans to cast itself as a results producing regime?
Is the image of any government worth one Dapchi girl’s life?