When former President, Dr. Olusegun Obasanjo said at a church service he attended in Otuoke, hometown of another former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, as the two fellowshipped together in the latter’s home church on Sunday 18th February 2018, that the reason it appears as if history repeats itself is because people repeat past mistakes and learn nothing from them, little did we know that his remarks were ominous.
Just one day after the octogenarian gave his admonition about learning from the past mistakes, avoidable errors and horrendous episodes that have plagued our country, Nigerians were jolted by yet another major abduction story of innocent schoolgirls. This time, the community thrown into the limelight from obscurity is Dapchi, in Busari local government area of Yobe state.
If you ask them, I’m sure residents of the community would have preferred the anonymity they enjoyed only a few days ago to all of the attention they are suddenly receiving from politicians and the media. If they had a choice, I’m sure Dapchi mothers and fathers would prefer to have their daughters safe at home with them, rather than have their community become recognisable on the map of Nigeria for such a sad and unfortunate reason or even become a deciding factor as we kick-start a fresh season of canvassing by those who want to vote and be voted for.
As it was with Chibok, so it is with Dapchi. The heartbreaking reality that now confronts us today is that our children are no longer safe in the one place they should feel safest. With this fresh incident of kidnapping of over one hundred schoolgirls so brazenly in the light of day, the fact has now been established, beyond doubt, that our secondary schools and indeed all other educational institutions in the country are potential theatres of terror where the soundtrack is the sound of guns and grieving families instead of learning and the laughter of children.
In the eyes of the evil and cowardly Boko Haram terrorists, every abducted child is a future bargaining chip in negotiations with government negotiators. They are also useful puns that can be exchanged for cash that the terrorists use to buy more weapons with which they wreck even greater havoc on innocent citizens and communities. Some victims are kept alive so they could be swapped at a future date for captured terrorist fighters and Islamic fundamentalists who when freed are sent right back into the vicious circle of bloodletting, massacre and carnage.
Even worse, female captives are deployed as sex slaves, as was evidenced by the number of the Chibok girls that came back with babies. Personally, I am still appalled and in shock, and unable to fully process how parents send their daughters to school to get an education, only to wind up first, losing them to kidnappers and terrorists, and then violated and finally forced into early motherhood.
Something else we know now is that a number of these kidnapped victims are quickly radicalised, dressed up in suicide vests and bombs, and sent off on dangerous missions to unsuspecting gathering of people and other soft targets. The point being made here is that once these innocent children are kidnapped, it’s hardly a win-win situation for them, their parents or for society.
Chibok happened in the last administration. It was a predicament inherited by the present government of which they freely and at every turn heaped the blame on the immediate past leadership of this country. Dapchi has just happened. It happened under the watch of a leadership that ought to have learnt from the mistakes of the past. It happened under the watch of a government that campaigned and were voted into power on the strength of their promise to overhaul the security architecture of this country and make our towns, cities, states and regions safe for the young, the not-so-young and the elderly. Dapchi is happening at a time the government in power has just announced the technical annihilation of Boko Haram. The question is, did they speak too soon?
For many of us, I know that just as the Chibok girls became an appraisal issue for the last administration, the disappearance of the Dapchi girls too would soon become politicized, and politicians like Lai Mohammed would go on the defensive and miss the point – all in wanting to defend the indefensible.
Indeed, it is indefensible that several days after the abduction, no one can give us the exact number of girls that are missing. It is indefensible that seventy-two hours after the news of the incident broke; state and federal authorities went from denying that the kidnap took place in the first place to lying that some of the girls had been rescued before finally admitting that the girls have been taken.
If what I learnt from watching crime and investigation docu-series is anything to go by, then the first forty-eight hours following any murder or abduction incident are very crucial. In dithering back and forth, and refusing to acknowledge the truth, I hope authorities haven’t unwittingly jeopardised the chances of bringing these girls back home alive.
Again, as long as the immediate reaction whenever incidents like this occur is to lie and downplay, Dapchi would happen again – and that worries me. I know that it is tempting to categorise this latest case as another example of how abysmal this government has been in keeping to the promises they made to Nigerians, and to quickly join the chorus of voices demanding fresh hands and sharper minds next year, but I would resist that temptation. I would resist that temptation, because what is paramount now, are our daughters and then working together to ensure that we are not discussing a new community in this negative light in another six months or one year from now.
Admittedly, things may have been bungled from the start, but we cannot lose hope, because hope is the only thing we have. We cannot let Chibok and Dapchi happen again. We cannot afford another affliction when we can prevent it.
With what we know now about Boko Haram, we cannot afford not to provide security in our schools, especially those in the North. If our banks where we keep money are heavily guarded and secured, why can’t we provide protection for our children when they are school? Are we saying that we value money more than our children? If one politician can have a retinue of armed policemen deployed as escorts for his coming in and going out, why wouldn’t a school with well over one hundred children have a couple of trained security personnel protecting its perimeters?
If we thought it wise as a nation to establish the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps to protect our national assets, shouldn’t we also at this time, be thinking of a special corps to provide security to all public and private institutions of learning, because I refuse to believe that oil installations and pipelines are more important than our children.
For the sake of our children, we need to put aside party interest and work together to make our primary and secondary schools and even universities the safe haven they used to be only a few years ago. I believe this was the thinking of the Governor of Bayelsa State, Henry Seriake Dickson when he proposed a bill establishing the Education Safety Corps in his state. Perhaps, this is the time for the federal government to consult Bayelsa state government and see if the Education Safety Corps is a model that can be replicated in the rest of the country.
Let’s face it, if the war on terror has been won, then what happened in Girls Technical College, Dapchi, on the 19th of February this year wouldn’t have happened. As it stands, we need to come up with measures and strategies to prevent a recurrence, instead waiting for another set of girls to be abducted before scrambling for how to spin the story and make the government look competent and compassionate.
We cannot afford to politicise this crisis. If we do, then the solution would only be temporary.
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