By now, it is crystal clear to the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG), or any other groups and individuals with similar perception, that government is not toying with the safety, lives and property of Nigerians. This is clearly evident in the latest search conducted for the missing Chibok school girls in the notorious forest called Sambisa.
Few days ago, the Federal Government, represented by the Minister of Information and Culture and that of Defence, arranged to join the Nigerian troops in the forest, in furtherance of efforts at finding the girls.They invited the advocacy group BBOG to come along. On the eve of the trip, the Co-convener of the BringBackOurgirls (BBOG), Dr Obiageli Ezekwesili, in an e-mail to the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, indicated the interest of her members to join the search. The group, for reasons only known to it, however gave impractical conditions to join in the search of the girls, according to reports.
However, government acceded to their demands, including the last-minute insistence by Ezekwesili that the Information Minister abandon the aircraft for government delegation and fly instead with BBOG members in another aircraft.
“Only Oby Ezekwesili could rightly decipher what she had in mind to have insisted that the minister should take such a last minute decision,” notes an Abuja-based lawyer, Mr Ebenezer Okoli.
“Prior to this trip, the group had staged a week-long rally in commemoration of the 1000th anniversary of the kidnap of Chibok girls, accusing government, among others, of reneging on the rescue of the remaining 195 girls, after it had secured the release of 21 of them.
“One need not be reminded of the human degradation, especially womanhood, in the senseless war being waged against Nigeria by the Boko Haram terrorists, even in spite of heightened efforts by the Buhari administration to decimate them,” he says.
The Sambisa forest, 60,000 sq. km., or 18 times the size of Lagos State, situated in the north eastern part of Nigeria, was once the pride of Borno indigenes because of its serenity, rich floral and fauna, but has turned evil with the habitation and vandalism of Boko Haram insurgents in the past eight years.
They have, however, substantially been smoked out by Nigerian gallant soldiers many of who have paid the supreme price for the love of the country, and at painful loss to their families and the nation.
Although the activity of the insurgents has been degraded, one’s blood turns chilly each time the Theatre Commander of Operation Lafia Dole, Major General Lucky Irabor, reels out the number of casualty of officers and men who have laid down their lives in the struggle to liberate the country from insurgency.
These were also men born of women, with families and other dependents, but who are seldom talked about outside the military.
BBOG assumed global fame when it rose as a resonate voice of concern over the violence perpetrated against women and children, but more especially against the abducted girls. It became an advocacy movement right from April 2014 when the school girls were kidnapped.
A journalist, Simon Lambert, observes: “with its recent activities, the utterances and demeanor of BBOG members, one is at pains to situate the group properly, with its apparent ‘for profit’ non-governmental organisation attitude.
“Even if some of its members are full time workers for the group, they should understand the workings of government and should defer to government position which has demonstrated enough transparency in efforts at rescuing the remaining Chibok girls. Government is not faceless, and those in charge of governance have blood running in their veins, have females as wives, children and relations.”
A political scientist, Dr. Omobolaji Akerele, comments: “Government does not divulge everything simultaneously, and a government which has shown sincerity of purpose, such as this, should at least be given the benefit of the doubt.”
She continues: “BBOG should not be perceived as caring for Chibok girls alone to sustain its international recognition. It should show concern for all the victims, including the IDPs, the fallen heroes and their families, as well as those who have been vegetated by Boko Haram’s bestial attacks.
“The use of cheap blackmail, appearing in holier-than-thou attitude, resort to unnecessary rallies and grandstanding are not the hallmark of a responsible advocacy movement, as interpretations are being given to the genuineness of such actions,” Akerele adds.
Some of the members have even been assuming presidential posturing and would not want to appear in related public meetings unless President Buhari is physically present.
Nonetheless, the trip has altered the perception of BBOG group which had apparently lost confidence in government efforts at battling corruption and rescuing the remaining trapped Chibok girls in that dreaded forest.
Not until a gruesome day and night rounds of search sorties in Sambisa did Ezekwesili become convinced that government is doing its best, as witnessed in the professionalism and sophistication of the Nigerian Air Force, in executing the war against terror.
For instance, the Air Force now possesses many search planes as against just one, and the the deployment of many fighter jets as against just two before this administration. It is noteworthy that the Air Force has also flown 6,000 hours and spent N2 billion on fuel in searching for the girls.
Following the tour, BBOG testifies in its report, that “the air component of the counter-insurgency is being prosecuted by a highly professional, capable, motivated and committed team of the Nigerian Air Force.” Ezekwesili also saw the need for government to descend more heavily on looters of the national wealth, and those who have dis-empowered the military, for the terrorists to have initially gained an upper hand.
All told, more stakeholders must be prepared for Sambisa lessons, now a forest for learning, discipline, soberness and patriotism. In particular, those lawyers who placed money above national interest and would hold brief for the worst rogue as long as blood-money talks, should be the next in line for the Sambisa trip. Ditto for the judge who compromises, because each perverted judgement of national interest could also mar the operation of the war against terror. With such visits, justice will be served expeditiously and without fear or favour.
Ponle is a Public Affairs analyst.