Chibok Girls: Time to break the rule – By Louis Odion, FNGE

President Buhari

The latest video
released by Boko Haram showing a section of the missing Chibok girls
should serve as incentive for deeper introspection. At the official level,
perhaps the moment has come to rethink a counter strategy that increasingly
looks impotent, if not suspect; even as public communication is weaned of words
that now sound more like broken record.

In the
eleven-minute-long recording, the Abubakar Shekau-led faction unambiguously
restated its old demand that its members held across the country be
released as pre-condition for the release of the over 200 remaining
Chibok girls. As usual, a masked guy (Shekau?) in military fatigue is
shown blustering beside the girls who look expressionless in hijab against an
eerie black backdrop.
Louis Odion
No prize for guessing
the possible motives behind Shekau’s latest stunt. Like any movement not
inspired by an enduring or lofty value, the accursed Boko Haram (BH) is
obviously already choking on its grotesque contradictions. With ISIS seeking to
disrobe him by naming Abu Musab al-Barnawi as the new leader, it is evident the
bloodthirsty fugitive is desperate for a pitch to demonstrate his nuisance
value to the Nigerian authorities.
True, hostage-taking
in Nigeria did not start in April 2014 with the Chibok girls. But with the
twists and turns witnessed in the past 28 months, this should be the most
dramatized in human history. It is like a slow-motion horror movie. The
spectacle of aggrieved mothers fellowshipping periodically, holding vigil, at a
hearing distance from Aso Rock gates in Abuja has become a constant source of
national embarrassment.
Well, we are free to
elect to live blissfully in denial by conveniently making generous allowance
for Shekau’s blustering in the latest video and the possible exaggerations –
like claims that Nigeria’s airstrike had killed many of the girls. But the next
footage in the flick should be enough to sting us back to cold reality: the
face and voice of one of the captives, Dorcas Yakubu.


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Dr-Oby-Ezekwesili

Speaking
both Hausa and her native Kibaku in a voice that strikingly sounds
accustomed to the tragic fate she and others find themselves, the teenager
urged parents to “be patient and beg the government to release their
people, so that we’ll also be released.”
Caught between joy at
a proof their daughter is still alive and sorrow at the thought of the
unthinkable she must have endured in the past 28 months, Dorcas’ parents, Mr.
& Mrs. Kabu Yakubu, could only afford to make a loud sigh in Abuja after
watching the new video. Their testimony: “We cried when we saw our
daughter but we’ll sleep better now.”
They spoke from the
very depth of anguish every true parent will feel.
For others who could
not see or hear their loved ones, the nightmare obviously continues.
Today, what however
remains unknown is if, beyond the mouthing of platitudes and shedding of
crocodile tears, anyone in Abuja truly feels the kind of soul-wrenching pain
parents of the Chibok girls have endured in the past 28 months to want to
literally move mountains to free the captives.
The dumbest apology to
give today is to say Buhari is ready to negotiate with BH but is
handicapped over which faction to talk to. Unless the government wants us to
believe its intelligence-gathering capacities and capabilities are dead and so
now fit only for the cemetery.

Former President Jonathan

Legion stories are
told of how western nations like Britain had passed credible intelligence to
the Jonathan administration on the precise location of the Chibok girls earlier
in the day but, as usual, it refused to lift a finger until it became too late.
In fact, one account states that the girls were initially camped on the other
side of the river for several days in April 2014 without any intervention by
the authorities until they were presumably herded deep into the dreaded Sambisa
forest.
But lamenting missed
opportunities is no longer defensible today. What we want now is result by any
means necessary, realizing that each passing day means a continuation of their
abuse in captivity.
Elsewhere in the west,
the mere echo of Mr. & Mrs. Yakubu’s words, to say nothing of the sheer
spectacle of their presence, would be enough to drive leaders into
extra-ordinary exertions with a view to liberating citizens so held in bondage,
anywhere. In the circumstance, such leaders begin to pick and choose sections
of the Geneva Convention to obey.
Officially, the
tendency is for western nations to openly pontificate that ransom-payment in
turn fuels terrorism. That cash paid is soon invested by the receivers to buy
new weapons and finance training. But unofficially, countries like Italy,
Germany, France and Spain are known to have paid ransoms through private
companies to free their nationals from terrorists, convinced that the end
ultimately justifies the means.

Sen. Shehu Sani

UK, for instance, is
known to turn a blind eye if relations or companies slipped cash to have their
loved ones freed. That was how Judith Tebbuth’s release was secured in 2012. In
2014, the same tactic was employed to secure the release of teacher David Bolam
from the clutches of ISIL in Libya.
Same year in the US,
the Obama administration swapped five Al-Qaeda suspects held at the Guantanamo
detention facility for one American soldier, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, after five
years in captivity, whipping the sentiment of an ironclad commitment “to
leave no man or woman in uniform behind on the battlefield”. Washington
engaged the government of Qatar as the go-between in the indirect negotiations.
Decades earlier, the
Reagan administration did something far more unorthodox to free seven US
hostages held by Iranian terrorists in Lebanon. Despite subsisting arms embargo
against Tehran, Washington opted to sell arms secretly to Iran during its war
with Iraq in a complicated covert deal that soon birthed the Iran-Contra
scandal. Once the illicit cargoes began to berth in Tehran, three of the US
hostages in Beirut were let off, though three more were taken in what a
Washington top official later described cynically as “hostage
bazaar”.
More filth surfaced in
1986 after a Lebanese newspaper blew the whistle on the secret deal. Not only
was Reagan exposed, it was also discovered that only $12m out of the expected
$30m had reached government coffers. It soon came to light that the balance had
been diverted to fund the contra rebels being propped by Washington to combat
the communist government in Nicaragua since the US congress had outlawed such
direct monetary aid through formal channel.
To be fair, President
Buhari only inherited the Chibok girls issue. Still, the government
deserves credit for rallying a relentless campaign against BH in the past
fifteen months so much that relative peace has now returned to the hitherto
beleaguered North-East, even as it is left to face a huge refugee crisis. But
to suggest that the war is now totally over as the military high command is
wont to claim lately with the over 200 Chibog girls still unaccounted for is to
miss the human angle to the historic tragedy.
One lesson the Buhari
people appear not to have learnt from the Jonathan mishap is rehashing the
same rhetoric each time the Chibok girls question is raised. The other day
the Information Minister reassured that the government was still on top of the
situation. Well, Lai Mohammed just said what is expected of him. Really, no one
can say the president has forgotten the Chibok girls. After all, he gave a
plum appointment to one of the conveners of the BringBackOurGirls Group. And
since Ms. Hadiza Usman assumed duties as the Managing Director of the Nigerian
Ports Authority, at least one of the eloquent BBOG voices has since become
muted. Even if she is not too engrossed sorting cargoes at the Lagos ports to
forget or have time to attend the BBOG fellowships in Abuja, her presence there
today will certainly be incongruous.

Lt.-General Tukur Burutai

Really, what the
aggrieved parents desire and indeed deserve is not just tons of nice words from
Mohammed. If truly the government is quietly moving mountains to get the girls
released, it ought to device an effective channel the information is
shared with the traumatized. Had this been the case, it is doubtful if Oby
Ezekwesili and other committed activists will continue to speak so bitterly
each time they congregate at the Unity Square in Abuja.  But for the uncommon
patriotic zeal of these volunteers, perhaps the memory of the abducted would
have long faded, if not totally extinguished, by now.
Again, whoever
counseled the Army authorities to publicly declare wanted last Sunday three
individuals known to have links with Boko Haram did the nation a disservice. If
the measure was intended to project the authorities as being proactive, it has
surely backfired. For no sooner had the announcement been made than the duo of
Mrs. Aisha Wakil (aka Mama Boko Haram) reported at the Defence
Headquarters in Abuja and lawyer Ahmed Bolori turned himself in at the Army
Headquarters in Maiduguri. Journalist Ahmad Salkida expressed willingness
to travel down from his Dubai base once he receives ticket fare.
Mama Boko Haram, for
instance, soon expressed disgust that the Army could go ahead and declare her
wanted like a fugitive when, according to her, they knew her address and how to
reach her.
The Army spokesman
later explained that the trio were invited out of a belief that they knew more
than they were willing to share vis-a-vis the location of the abducted. A claim
the accused did not deny. From the utterances of Mrs. Wakil and Bolori after
meeting with the military authorities, it would appear they are more than
willing to be engaged in the search to rescue the missing girls. The trio is
not alone. A serving senator, Shehu Sani, is also known to have links with the
BH leaders. Rather than alienate or demonize them, such individuals ought to be
co-opted into the search for the missing girls as a matter of national urgency.
In the unlikely event
that all the remaining captives are being assembled in one location, given the
young lives involved, let it however be stressed that no one is advocating a
re-enactment of the daring Entebbe raid of 1976 when Israeli commandos stormed
Uganda’s International Airport in Kampala to free 100 of their nationals being
held hostage by pro-Palestinian gunmen. After a 35-minute fire-fight, the toll
exacted was not only heavy in human but also in material terms: three hostages
lay dead beside seven hijackers, twenty Ugandan troops and the leader of the
invading unit, Lt. Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu (brother of future Israeli Prime
Minister). Completely wrecked also were eleven Russian-built MiG fighters of
the Ugandan Air Force.

Hadiza Bala Usman

Nor can anyone afford
a repeat of the Moscow solution applied in Russia in October 2002 following the
hijack of a theatre by some 50 Chechen rebels. A record 700 theatre-goers were
taken hostage. After a 57-hour-standoff at the Palace of Culture, the Russian
special forces who had surrounded the hall were at their wits’ end. In what
became one if the worst rescue operations in history, they resorted to the
quick fix by simply lobbing a pipe into the hall through which a lethal narco
gas was discreetly sprayed. By the time the fume settled, no fewer than 120
hostages and most of the militants had been wasted.  The official defense
was that gassing was the most prudent option in the circumstance to disarm the
militants before they had time to detonate their explosives.
In the two foregoing
scenarios, the casualty toll was quite heavy. While no one will at this point
prescribe a similar raid on the location where the Chibok girls might
be kept, several other options remain open to Abuja with a view to quickly
bringing a closure to what has clearly become one of the darkest chapters in
the nation’s history. Swapping, as already mooted by the affected, is not a bad
idea.
In case President
Buhari is still unaware, the hour has finally come to bring back our girls.

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