Rose and its fragrance

Only fifteen out of the 219 girls still in captivity were shown in the video. PHOTO: CNN

Only fifteen out of the 219 girls still in captivity were shown in the video. PHOTO: CNN

Nigeria has just marked the second anniversary of the abduction of 219 young girls by Boko Haram extremists from Government Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State. The sad event took place on the night of April 14, 2014, as the girls were about taking their senior secondary school final examinations. Since then there has been no credible evidence as to their whereabouts, their state of health or even whether they are alive or dead.

However, a few days ago the CNN aired a proof of life video from Boko Haram showing 15 of the 219 girls. They looked well contrary to some of the stories that have been peddled in the social media. But where are the remaining 204 girls? Are they dead or married off to Boko Haram dissidents or have they been sold into slavery? Why didn’t Boko Haram show all 219 of them in the video if they are all still alive? Or have they been dispersed to various places as many people suggest so that if there is any rescue attempt some of them cannot be rescued.

The Nigerian military has rescued thousands of abducted men, women and children in the last 18 months but not one of the Chibok girls is among the rescued. Obviously, the Boko Haram terrorists consider the Chibok girls to be their trump card, their prime trophy. Among the kidnapped they stand out. They are all young, all girls, all students, qualities that have touched the hearts of the young and old around the world. When it happened there was a groundswell of condemnation and a global desire to help Nigeria in the rescue effort.

France offered to send a specialist team. China said it would provide “any useful information acquired by its satellite and intelligence services.” Israel said it would help in locating the girls. The United Kingdom promised to send experts to help in the search. The United States said it would send “experts in intelligence, investigations, hostage negotiation, information sharing and victim assistance.”

With all of these promises by the big powers many Nigerians may have been encouraged to believe that the return of the girls might be just a few months or weeks away. But here we are two years down the road the whereabouts of the girls are still unknown. The Boko Haram terrorists are simply playing mind games on the issue. They are tantalising us with the release of a video showing only 15 of the healthy-looking girls while they leave us to wonder where the rest of them are and in what state they are. Accurate information is the key to resolving the problem.

The Nigerian military has put up a gallant effort in the North East generally, rescuing many of the captives and reclaiming the territories where the terrorists had planted their flags. This is obviously a commendable effort to redeem themselves since they reportedly had a four-hour notice before the abduction and could not mobilise enough reinforcement to halt the abduction.

After the abduction had taken place the Federal Government’s response was lackluster which gave the terrorists sufficient time to consolidate their achievement and quickly get out of harm’s way. The Governor of Borno State where the unfortunate event took place, Kashim Shettima, said that President Goodluck Jonathan never called him until 19 days later. For many Nigerians it is also baffling that Jonathan waited until May 4, 2014 before addressing the nation on the incident. The explanation for this inordinate delay is that the President did not want to compromise the integrity of the investigation by speaking early. This explanation is grossly untenable because all that he needed to do when the story broke was to assure the nation and the families of the abducted girls that his government would pull all the stops to bring the girls back. His long silence on such a monumental happening was certainly ungolden.

However, Jonathan is out of the way now and the responsibility for the rescue of the girls belongs to President Muhammadu Buhari. At his inauguration on May 29, last year Buhari said he could not claim to “have defeated Boko Haram without rescuing the Chibok girls and all other innocent persons held hostage by the insurgents. The government will do all it can do to rescue them alive.” He followed up this promise by giving a hint in December last year about how his mind works. He said he is willing to negotiate with Boko Haram for the release of the girls “without preconditions.”

That is the only realistic position to take on this matter. The Boko Haram terrorists are not stupid. They would not keep all the girls in one place because that would be the equivalent of putting all their eggs in one basket. Besides, no attempt to rescue the girls by force can succeed without casualties because the terrorists would prefer to perish with the girls as shields. So Buhari’s position is realistic but how can this be achieved? That is the difficult part because no one truly knows who the leaders of Boko Haram are. There are several shadowy figures within the group so the first task is for Buhari to identify the authentic leaders to negotiate with so that Nigeria is not fooled by people who just want to make money out of this unfortunate situation.

Secondly, Buhari must seek to know how many of the girls he is negotiating for. It is not enough for the terrorists to tantalise Nigerians by presenting 15 healthy looking girls in their latest video without any word on the rest of them. Obviously the Boko Haram fellows would like to negotiate for the release of the girls in batches so as to be sure that the government would keep to the letter of their agreement whatever that may be.

The Nigerian military has put up a gallant effort in the North East generally, rescuing many of the captives and reclaiming the territories where the terrorists had planted their flags.

Negotiating with terrorists is not a walk in the park because they do not trust negotiators on the opposite side. Neither should government negotiators trust them. As things stand now, Nigeria is at the mercy of these terrorists. So is the Federal Government. Those who are accusing the government of inaction must realise that this is a delicate enterprise. Even if Buhari has adequate intelligence on the whereabouts of the girls he cannot give full disclosure without putting the integrity of the negotiating process at risk. We must encourage him to push the soldiers to make more achievements at the war front. It is only when the terrorists find themselves between the rock and the hard place that they would want to negotiate. If the soldiers do not squeeze them into a small space, if the terrorists do not run short of food, fuel and ammunitions they will keep on bluffing knowing that they have in their custody the Chibok girls that Nigeria and the world badly want released.

For the parents of the Chibok girls there are two strands of knowledge deficits (a) They do not know if their kids are alive and if they are alive in what state they are (b) If they are alive will they ever return? Those are the puzzles they are struggling with despite the release of the latest proof of life video. For them, nothing can console them except the sight of their beloved children. For them, no rationalisation, no homily about patience is good enough. We truly understand their predicament for it is difficult to maintain their sanity in the face of those knowledge deficits.

However, the war in the North East belongs to not only the three states of Borno, Adamawa and Gombe and the Federal Government. It also belongs to all of us. We must contribute to the war effort. We must support our soldiers. We must assist the internally displaced persons (IDPs) to get their lives back. A couple of State Governments, a few civil society organisations and a few individuals have weighed in with their support for the soldiers or the IDPs. We are a compassionate people. When South Africa was in the throes of apartheid we waxed records and raised money to support the fight against the apartheid regime.

In 1985, an activist, Harry Belafonte along with fundraiser, Ken Krugen, came up with the idea of raising funds for humanitarian aid in Africa. Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie wrote a song “We are the world,” which was produced by the wizard, Quincy Jones. They assembled top U.S. singers including Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Kenny Rogers, Paul Simon, James Ingram, Tina Turner, Billy Joel, Diana Ross and of course Jackson and Richie. The single which became a global anthem sold more than 20 million copies which the authors of the project used for humanitarian aid in Africa and the United States.

Foreign countries with technology are volunteering to help us locate and rescue the Chibok girls. If we do not have technology we should show, as a mark of gratitude to those helping us, that we have no apology about joining the fray in our own little way. I ask all of us – State and local governments, associations and individuals – to show our sense of compassion to the IDPs and support for our fighting forces.

In particular, let me call on our famous musicians to stir our hearts with music that moves men, by working together to produce a chart-buster which we can all buy to support our forces and our friends, the IDPs. The North East is the heartland of sorrow today. Provide hope for happiness tomorrow. So come on Tuface Idibia, D’Banj, P Square, Tiwa Savage, Whizkid, Inyanya, Flavour, Onyeka Onwenu, Omawumi, Waje, Femi Anikulapo Kuti etc. Let me appeal to your sense of compassion. Do something, rise to the occasion, show that you care, write your names in gold, produce a chart-bustling anthem that will cheer up the soldiers and the IDPs so that the Boko Haram terrorists will know that they are fighting not only our soldiers but all of us, men, women and children.

In the process, you would have given to our soldiers and IDPs some metaphorical roses. And you must realise that when you give roses to anyone part of the sweet fragrance remains with you.



1 Comment
  • sly

    Ray Ekpu, my former boss at Newswatch, you make me cry. Your piece draws tears from my eyes, I tell you. If I were a musician, reading this piece, I would not sleep until I came out with a wailing song that would melt whatever stones the Boko Haram captors had in their callous heart, so they could let go their innocent captives… Sly Edaghese.

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