The abducted Dapchi schoolgirls were released and brought back to the beleaguered village of Yobe state, Nigeria in the early hours of Wednesday, 21st March 2018. As reports indicate, the Nigeria Army paused operation in and around the village to allow a peaceful passage for Boko Haram fighters in charge of returning the girls. They came, preached for about 20 minutes to the would-be freed girls, embarked their trucks and left. The village soon erupted in celebration with women ululating, men smiling, girls dancing, youth shouting and so on. It’s Eid. In the midst of all this, however, an unsettling picture and later a video clip emerged wherein some townspeople hailed the militants as they departed.
It is not all hanky-dowry after all. Five of the girls died. They gave up the ghost, according to one of the freed girls, as a result of a stampede when they were whisked away by their abductors in overcrowded trucks. The girl further narrated how, while in custody, they were taken care of and fed. They, in fact, used to cook their meals. The government ordered them to be examined by a team of medical doctors to make sure they are safe, hale and hearty.
As expected, several theories, plausible and conspiratorial, trail the whole issue. It began with Sahara Reporters claim that the only Christian girl among them, named Leah Sharibu is reportedly still in captivity. Some commented that the deal was unfair as she remains detained because of her religion. A report, however, says that she refused to accept Islam. Therefore they held her. It’s noteworthy that Boko Haram is known for not segregating religion when they commit their many crimes. They have, very evidently enough, murdered, maimed and terrorised more Muslims than non-Muslims. This girl’s case is an isolated one.
Nigerians demand answers to several questions. Some accused president Muhammadu Buhari-led government of planning (read: scripting) everything as if it were a movie. Everything, they alleged, was orchestrated for political gain. I sincerely speaking don’t buy this cheap mischief for some reasons. One, not all of the girls were released, yet. Two, some five have tragically died. Three, what transpired after the abduction was embarrassing. Security operatives publicly traded blames. This, alone, has done severe damage to the government than the purported restorative release of the girls can amend. Four, the President visited the village only after a sturdy social media outcry against his rather apathy towards the whole kidnapping. I guess if it were really for PR, he would have been more sympathetic and acted differently.
As aforementioned, the single picture and video of the people in the village waving at the terrorists speak volumes. The Daily Nigerian online news medium, often slammed and labelled as fake by some non-Muslim, mainly southern readers for its northern inclination became a champion for firstly sharing the picture. I rigorously checked the identities of the commenters under the thread on Facebook. More than 90% of those asking several, critical questions, alleging that all the townspeople are either members of the dreaded terror group or their sympathisers are from the other divide of the country.
Some of those commenters added that no doubt there was no resistance during the abduction operation last month. One Al-Amin Isa, who was described by two guys, Eduje Victor and Bitrus Valli Ayuba, obviously both Christians, as “crass illiterate, nonentity, failure, disgrace, nincompoop” and other unprintable words, defended the people that “They don’t want more wahala that’s why! The waving means ‘carry your wahala go, please. Bye”. I silently sighed: hmm. This is the sad reflection of our deep division and mistrust as a people of one nation. We have a long way to a genuine unity in Nigeria. Everything is perceived from ethno-religious and regional viewpoints.
I don’t deny or dispute the fact that the kidnapping was appalling and avoidable. In an ideal situation, following the infamous Chibok schoolgirls’ abduction, the Nigerian security operatives should set up mechanism and measures to avoid its recurrence. No. They relaxed. The merciless terrorists are never tired of seizing a slight security lapse to unleash their terror as they did now. Arguably, even the Chibok one was preventable as Buni Yadi massacre of some male students happened earlier. As believers, however, let’s accept all the accidents as destiny and pray for the victims, for we cannot undo anything now.
We should learn a lesson from what followed the deal of Chibok girls release last year. To remind you, Boko Haram became bolder and deadlier soon after. Some accounts have it that the deal favoured them as they got billions of Naira and some of their commanders released. This enabled them to regroup, reorganise and re-strategise. I am not a security expert, but I hope this one was sealed differently.
It is apparent that we lack the military intelligence and knowhow to secure their release by combat. However, the government should track their trucks as they depart Dapchi, locate their enclaves and plush them in days or weeks to come. There’s no double standard. We are in a war. Or, better still, the security should reach them via the same means (the backchannel) it negotiated with them. The terrorists are not to be trusted or spared. Else, we are in for worse.
And now, whatever is the case, I wholeheartedly rejoice with the relieved people of Dapchi. The Nigerian government should support both the girls and their parents maximally and see them back in school. It must not be the Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi; any other can do the magic. Their aspiration for education, for a better life, should not be extinguished. Their dreams of becoming doctors, nurses, teachers and so on must be kept alive. Let all the politicians do their politicking, the social media commentators theorising, the so-called wailers wailing and their antithesis, hailers hailing. Nobody should is denied this right. The most important thing now is: the girls are reunited with their loved ones.
Congratulations to us all.
Muhsin teaches and studies at the University of Cologne, Germany. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org