Beyond presidential call

By Adewale Kupoluyi
IN a show of sympathy, President Muhammadu Buhari was reported to have spoken on phone with Mrs. Rebecca Sharibu, mother of Miss Leah Sharibu, the 15-year-old girl who was captured by Boko Haram insurgents, who invaded her school in a Gestapo manner some months ago. It would be recalled that last February, members of the Islamic terrorist organisation dressed in military fatigues, armed with sophisticated weapons, attacked Dapchi and went straight to the Government Girls Science Technical College, where they kidnapped 110 students.

Since that sad encounter, it is now more than 200 days since the innocent girl was captured alongside 109 other schoolgirls in Dapchi, Yunusari Local Government Area of Yobe State. But, unlike the other captives, Leah remains in the risky hands of the terrorists simply for sticking to her Christian faith. Leah’s case remains a story of heroism in the face of horror that only few adults can ever withstand. During the call to her mother, President Buhari was said to have assured her  that government would do everything possible to bring her back home. Good talk. Earlier, Mrs. Sharibu and her husband, Nathan, had called on the government to ensure the release of their daughter before the dateline given by the sect, which had threatened to eliminate Leah, should the government failed to meet their demands.

A terribly worried mother, Mrs. Sharibu, at a press conference in Jos, the Plateau State capital, appealed to the President  to do all within his power to stop the terrorists from carrying out their threat by ensuring the safe and prompt release of her daughter. The experiences of innocent victims in the hands of nefarious persons such as Boko Haram members are indescribable. According to reports, some of the captive girls are said to have been sold-off, held as ‘wives’, sex slaves, servants or brainwashed suicide bombers and constituting another deadly band of terrorism to the society. The courageous Leah, at a tender age of 15, had shown that the inalienable right to choose one’s path in life can be sustained at great danger. For her rare courage, she should be celebrated in these trying times.

Many things have happened to suggest some form of state laxity over Leah’s matter. For instance, it is worrisome that management of information relating to the abducted girls is defective and not good enough, despite the outcry and high profile nature of the case. Going by Mrs. Sharibu’s account, the family only gets little information about their daughter from occasional media publications. In the first place, the abduction of Leah and her schoolmates resulted from the government’s inability to uphold constitutional dictates of ensuring the security of life and property. Not only that, there is the suspicion and acrimony that there could be an element of religious persecution in her case, as the terrorists were said to have got the audacity of even preaching and parading the girls round Dapchi before their escape. Eye witnesses also claimed that the terrorists alluded that they apologised for abducting the girls because they were Muslim girls. This fueled insinuations that the girl (Leah) could have been deliberately left out of negotiations that led to the secure of the freed girls.

In a highly religious and ethnic sensitive country like Nigeria, there is the need for openness and better information management over delicate matters so that, there would not be any iota of doubt and ill-feeling that could portray the state as promoting ethnic or religious agenda. At another time, Leah’s mother had to debunk the rumour that her family took the Federal Government to court, saying they were not aware of such issue, insisting that she was not after money or engaged in any form of deal, saying that, her family was only interested in their daughter’s release. This position was being relayed to worsen matters and to give the impression that the parents of the girl remain a stumbling block to getting her freedom.

According to Amnesty International, insufficient troops were deployed to Yobe State. Not only that, absence of regular patrols, failure to respond to early warnings and the refusal to engage Boko Haram representatives at the initial stage to sue for peace might have precipitated the plight of the girls. In places where the lives of citizens are paramount, including those of the weakest and most vulnerable, governments often go to any length to ensure the security of its citizens and when eventually threatened, they move in to bring them to safety at great cost. Every responsive nation faces the challenge of having to stand up for its citizens  in one way such as negotiating or dealing with violent groups, just to achieve one thing – secure the freedom of citizens whose liberty had been curtailed.

Many examples abound, to show the extent that serious-minded countries can go to protecting the lives of their citizens. One of such is that celebrated case, involving two American journalists, who were arrested by the secretive North Korean regime for the offence of crossing the border into the country, but were set free after the personal intervention of former US President, Bill Clinton. Former US President, Barack Obama had commissioned Clinton to hold talks with Kim Jong-il, as he eventually pardoned the women, who were initially sentenced to hard labour for allegedly entering the country illegally. Euna Lee and Laura Ling regained their freedom, less than 24 hours after the former president arrived in Pyongyang. The intervention marked an  end to over four-month ordeal for the journalists, who were arrested near the North Korean-Chinese border while on duty. They were sentenced to 12 years of hard labour for illegal entry and engaging in ‘hostile acts’.

Based on the above narrative, it is imperative to keep reminding ourselves of the serious matter of the dire implications of the abducted Chibok and Dapchi schoolgirls on the victims, parents and loved ones. The authorities should consider the release of Leah with paramount importance, given the sectarian colouration and interpretation associated with her continued incarceration. This should not be allowed to continue. Therefore, the authorities should deploy all the necessary resources, time, equipment, intelligence and tactics, to get Leah and others out of bondage into freedom immediately. Nigerians desperately need the confidence and assurance that government has the full capacity and capability to defend our territory and that the life of every single citizen counts.

While commending the nation’s security forces for their efforts at curbing terrorism, there is need for more pro-activeness, synergy, transparency and better information management. The telephone call by the President is in order but beyond this, Nigerians would be happier to see the incarcerated girls hale and hearty.