There is a limit to impunity, beyond which a country can no longer call itself a country with any shred of pride. We passed that mark on that grim Monday when members of the hideous Boko Haram sect stormed Government Secondary School Chibok, Maiduguri, and ran off with over 250 students to the Sambisa forest.
The girls, as Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, said at the Book Festival in Port Harcourt Wednesday, are, in all probability, now used as sex slaves.
Perhaps there are worse things than this. Perhaps some depraved minds could yet come up with a monstrosity to top one in which girls preparing for their GCE are seized from their school and dragged through forests to be raped by murderers. The nightmarish horror of it is just too distasteful to imagine.
The immediate reaction to this barbarism, across the board, has been one of total condemnation and although the opposition has, of course, used the occasion to call attention to the failures of the ruling party, there is no doubt that everyone feels frustrated and angry. There was even some kind of protest by women groups in Lagos and Borno states.
But that, in essence, was all. The following day, President Goodluck Jonathan was in Kano dancing to the drumbeat of the PDP, which would not postpone its election campaign. And with the president setting such a sickening tone, the rest of the country, including the army, felt free to more or less go on with its usual business. The search for the missing girls was thus left in the hands of their hapless parents who rented 100 commercial motorcyclists, got some volunteers with cutlasses and bows and arrows and went into the forest determined to rescue their wards or die trying.
In the end, even they were forced to abandon the search when a warning came from the terrorists that if they don’t stop, they and their children would be killed.
Now, to all intents and purposes, no one is seriously looking for those girls anymore. We have abandoned them, all of us. The saddest thing under the sun: a whole nation cowed into abandoning the search for girls taken hostage by a motley group of terrorists.
It is easy to blame the Jonathan administration for the shoddy way it almost always handles crisis of this nature. It was rash for the president to be dancing at a party rally while those girls were still in the hands of their marauders. It is less than manly and unpresidential that the president has not deemed it fit to visit the school where this horror took place.
Beyond this however, it is tragic that any country would allow grieving parents to pursue killers and kidnappers into the jungle by themselves. It was finally proof, beyond any gossamer of doubt, that we do not have a government or a security system worthy of the name.
What is worse, as far as the lives of these girls are concerned, is that as a nation, we have all abdicated responsibility. We have all not done enough. Yes, we have expressed impotent rage and allotted blame. But we have not been able to mould that rage into a force that would push those in charge to moblise everything in search of the students. And we can.
It however does appear our outrage over this criminality is not strong enough. Or else why are we not insisting that action be taken by taking actions ourselves? Where is the Nigerian civil society, which collects all forms of donor monies to execute stability projects in the country? Where are our so-called activists? Why have they been unable to mobilise aggressively to pour protesters into the streets? Where are the youth groups, the labour unions and women associations across the country? Why is the Nigeria Labour Congress unwilling to ground the country until the girls are found? Have the media made it their priority by putting their finest reporters on the beat, providing us with minute-by-minute update on the crisis?
Yet this is the sort of tragedy that unites a nation, that overrides our tribal and religious differences and brings our common humanity to the fore.
We can insist that those children be made the number one priority of government. We can quit the offices and march on the streets until nothing works and the administration feels threatened enough to deploy the army, the airforce, the police and all the people that make up the security forces to that accursed forest in seach of our wards. Has there ever been a better reason to go on strike than this? A better reason for finally going to war with Boko Haram with everything we have got?
The parents came back from their nightmarish search in the Sambisa convinced that if the army had followed them into that bush, they would have had their kids back. The girls who escaped said they managed to run when one of the trucks conveying them broke down and the kidnappers tried to move them to another one. There are stories of the terrorists stopping grocery trucks on the way and diverting their goods. So you wonder how many of those girls would have been saved if even one military plane was quickly mobilised to follow them and communicate their movement to headquarters.
There is no doubt that our soldiers have been bested by members of the Boko Haram sect often enough. Despite the near-trillion naira annual defence budget, there is evidence that our soldiers, as the Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima once said, are less motivated and less equipped than the enemy.
For a long while now, it has been clear that the Sambisa Forest, which lies between Nigeria and Cameroon is the major base of Boko Haram. Yet we will not go there. Why is that?
Khalil Sule, a retired military officer in Borno provides some clue: “Most of our armoured tankers, the RPGs and AK-47 rifles are not serviceable and that is why the soldiers are running away from battle grounds. The terrorists are not far and everybody knows that they can be done with in less than one week if there is the seriousness.”
The National Assembly loves its probes. Well here is a matter for probe: what happens to all the money appropriated for defence every year? Who gets the military contracts and what have they manage to buy? And please none of that nonsense about laying bare our security situation for the enemies to see. The real enemy now is Boko Haram and they have no illusions about the quality of our men or material otherwise they won’t attack with such impunity.
As we look unto God to help these girls, it behooves us all to take actions that will compel our inept government to act decisively and appropriately.