Pained Remembrance, Prayers for Vigilance and “The Book of Chibok”

A Review of Ben Ubiri’s The Book of Chibok
By Chiedu Ezeanah
Date of publication: 2015
Pages: 180

Prior to the abduction of 276 female students of the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, not so many in the world were aware of the existence of this small town on the map of the world, which actually is located in Borno State, North Eastern Nigeria.

The shocking incident that was claimed by the notorious insurgents, Boko Haram, happened between April 14 and 15, 2014, and since then the search for the remaining 219 girls unable to escape this captivity has not ceased, thanks to the sensitivities of an embarrassed public, nationally and internationally. The Bring Back Our Girls movement (BBOG for short) in Nigeria has done a commendable work insisting for more than two years of the captivity of the Chibok girls, that they must be brought back home to their families in order to resume their normal lives, including their violently interrupted schooling.

Certainly, we cannot expect any less. When a similar incident happened that involved the abduction of the Austrian girl, Natascha Kampusch, by her kidnapper, Wolfgang Priklopil, for more than eight years, the Western World was outraged sufficiently to support the long search for her to regain her freedom, which she eventually did after “3096 Days.” The later phrase became the title of the autobiographical narrative of her ordeal of being held in a secret cellar at age 10 and her escape eight years after. The horrible experience of the ten-year-old child in the hands of her kidnapper has also inspired a major book, Girl In The Cellar, written by Allan Hall and Michael Ledig. The words from their dedication page is instructive: ”This book is dedicated to all the missing children who have not been found and their families.”

It is not known whether Ben Ubiri, a journalist and broadcaster has ever seen or read this book. But the significant point is that Ubiri was sufficiently outraged and motivated to also write a book on the dehumanising incident to counter the human weakness to forget that over 200 children were abducted and are still in captivity, and their vulnerability as female children makes the wisdom to write and publish their story compelling and commendable in order to expose the tragedy, and the untold suffering of the victims and their families.

Ben Ubiri tells the story of the abduction by deploying the evocative power of poetry to elicit the effective response of readers against the ploys of Boko Haram to destroy anything related to Western education, including female school children.

The poet, in his first book, chose his title with admirable reflection, by centering the name of the very town where this large-scale abduction of human beings from their familiar ground took place. “The Book of Chibok” is an invocation of a landscape and the pillaged psyche of a people outside and inside Chibok on the edge of erasure, arising from the Boko Haram Islamist insurgents’ War in the North East of Nigeria. Most of the dangerous dimensions and manifestations of mass suffering this singular incident has produced for over two years, are imaginatively re-created in what a great American poet once did in his memorable poem, “The Bonfire”.

“Haven’t you hears what we have lived to learn
Nothing so new –something we had forgotten:
War is for everyone, for children too”

Ubiri has created a refreshing medley of poems in The Book of Chibok to communicate his main theme, that this is one incident that must remain remembered until the abducted Chibok girls are back home, and even beyond. Several genres mix here in an inspiring lyrical hybrid: panegyrics, elegies, travelogues, satires, commentary and reminiscences, to carry the reader through a voyage of social exploration. And salient poetic revelations of the precarious existence of children, especially female children, in these times of the unending war of terrorists around the world, and especially in Nigeria.

Ben Ubiri’s The Book of Chibok is understandably dominated by a recount of the condition of the child, the girl-child in the context of war, and issues related to this: security, education, the horrors and the cruelties of war, poverty, and the female gender’s vulnerabilities. It certainly reminds one of the earlier noble effort by the late poet, Ify Agwu Omalicha, in her two poetry collections, Amidst The Blowing Tempest, and, They Run Still.

Without any doubt, the power of the lines and the sad, if sometimes overwrought indignation of the poet towards the telling of this unwholesome state of affairs, have one transcendental human purpose: the Chibok incident must remain remembered. And for those who are familiar with From Sarajevo, With Sorrow, written by the great Bosnian poet Goran Simic, there should be nothing but universal commendation for Ben Ubiri for undertaking to shoulder this historic poetic responsibility, even though it should be noted that Simic was caught up in the Yugoslavian war of disintegration of his former country. And as a Bosnian national, he was determined as a poet not to allow the atrocities perpetrated in that war to escape the world’s attention. The poet virtually became a war correspondent and, here in The Book of Chibok we have a worthy textual bow to the old master. Although Ben Ubiri’s poetry collection was written in Abuja, some good distance from North Eastern Nigeria, the main ground of the Boko Haram War on Nigeria.

The reader should read this worthy collection for its aesthetic delight in most parts, and, also for its compelling theme: that we must remind ourselves all the time as citizens and as humans, that this incident as horror-filled as it has been, really did happen, and, that we owe the Chibok girls the prayer and duty to act to ensure that they are brought back home to their families and friends.

And, lastly that even as we remember, we must be vigilant with a resolve that: THIS MUST NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN!

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