The first public statement by the president was three weeks after the kidnap.
One month after Boko Haram insurgents abducted more than 250 teenage girls from their school in Chibok, Borno State, President Goodluck Jonathan, Vice President Namadi Sambo, or any member of the president’s cabinet is yet to visit the school or the town where the abduction took place.
The girls were kidnapped late at night on April 14, when insurgents, said to be over 200, stormed the small town, and headed straight to the Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State. They overran a scanty security checkpoint at the school, killing one soldier and another guard. Over 250 girls were forced out of their dormitories and loaded into trucks. About 50 of the abducted girls escaped and were reunited with their families.
The school was also burnt down by the insurgents.
Parents and community members, on hearing of the abduction stormed the Sambisa Forest where the girls were taken and went as much as 50km into the forest, a known bastion of the Boko Haram terrorists.
They only withdrew when they were told that their lives and their daughters’ were at risk if they went deeper into Sambisa.
While Nigerians and the international community condemned the kidnap and called for urgent action by the government, the first public statement by the president was three weeks after, on May 4, during a media chat.
Mr. Jonathan had told the world during the chat that the federal government did not know the whereabouts of the girls, the actual number of girls taken, and indeed the group responsible for the kidnap as no one had claimed responsibility.
In other words, three weeks after the kidnap, the Nigerian government, despite all its security and intelligence agencies, had no information, whatsoever, on the kidnap.
The president also compared the kidnap to the missing Malaysian plane saying his government would strive to ensure that the girls’ case did not turn out to be like that of the missing plane whose debris is yet to be found.
However, unlike the Malaysian plane where authorities identified families of passengers and provided regular briefing on search operations to the families and to the general public, Mr. Jonathan in his speech only asked the families of the kidnapped girls to help the government with more information.
In what appeared a response to Mr. Jonathan’s admittance of government’s ignorance about the kidnap, a day after the president’s speech, the Boko Haram released a video claiming responsibility for the kidnap. In the video, the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, also threatened to sell or marry off the girls.
A week after, the group released another video showing some of the kidnapped girls. In the new video, Mr. Shekau claimed majority of the girls, who were Christians, had converted to Islam. He threatened not to release the girls until Boko Haram members arrested for terrorism related incidents are released.
Despite protests in Nigeria and beyond asking government to do more to free the girls, as well as condemnations for the government’s initial apparent nonchalance at the kidnap, federal officials in Abuja have refused to go show solidarity with the families of the victims in Chibok.
Jonathan sits tight in Abuja
The first major public official to visit Chibok was the Borno Governor, Kashim Shettima.
Mr. Shettima visited the community one week after the kidnap on April 21. During the visit, he heard first hand experiences from parents who narrated the efforts they made to secure their daughters’ freedom.
“We have trailed the abductors of our daughters far into very dangerous places inside the (Sambisa) forest, but we couldn’t go far because we were warned against going further since we have no sophisticated weapons that could match that of those holding our daughters,” Shettima Hamma, a parent of one of the kidnapped girls, told the governor.
The various family members shed tears and wept as they narrated their suffering to Mr. Shettima.
They asked that the government do more to free their daughters with Mr. Shettima and his entourage saying there was little he could do.
“You should know our limitations here in the state concerning the security deployment, neither the governor nor I has control over our security; we can only plead with the federal government to assist us,” Ali Ndume, the senator representing the area, who was on the governor’s entourage, told the victims’ families.
Apart from the Borno officials, the closest to federal officials from Abuja to visit Chibok are Nigeria’s military chiefs.
In a statement on May 8, the Defence Headquarters spokesperson, Chris Olukolade, said the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, service chiefs, and the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, visited Chibok on that day.
The military chiefs may have gone there to boost the morale of soldiers and security operatives who have been battling the Boko Haram in Borno, a state that, like Yobe and Adamawa, has been under emergency rule since May last year.
A week after the military chief’s visit, no other senior official from the Jonathan administration has visited Chibok.
A history of abandonment
Abandoning Chibok and resisting paying a visit to show solidarity with the victims’ families and assure them of governments’ support is not new to President Goodluck Jonathan.
On February 25, gunmen suspected to be Boko Haram members stormed the Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Yobe State, killing at least 29 students (according to government figures), with residents of the area saying about 50 were killed.
Despite calls by Nigerians including the opposition All Progressives Congress, President Jonathan is yet to visit the school or the families of the victims.
The best the federal government has done since the killings is to shut all federal schools in Borno and Yobe.
Mr. Jonathan’s seeming apathy and nonchalance to victims of his government’s failure to provide security for Borno and Yobe residents
was condemned by the Yobe governor, Ibrahim Geidam, in a statement on Tuesday.
“We have seen over this period, however, that the federal government has neither provided the advanced weaponry and communications gear needed to defeat Boko Haram nor worked to build and sustain the confidence of the people in the affected states.
“From Izge to Konduga and from Buni-Yadi to Chibok, thousands of people have been affected in the most gruesome manner but the President has not even found it worthy to pay a sympathy visit,” the Yobe government said.
The seeming lack of empathy and leadership of Mr. Jonathan towards the abduction that has attracted global outcry falls short of the reaction of world leaders when similar tragedy occurs in their domain. In 2012, after a lone shooter massacred 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown Connecticut, President Barak Obama of the United States of America visited the school less than 48 hours after the shooting. Similarly, after the train bombing in Volgograd in the
North Caucasus of Russia, President Vladimir Putin rushed to visit the victims of the blast after a New Year address.
In Nigeria, however, without visiting Chibok or the victims’ families, Mr. Jonathan spoke officially on the kidnap three weeks later and only set up a committee to look into it.
However, Mr. Jonathan’s reaction towards the Chibok abduction might not come as a surprise to Nigerians. The president has displayed similar character towards national tragedies in the past.
After the April 14 Nyanya motor park bombing that killed over 75 Nigerians, just few kilometres from Government House in Aso Rock, the President visited the site of the bombing as well as some victims in hospital; with observers saying he did that because it happened close to his domain.
However, while the country was still in shock over the carnage, Mr. Jonathan travelled to Kano the next day for a political rally where he was seen dancing. He also left Kano to attend the centenary celebration of the traditional monarch of Ibadan, the Olubadan of Ibadanland, Samuel Odugade.
Mr. Jonathan may not have visited the Chibok or the girls’ families, but at least local and international pressure has forced the government to seek and accept help from foreign countries to help secure the girls.
The U.S., U.K., and China are among countries that have pledged personnel and resources to help locate the girl with 30 American security officials already in Abuja.
Also, on Tuesday, the parents of the missing girls identified over 70 of them from the video released by the Boko Haram, a confirmation that majority if not all the abducted girls are still alive and can still be rescued.