On Thursday, the #BringBackOurGirls Movement marched on President Goodluck Jonathan to ask him certain questions and to give him our Charter of Demands. He was not there. It was a huge opportunity he lost to start rebuilding his battered credibility by engaging us and showing he as a person and as our President had real concerns about the fate of the girls and had a real search and rescue plan. Rather, we were informed this week by Sahara Reporters that his decision is to rebuild his credibility by recruiting an international public relations firm, at the cost of over $800 million dollars, to improve his image.
They are apparently seeking a top public relations firm to develop a strategy to provide “strategic counsel,” “stakeholder engagement,” “proactive” media relations and “key message and storybook development”. The successful firm will be required to target stakeholders in the UK, USA, Commonwealth countries, “all relevant EU institutions,” academic institutions and NGOs, “arrange 1:1 meetings with influential and open-minded potential champions,” and “arrange briefings to build links at various levels with the UK, US, Commonwealth and major European governments.”
This is an incredibly expensive way to build credibility for the simple reason that the reality on the ground is stark. The Government is losing credibility because it is not governing and it is not carrying out its constitutional responsibility of providing for the welfare and security of Nigerians. The abduction of over 300 girls from Chibok became a public relations disaster for the Government not because it happened but because after it happened, the Government and its security agencies did nothing for over three weeks. It was the mothers of the girls who carried out an incredibly important civic engagement to march on the National Assembly to tell the world that the Government was not making efforts to secure the release of the girls. It took one additional week of demonstrations before the Government even set up a fact-finding committee. The so-called fact finding committee has not even gone to Chibok yet and today is the 42nd day since the abduction.
Today is Day 26 since the Abuja Family of the #BringBackOurGirls has been engaged in daily rallies and marches. What our Movement has done is to break the inertia of citizens complaining that government is not performing and doing anything about it. Nigerians are now saying government must be accountable to citizens and we will not accept “sidon look” from our President when over 200 young Nigerians have been abducted. The President was absent when we went to see him, instead of seeing us; he dashed off to South Africa. Unfortunately for him, no place to hide, as during his friend Jacob Zuma’s inauguration, participants in the Union Building event on seeing him walk in started chanting #BringBackOurGirls. The world is concened and there is no place to run.
The fact of the matter is that no public relations firm can address the issue. Globetrotting also cannot solve the problem as the Movement has become global and all human beings are asking the government why the are not making sufficient efforts to search for and rescue the girls. Yes they stopped us from getting to the Presidential Villa on Thursday but the world continued to pose the questions we asked.
The delegation that met us led by the Secretary to the Government and some ministers read out a position paper to us. They told us that in other countries, when terrorist acts occur, the people blame the terrorists and not the governments. They pleaded that we should stop talking about the responsibility of government; we should talk about the terrorists. It’s an incredibly clueless argument. When armed robbers attack, you don’t talk to the armed robbers, you take the case to the police so that they can find and prosecute the robbers. When armed terrorists abduct hundreds of girls, you don’t appeal to them, you call on the government to get their security agencies to search for and rescue the girls and then punish the terrorists.
Over the past few days, we have seen some comic actors from government holding up signs “Boko Haram: BringBackOurGirls”. If indeed these people who abducted the girls are terrorists, and we know they are, why talk to them rather than to constituted authority, which is our government. Is government saying they have abdicated their responsibility? Some people are even sponsoring some groups to wear white shirts to repeat the government message. How do they expect to regain credibility if they do not get the basic message that citizens are saying government has to do its job to provide for the security of Nigerians.
Over one thousand protesters had marched from the Unity Fountain in Maitama to Three Arms Zone with a plan to get to the villa and be addressed by the president. We went with ten questions and our President should answer our questions:
The presidency and their friends have sent mixed messages about the authenticity of the abduction of the girls. The President should clarify his position. He should also explain to us why it took him so long to begin to act on the matter. Why are the troops complaining about their welfare package and why the recent mutiny?
Considering the overwhelming international support we are receiving from other countries, we the citizens need to be provided the latest operational updates on these interventions especially given the mixed messages from some of the Western countries that have come in to offer help.
The President also needs to explain to us Nigerian citizens and to the world why he has still not visited Chibok even if just to commiserate with the families and Chibok community and show some empathy. In addition, what specific plans does the president have to ensure full rehabilitation of the returned girls, the girls yet to be rescued upon their return, their families, and the Chibok community as a whole?
What are the specific actions that have been taken since the President’s return from Paris that gives the confidence that our neighbours, especially Cameroon, will cooperate with us and comply with all agreed actions?
How effective is the State of Emergency? Despite the existence of SOE, we are concerned that it was possible to abduct over 200 girls? Some of the residents of Chibok confirmed that they informed relevant security agents hours before the actual abduction, yet commensurate actions were not taken; now that the SOE has been extended in affected states, including Borno State, what would be the difference going forward?
The whole world wants to know, will government negotiate to secure the release of our girls? Why were we being informed about the President’s position by a British Minister?
What is the level of collaboration between the Federal and State government in rescue efforts for our girls? There appears to be tension between the federal and state governments, which can affect negatively the rescue efforts.
Why is it that none of the girls has been rescued by the military up till this time? Could the problem be resources as we are concerned that allocated resources to our security apparatus (N922 billion in 2012, N1 trillion in 2013 and N845 in 2014) do not seem to correspond with results delivered by those at the front line to effectively wage this war against terrorism?
What are the minimum safety/ security standards and packages dedicated to schools and other soft targets considering the recent trend of abducting and killings of students, particularly in the North?
Can the President explain the scale and magnitude of what we are dealing with in terms of the insurgents?
By answering these questions and achieving results, the President can rebuild his credibility. Mr President, please forget the public relations firm and concentrate on the task the whole world is chanting. #BringBackOurGirls.
Dr. Ibrahim, a development consultant and fellow of the Centre for Development and Democracy in Abuja is Chairman of the PREMIUM TIMES editorial board.