Three Months and Counting… By Amma Ogan

The girls of Chibok remain in captivity despite:

  • Having drawn the attention of the whole world
  • The Nigerian Army declaring it knows where they are
  • The US, Britain, France, Israel, Australia, South Africa the AU and others having pledged assistance in men, materiel and expertise
  • African power heads of state, namely Kagame of Rwanda and Museveni of Uganda   having chided and shamed their colleagues for showing a complete absence of leadership
  • Obasanjo’s declaration that all this could be history if Jonathan would give him the go ahead to talk with Boko Haram…

Meanwhile, first one and now two Public Relations firms are reportedly engaged in brushing up the reputations of the Nigerian President and the main Nigerian opposition party  in an attempt to stem the negative publicity that has followed them because of the lack of action over rescuing the Chibok Girls. Some of these efforts resulted in the publication of an op-ed from President Jonathan published in the Washington Post about the girls.

You would think that if you know the source of your troubles the best solution would be to focus on that and not hire an expensive firm to help you place articles on an American newspaper website. But common sense has never been common and I have always thought that public relations is a real misnomer of an occupation. The public good is hardly ever the objective; the client’s desires are paramount. The truth just does not feature, except as an issue  to avoid. And facts are there to be botoxed and airbrushed.

This is a history that goes way back and really makes you wonder about what happens to human beings when they go into politics. They somehow forget reality and become obsessed with the need to control information so that they can read what they want to believe about themselves and bask in the delusion of their self-importance, because it is not about governance.

Some 279 girls were abducted from a school on April 14 and on the face of it Nigerian government agencies have put more decisive effort into silencing the protest than in rescuing the girls.

If it were about governance the only public relations necessary here would be producing those girls. And no one would question Jonathan’s desire to run again for president. The fact that he does not see the stumbling block to his desire for a second term, but thinks it is a question of convincing people to see him in a different light, quite outside the facts, makes you wonder whether this quest for political power around the equator, is not some form of madness.

What’s the upshot of all this because the reality of the Nigerian factor defies all known rules?

Jonathan may be his party’s candidate next year whether or not the Chibok girls are rescued before the 2015 elections. The cycle of repetition that dogs Nigerian politics may continue. Forty-seven years ago those Igbos, “Easterners,” who had not followed the exodus back across the Niger were in hiding in Lagos avoiding the threat of internment and identity card labels. Now there is talk of similar reprisals for Northerners who have over the years made a peaceful living in the states across the Niger and in those in the Southwest.

It may come to the worst again… and it may not. That is the almost devilish uncertainty of the Nigerian state. But it will not get better until we do.

In a column titled “Jews (Read: Northerners) Unwelcome”,published in Premium Times Garba Shehu said: “Profiling of citizens in accordance with their religion and ethnicity is wrong and condemnable.”

I was gratified to read this, but I thought to myself, coming after 47 years, this does not even signify a learning rate for a country at this stage of development. One of Nigeria’s problems is the absence of a shared history. We have a president who can talk about the experience of the civil war in a way no other president of this country has because he experienced it in a away no other president, elected or otherwise, ever did. I was 14 when the war broke out and 16 when it ended. At that age it is an experience you are not likely to forget and Jonathan must have been a young teenage boy then growing up in tragically hazardous times. Has it made a difference to the kind of president he is? I do not know. It is never clear to me what connections he makes between how he came to be president, essentially because the Nigerian public and NEXT newspapers were ready to fight for his constitutional right to do so, and what his vision, if he has one, for his country is. On paper he appears, you would think, to be educationally, a highly qualified person for his post.

For myself, I do recall a discussion that took place here in Johannesburg in 1993/1992. Moshood Abiola, president –elect, was in detention, Sani Abacha was military head of state and Ken Saro Wiwa president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) was in prison. The Pro Democracy movement in Nigeria was in full mode and a resurgent South Africa was seeking to provide room, advice and brotherly assistance to help Nigeria join the ranks of the free. An after dinner debate was centered on what had given South Africans the unity of purpose they needed to fight for their liberation and why it would last. I am an Igbo woman married to a Yoruba man. Our guest a revered senior citizen also Yoruba, of an esteemed family of political activists remarked that Nigeria could not be expected to respond in the same way because we had never had to fight for anything.

“But we fought a civil war, ‘to keep Nigeria one,” I retorted. There was a split second of silence as our guest turned to me in surprise. “Oh,” he said addressing himself to my husband: “This one is an Igbo woman!”

Until we get it together, I have a brother- in -law who used to find that American expression a great source of amusement (maybe you need to buy one of those children’s connect-o-kit games to help you!) we will not evolve from this brinksmanship we continually engage in.

But back to the matter at hand, can we now trace a path to rescuing the Chibok Girls? What you do matters, PR firm or no. Just last week Umaru Dikko died in London. In spite of what he may have meant to his family, community and friends he is remembered mostly for one thing: something that was done to him by others. And that something is in no way as reprehensible as writing op-eds for the Washington Post while over 200 young girls languish in tortured captivity.

Ms. Amma Ogan, veteran newspaper woman and editor, is the 2013 recipient of the Wole Soyinka Media Centre award for lifetime contribution to journalism.

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