13 March 2018

Nigeria: Dapchi - a National Disgrace

Photo: United Nations
(file photo).
editorial

Once again, Nigeria is in the news for the wrong reason.

Coming barely two months to the fourth anniversary of the abduction of 219 girls from a secondary school in Chibok, Borno State, the abduction of a fresh set of 110 girls from Government Girls Science Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State, is nothing but a rude shock and a national disgrace. For an administration that got to power by riding on the crest of incredible media force and captivating campaigns promising to solve Nigeria's security problems, this farcical repetition of history is not only embarrassing and humbling, but also an unexpected disclosure of incapacity.

In a dramatic twist that must take this government back to the drawing board, the Dapchi abduction has now become a hard lesson for an inconsistently conceited and over-confident administration that claimed it has technically defeated Boko Haram and contained the stronghold of the murderous sect. And for well-meaning Nigerians smarting from the agony of four years ago, Dapchi is another tragedy that has thrown the country into grief.

According to news reports, the abduction of the girls in Dapchi was similar to that of the Chibok girls four years ago. Just as it was in Chibok, vehicles entered the Government Girls Science Technical College, pretending to take the girls to a safe place, and over a hundred girls were mobilized into the vehicles. A few of the girls, on discovering they were being led into captivity, managed to escape. And that is how Nigerians and the world came to hear about the Dapchi abduction.

Beyond the collective anguish of another tragedy, there seems to be ominous silence at the corridors of power. The body language of the powerful neither suggests urgency nor evokes fellow-feeling. The same desensitized air that is sweeping Chibok into oblivion seems to have also overshadowed Dapchi. In all this, the premium that should be placed on human life has been overlooked.

It is on this ground that some critically minded persons have refused to accept the Dapchi abduction at face value. These sceptics have adduced the manifold coincidences and other lapses as reasons for their denial. For instance, they have asked whether, in the light of acclaimed break-through in the fight against insurgency, it is the same Boko Haram that abducted the Dapchi girls, or some other group. They have also asked: Why is it that the Dapchi abduction, like the abduction of the Chibok girls, came one year into the election year? Why was an all-girls school targeted for the abduction? How come the abduction followed similar scripting like that of the Chibok girls?

When such narratives are bandied, they question the intelligence of both sources and receivers. For how come would 110 girls be bundled into vehicles without creating suspicion? Do people understand the logistics of conveying 110 people at the same time to some destination? Are such movements of people usual occurrences in that region? If they are not, couldn't the principals, teachers and workers of the school have thought of Chibok and alerted authorities of this strange event? Were there any officials of the school who witnessed the abduction? What action did they take? Are Nigerians to live with the thinking that there was no trail in all of this?

As the trending conspiracy theory holds, the military and the police were supposed to be responsible for the security of the area. And by establishing an operation post in Dapchi, the security forces were making it known to Nigerians that Dapchi was vulnerable. If that was the case, how come the military was withdrawn, as reports stated, a few days before the abduction, and the operation handed over to the police? Were there deliberately orchestrated communication gaps? Is the government's complicity in this abduction such that its agents compromised the operation for the possibility of infiltration by the Boko Haram camp?

Given that people no longer depend on the government alone for security matters, communities have learnt the hard way to provide security for their people. In complementing government's modest provision of security, they have begun to form neighbourhood watches. In this regard, why couldn't the Dapchi community provide defence for itself like other communities?

These questions may seem belated and intrusive to the mood of the nation, yet responses to them may cause Nigerians to think critically and dispassionately. If it is true that these girls were abducted, then what is revealed is the level of incompetence as well as the insensitivity of this administration over security matters. On the other hand, if the government is complicit in the abduction of the Dapchi girls, as some conspiracy theorists are saying, then it needs being asked: What does the government stand to gain from this infamy?

The tragedy of the event is the paucity of realistic information as to the recruitment plan, hierarchy, modus operandi of the abductors, despite years of operation in the region. That strangers would appear in a community, one that is not an urban centre as such, and carry out a horrendous activity without trace, is hard to believe. Little wonder speculation are rife that, for both the locals and the abductors, there tends to be a covenant of secrecy over the operations of the abductors. Consequently, the difficulty or perhaps the lack of will in tracing the footprints of the journey tends to question the veracity of the claim of abduction.

However, as critics accuse the government of complicity for its ineffective management of operations in Yobe, it is pertinent that the Nigerian people view the operation with sympathy for the soldiers in the trenches. Military analysts, who are wont to provide technical reasons for the mishap in Dapchi, have argued that the protracted state of the fight against insurgency may be traceable to the complicated nature of engaging in guerilla warfare, a tactics of armed confrontation that defies the rules of conventional warfare. Besides, there might have been a shortfall in manpower both at the military command and the police force. Such might have been the gravity of this shortfall that, between liberation of the area by the military, and the handing over of operations to the police, a proper synergy might not have been established.

Notwithstanding, Nigerians and all lovers of the good people of Nigeria should not, on account of justified scepticism, allow themselves to be deceived into denial or cajoled by narratives that invite them to forgetting the Dapchi girls. Nigerians should live with the painful memories and empathize with the families and kindred of the abducted girls. They should see the girls as their own and feel the grief, anxiety and forlorn hope of the father, mother or sibling of those girls. They should also condemn in strong terms the practice of using human beings as cannon fodder to score some political point, or for some self-seeking agenda.

From the foregoing, it is clear, as always, that all is not well with Nigeria. Radical steps need to be taken to put things in order. Prominent amongst these is the need for a sincere and transparent running of the affairs of this country. There is an opaqueness in the management of this country that needs to be exposed. A national embarrassment that could repeat itself in a space of four years surely threatens the corporate existence of Nigeria. Except in failed states ravaged by war and anarchy, there is nowhere in the world Chibok or Dapchi happens.

The government should therefore take pro-active steps to address the clash of interests in the management of security information. One way of doing this is to remove the dichotomy between the military and the press on the responsibility for commenting on security events. There should be synergy between the press and the military that would forge mutually benefiting discussions about how to recalibrate the balance between state security to which the military is committed and the ideals of human rights, which inform journalistic practice in this democratic age. It would enable the press to understand the perspectives of the military when interpreting observable facts, and properly manage truth in the interest of the common good which both professions serve.

Above all, the government must work to earn the respect of its citizens.

If this government could not prevent a well-contrived repetition of assault on the Nigerian people by the Boko Haram; if it could not act, despite all the resources and intelligence-gathering prowess the Nigerian military has garnered all these years, what assurance can it give the ordinary Nigerian that lives and property are secured? Despite the military's spirited show of force in special operations in Bayelsa, Delta and states in the South-East, the intractable situation in the North-east shames this administration. It is now the general view that a government so troubled and overwhelmed to a point of cluelessness and inanity cannot protect its people, or attract the cherished investment it needs to lead the country to its full potential.

And this is a big shame.

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