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News during the week that the ‘Islamic State’ has crowned a new leader for the Boko Haram terrorist group raises fresh concerns that although Nigeria’s battle with the dreaded sect may have been won, the war still rages. Expectedly, the military which has been quick to claim victory over the largely degraded group has shrugged off the naming of Abu Musab al-Barnawi, as the new leader of Boko Haram, saying it will not be distracted from wiping off the remnants of the terrorists from Nigeria’s territory. From indications so far, the gallant troops of the armed forces are walking their talk as the mindless bloodsuckers are now resorting to spasmodic attacks typical of retreating guerillas. Unfortunately, same cannot be said of political authorities that should take responsibility for post-war rehabilitation and reintegration of displaced persons back into society.
Nothing depicts this worrisome lack of anticipation more than the dilemma of Amina Ali, the kidnapped school girl recovered from Boko Haram captivity in May. Recall that the country was agog at news of the girl’s chanced recovery so much so that she was instantly transmuted from the dreary underworld of Boko Haram hold to the poster face of victory over the deadly sect. The dizzying drama was both queer and weird as the timid and trauma-tossed Amina together with her little baby were thrust from the obscurity of Sambisa forest to the royalty of the presidential villa. The First Family led by President Muhammadu Buhari and his wife dutifully shone in the glory of the girl’s presidential visit as the camera lights flashed endlessly to expose the emptiness of it all.
Three months later, echoes have escaped from the hollowness of that whole opportunistic affair thereby justifying the fears and concerns raised by the BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) group at that time. The BBOG which by the way has not hidden its disappointment at the Buhari administration’s failure to stick with its commitment to rescue the Chibok girls had then observed that the handling of Amina Ali’s case showed a lack of a comprehensive post-Boko haram war plan. In its now seemingly characteristic penchant for impatience with criticisms, government spokespersons had then disagreed with the Oby Ezekwesili-led group. But events unfolding appear to be proving the crusaders right at least, until government offers a plausible explanation as to what has been happening to the young Amina in solitary confinement in Abuja and why.
The world got a peep into Amina’s supposed liberated life when her mother, Binta Ali, opened up to the media this week. Her accounts indicate that government’s ‘restoration process’ for the girl and her child is either unsatisfactory or unacceptable. Or both in a worst case scenario. Binta suggests that her daughter harbours mistrust for her present habitation and would prefer to be released to her family in Chibok from where she was hurled into trucks amongst some over 200 girls in a tales-by-moonlight human hijack by Boko Haram in April 2014. According to the story published Wednesday in ThisDay Newspaper, Binta told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Chibok “having briefly returned there to seek medical treatment” that her daughter was not a happy girl after all.
“Before she was kidnapped, she wanted to further her education,” Binta was quoted as saying about Amina who now curiously wants to become a tailor because she is now “afraid of schooling, and she wants to be close to me at home.” In case you do not yet hear it, this brief account stated above contains alarm bells that should not only worry the BBOG group but the rest of the world that has followed the Chibok abduction drama since two years now. Why in the first place would Amina’s mother leave the comfort of Abuja to Chibok to seek medical treatment as the report says? Would being in Abuja as prized guests of the Federal Government once feted by the First Family, not have afforded Binta Ali a better medical attention than whatever she could have gone to receive in a Chibok community that is just barely picking itself up from the ruins of terrorist devastation? Is it that Amina’s mother was not entitled to receive medical attention that is presumed to have been provided for her daughter that is undergoing rehabilitation? Or is it that the Alis are not satisfied with what is being provided by government? And could that be why Amina is said to be unhappy in protective custody meant to be part of the curative healing process? If these questions are disturbing enough then the dimension about the girl’s religious preferences should be thoroughly upsetting to the guarantee of fundamental rights.
In the report under reference, Binta also told the world that her daughter was being pressured to stick with the Islamic religion she was forcefully proselytized into by the Boko Haram terrorists who had seized her many months back. This was how the ThisDay report put it: “Binta said she was also worried that her daughter was being pressured into following Islam, having been forced to convert from Christianity to Islam by Boko Haram militants during her captivity. “Amina herself does not want to remain a Muslim,” Binta said, explaining how an Islamic teacher had visited the house several times and told her daughter to maintain her new faith.
“She did not want to see him,” Binta said, adding that the teacher had stopped visiting after she complained about him.”
Could that be real? Was it some joke? Or was Binta Ali simply spinning a conspiratorial tale to achieve some hidden agenda? But whatever it was does not remove the suggestion that there was an attempt to temper with Amina’s religious convictions against her wish. At least, the part of the story about a response from the presidency that did not emphatically dismiss such suggestion only tends to give credence to it. Here again I quote the story: “Garba Shehu, Buhari’s spokesman, said Amina’s confinement in the house had nothing to do with religion.” What does such a terse riposte from a presidential spokesman suggest? Given the gravity of the issue and being one that has not placed his principal in complimentary public perceptions since May 2015, Mr. Shehu would have done more to dispel the claims made by Binta to a foreign media organization.
But communication lacuna (assuming that was what happened in the case above) would not be the only area where a lack of preparedness is perceptible. In fact, that is only tangential to the trend of impromptu and adhoc responses to the emerging humanitarian situation regarding the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the North-east of Nigeria. The authorities have displayed an acute lack of foresight if not simple anticipation of the avoidable embarrassment the country is faced with at the moment. Scenarios of overcrowded IDP camps struggling with insufficiency of food, medicines and other basic supplies have become harbingers of malnutrition, epidemic and death now stalking the region now liberated from the reign of terrorists. The Northeast is fast sliding into a grotesque collage of grim statistics common to war zones and places ravaged by drought or other natural disasters. This is because the victory march of soldiers on the field was not marched by the thinking caps of politicians who should have anticipated and planned for the upsurge of IDPs finding their ways into already crowded camps from liberated territories. Perhaps because they would rather continue to play selfish politics with the plight of the displaced and realize their grand plots of theft and corruption, they would rather wait for the situation to become near implosive before running helter-skelter in a deliberate pattern of beneficial confusion. It is doubly sad however that though Amina Ali is not in one of such camps of confusion, her current state in presidential rehabilitative custody leaves much to be desired.
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