Who is Afraid of BBOG?

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Kayode Komolafe The Horizon kayode.komolafe@thisdaylive.com 0805 500 1974

The organisers of the recent counter-march to that of the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) campaign in Abuja should be regarded as the real enemies of the Buhari administration. Bearing outrageous placards, the “protesters” made a spectacle of themselves. Well, it must be clearly conceded that they have the right to protest even it means absurdity on display. It is indeed astonishing that some persons could openly pick quarrel with those keeping the condition of the Chibok girls alive in the public realm.

The “protesters” had the temerity to ask the BBOG campaigners to “leave Buhari alone.” Some of them even attempted to personalise the matter by raining insults on a leader of the campaign and former education minister, Oby Ezekwesili.

In their bid to defend Muhammadu Buhari, they caused the President immense erosion of goodwill. The Boko Haram terrorists have killed thousands of persons, abducted hundreds, caused displacement of millions and destroyed properties worth billions. But none of the atrocities of the terrorists has been publicised as much the abduction of the Chibok girls.

In fact, the Chibok girls have more or less become the symbol of the Boko Haram crimes against humanity. The BBOG campaigners have contributed in no little way in bringing the plight of the girls and the agony of their parents into focus nationally and internationally. You can then imagine the public relations havoc the counter-protest has done to Nigeria and its government.

Here is an unsolicited admonition: whoever conceived of the idea of a shouting march against mothers whose daughters are missing must be a fifth columnist. The administration had better beware of such a fellow. However, the anti-BBOG crowd is not the issue here. The point at issue is rather the worrisome response of the Nigerian state to this humanitarian campaign.

Today is sadly the 891st day that over 200 girls were abducted by the Boko Haram terrorists from their school in Chibok, Borno State. A few of them have escaped, but several others are still held hostage by the terrorists. It is worthwhile to isolate the issues thrown up by the step taken by the Nigerian state to stop the BBOG, which has spearheaded the campaign for the rescue of the poor girls in the last two years.

For it is inexplicable how the protests of BBOG hurt the state and its agents. Therefore, the following question had become apposite: who actually is afraid of the campaign for the rescue of the girls?

First, the move by the police to stop the BBOG is an assault on freedom. The police have no powers to ban any citizen or group of citizens from protesting on any issue. Instead, it is the duty of the police to ensure that the protesters are protected as they conduct themselves peacefully.

The right to protest is not a favour from any government. It is not a privilege awarded to the citizens by the Nigerian state. From the colonial days and through the military years, the Nigerian people have fought for that right and it is unthinkable that the police could now abridge it in 2016. When our rulers reel out their achievements they often refer to roads and bridges as “dividends of democracy.” Now that is a gross misnomer.

The real dividend of democracy is freedom, which includes the right of the aggrieved to protest and express their views freely. After all, the military rulers built some spectacular roads and bridges, but no one called the items of infrastructure “dividends of democracy.” What was abysmally lacking in the days of the military was freedom. The right to protest should be defended by the Nigerian people against assault by the apparatus of the state under any administration.

Secondly, the Buhari admiration has a moral burden in the way it responds to the lingering issue of the Chibok girls and the legitimate agitation for their rescue. Buhari promised to end the Boko Haram war; the rescue of the Chibok girls was part of that promise made on the hustings last year. In fact, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which was in power, then, accused Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) of sponsoring BBOG to put former President Goodluck Jonathan in bad light. Indeed, some APC activists were part of the BBOG campaign. It is a huge irony that APC is now claiming to have a “different approach” to the campaign as the BBOG members are being harassed on the street.

It is simply immoral to play some funny politics with this issue. The administration should not be permitted to renege on a highly sensitive campaign promise. Even if there are tactical issues that the administration would not like to discuss publicly in the efforts to free the girls, there should be a more decent and mature way of engaging those carrying the banner of humanity on behalf of all of us in Nigeria.

Thirdly, the story of the chilling story of the Chibok girls is a story of the failure of the Nigerian state to meet its constitutional obligation to the girls. According to the constitution, the security and welfare of the people should be the primary purpose of governance.

The other day, even former President Olusegun Obasanjo attested to the fact that it took the Jonathan administration about a month to even acknowledge that the girls were missing. Like some other operations against Boko Haram, the rescue of the girls could not be accomplished by the Jonathan government. Buhari is now 16 months in the saddle and the girls remain in captivity. And some persons could muster the inhumanity in them to say that the agonising parents of the girls “ should leave Buhari alone”.

During the campaigns for last year’s presidential election, not a few voters must have rated Buhari as a more competent Commander-in-Chief than Jonathan. It is, therefore, a gross disservice to the stature of Buhari as Commander-in-Chief for any one to say that protesting parents of the missing girls should not put pressure on the President. Who else should bear the pressure if not the Commander-in-Chief? After all, he asked for the job and he was resoundingly given.

Beyond the Nigerian state, the attitude of some persons in the public raises disturbing questions about the humaness of the Nigerian society. Some inhuman public responses to the fate of the girls constitute an index of selfishness in this land.

The elementary question is this: if one of the girls happens to be your daughter, would you react the same as you do to their plight? How could any one ever be irritated by the protest of a mother whose daughter has been missing for 891 days? It is inhuman to do so. It should be stressed that the official and public attitude would be different if the Chibok girls were to be daughters of members of the ruling class and their rich allies. Besides, the girls belong to a generation. And other members of their generation in ever part of Nigeria are watching as the Nigerian state and people resolve this debacle.

The approach of the government and the public to the fate of the girls would be a measure of the premium put on human lives. Those who are sermonising to the upcoming generation to be patriotic should be wary of this grotesque development. The Chibok girls have to be alive and secure so that they could become responsible citizens that could do something for their country in future.

The foregoing and other reasons provide a justifiable basis for defending the BBOG campaign. The campaigners should be saluted for asserting our collective humanity and performing a humane task on behalf of this increasingly selfish society. The Buhari administration may have operational and tactical reasons for the delay in the freedom of the Chibok girls; but the state and its agents should never be permitted to violate the people’s right to protest. After all, what is democracy without freedom?