By Oke Epia
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The cheering news of the return of scores of school girls abducted by terrorist elements from Dapchi, Yobe State, about a month ago is by all means a welcome development. It is a soothing balm for the sorrowful parents and loved ones of the victims as well as persons of goodwill who have shared the pains and agony of the ravaged community in North-east Nigeria. Even though there are still some dark clouds as reports say some of the girls have transited into permanent captivity to the land of no return while a Christian girl was held back for her reported refusal to denounce Christianity, the fact that a majority of the kidnapped kids have reunited with their families is some undeniable cause for joy.
But there have been jeers amidst the cheers heralding the girls’ return from Boko Haram hold. It is hard to blame critics and pessimists because the manner of the abduction and the drama of their release leave salacious scoops for conspiracy theories. And quite a few, ranging from the bizarre to the benign, have flooded public discourse since Wednesday morning when news of the latest development broke. Sadly, politicians have seized the narrative in a desperate bid to appropriate capital out of the unfortunate Dapchi drama. This is not entirely unexpected given that general elections are about a year from now. But to the extent that political elements are assailing the sensibilities of a traumatized nation to forcefully dictate the tone of the discourse is highly repugnant to our collective sense of humanity. In fact, it is a disservice to the lives of the abducted girls and their families that have already been failed by a government that allowed the kidnap to occur in the first place. Political vultures notorious for their ignoble roles and reactions in the 2014 Chibok abduction by boko haram, have seized the space over the Dapchi debacle. They are now encircling eerily over the heads of dozens of innocent children whose only crime was the resolve to seek education and chase the chance of a good life made increasingly a mirage by politicians across partisan divides. But the politicization of the Dapchi affair has a root in the recent past.
Just like the All Progressives Congress (APC) as opposition party made immense political capital out of the abduction of over 200 school girls by the blood-thirsty boko haram sect in 2014 when the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) held sway in power, the latter is now playing a reverse role in the Dapchi dilemma. The ruling APC government is now being served the same sauce it shoved down the throat of the PDP-led Goodluck Jonathan administration four years ago when the deadly terrorists broke into student dormitories in Chibok and herded over 200 girls into a long-drawn captivity that is yet to be fully unraveled till date. In a most audacious allegation, the PDP has accused the APC government of President Muhammadu Buhari of choreographing the Dapchi abduction and subsequent return of most of the girls. The opposition party described it as a political stunt contrived to advance the fortunes of its ruling counterpart in 2019. A statement released by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, the party said “PDP condemns the APC and certain officials in the Presidency for staging the abduction of the schoolgirls in Dapchi, Yobe State, for political purposes. Our party considers this act as wicked, callous and tormenting to use innocent schoolgirls as pawns in an ignoble script that was designed to hoodwink Nigerians and orchestrate a great rescue and security prowess of a conquering general, all to push a 2019 reelection bid, is an unpardonable gamble with human lives.”
The party went further in the statement to say “the poorly crafted tragicomedy” of the Dapchi incidence has failed and “Nigerians are not ready to forgive the APC and the Presidency for the torments inflicted on the girls, their parents and the human community worldwide just to score a cheap political point. Nigerians know that the main aim of this devilish act was to delude the public, set the stage for an orchestrated rescue, create a heroic myth and false sense of achievement around the APC administration and serve as a spur for President Muhammadu Buhari’s declaration to contest the 2019 presidential election, perhaps in the coming weeks.” While the APC is surely capable of responding deservedly to this sweeping charge from the opposition party, it is my considered opinion that the PDP has prioritized political capital over the effusion of humaneness and humanity which the dire Dapchi situation requires. The party could have still made its point in raising doubts about the sincerity of the APC government in the whole affair without needing to deflate the already sunken spirit of millions of Nigerians who have identified with the mourning mood of the defiled North-east community.
The party forgot that an eye for an eye can make everybody go blind. Even if the PDP must stretch the point, it should have been not in an initial reaction to the return of the girls. A terse message to align with the exultant mood of the nation while calling for more efforts to release the others in captivity would have portrayed the PDP as a more responsible opposition party sensitive to the feelings and sensibilities of citizens whose votes it seeks to win elections in the coming months. Thereafter, the party could aggregate the array of cogent doubts over the matter and release a more impactful arsenal. The points it sought to make in the statement accusing the government of using citizens as pawns in the chessboard of electioneering, have already been subtly suggested in the public domain by Amnesty International and other groups which had already accused the administration, especially security officials, of complicity in the Dapchi kidnap in the first place.
Even the #BringBackOurGirls (#BBOG) had expressed some reservations over the affair but was more moderated in its immediate response to the return of the girls. The BBOG movement which expressed its excitement at the news of the girls’ return have raised a couple of questions they believe the government should address to convince the country that Dapchi was not contrived and implemented to achieve sinister objectives. It is instructive to quote the spokesperson for the group, Sesung Akume in a statement on Wednesday after the release of the girls, who stated thus: “The #BringBackOurGirls movement has been made aware of the cheering news of the return of our missing #DapchiGirls. Our movement has confirmed this to be true and the accurate position of things. Reports say that 5 of them may have passed on, and 1 is still held back. This we are not yet able to fully verify. Our immense pleasures at the return of most of our #DapchiGirls on this 30th day of their captivity notwithstanding, the 14 questions we posed to the Government of Nigeria still stand, as well as our notice to commence legal action. The circumstances of this return shall also be interrogated. We shall be communicating further as we gain more clarity on what transpired and what is going on.” This line of reaction would have earned the PDP more respect and public acclaim than the extreme route it took in seeking to gain political capital out of a collective national shame.
Having said this however, it is incumbent on the government of the day to prove beyond all reasonable doubts that the posers raised over Dapchi are convincingly addressed. Unfortunately, for the APC administration, it has made series of missteps, unforced errors and demonstrated irksome incompetence in dealing with some of the issues it applied as propaganda tools to dislodge the PDP from power in 2015. The chickens are only just coming home to roost.