The security agencies could do more to safeguard the people

Whether voluntary or induced, the return of the Dapchi school girls by their captors is a welcome development. While we rejoice with the families of the freed girls and commiserate with the families of those who lost their loved ones to the madness, we must also point out that the manner in which the whole episode was handled by the federal government raises several questions. Even then, the authorities must interrogate the circumstances surrounding the death of five of the girls while everything must be done to ensure the return of the one still held back by Boko Haram on account of the refusal to renounce her Christian faith.

In disputing media reports that ransom was paid to secure the release of the girls, Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed said: “It is not true that we paid ransom for the release of the Dapchi girls, neither was there a prisoner swap to secure their release. What happened was that the abduction itself was a breach of the ceasefire talks between the insurgents and the government, hence it became a moral burden on the abductors.”

The questions arising from that claim are many and some of them include: When did criminals, which we insist the Boko Haram insurgents are, start to develop ‘moral burden’? At what point did the federal government enter into a ceasefire agreement with Boko Haram and what is the nature of this ‘truce’ given the potentially explosive case of Leah Sharibu who was left behind with the insurgents? What terrorist gang will let go of over 100 girls without asking for anything in return? If, as President Muhammadu Buhari and his officials repeatedly claim, Boko Haram has been ‘technically defeated’ and every inch of Nigerian territory restored under effective federal control, how come that these terrorists are still roaming freely unchallenged in the North East? Besides, it ought to concern the federal government that the motorcade of Boko Haram that returned the girls to Dapchi was hailed into and out of town by jubilant residents.

If there is anything that the current administration is yet to understand, it is that accountability in government is not just about dodgy book keeping or dishing out cheap propaganda. In informing citizens about issues of public good, government must be credible, sensible and minimally logical. In a democracy, the most unpardonable crime a government can commit is to insult the intelligence of the elite as this government has done several times. That explains why many Nigerians are cynical about the official version of what transpired in this sordid Dapchi saga.

While we give the federal government the benefit of the doubt on the claim that no money was paid Boko Haram to secure the release of the girls, we nonetheless state very clearly that appeasement and negotiation with terrorists as an official policy devalues the state. Once terrorists and their sponsors know they can easily arm-twist a government, they have a ready source of money with which to reinvest in new arms supplies for the next escapade. In societies where governments negotiate and pay ransom for kidnapping, the insurgency label is not only a selling point for organised crime, it can also become self-perpetuating.

More disturbing is that repeated attacks on schools by the insurgents have created fear in many vulnerable students and their parents and is affecting the attitude to education with Boko Haram (whose guiding philosophy is ‘western education is sinful’) winning the psychological war. So emboldened were the insurgents who returned the abducted Dapchi girls that they took time to lecture their parents never to send the children back to school. Yet, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), when children are denied opportunity for education “not only are their lives shattered, the future of the nation is stolen.”

While we urge a quick resolution of the Leah Sharibu dilemma, what the Dapchi tragedy has shown very clearly is that the insurgents still possess sufficient capacity to capture as many of our school girls as they want, which then means we have left our children at the mercy of violent predators who hide under the guise of Islamic religion to perpetrate evil.

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In informing citizens about issues of public good, government must be credible, sensible and minimally logical. In a democracy, the most unpardonable crime a government can commit is to insult the intelligence of the elite as this government has done several times. That explains why many Nigerians are cynical about the official version of what transpired in this sordid Dapchi saga