After more than 900 days in captivity, 21 of the famed Chibok girls regained freedom last Thursday. It was news very few people saw coming. And when it filtered out, many wanted to confirm and re-confirm. The exciting news happening in the week the world celebrated the Day of the Girl Child was most welcoming. It has raised a lot of hope that many more of the girls may yet regain freedom from the criminals and bring closure to this sad narrative of our country.
Yet, even in the middle of the “celebration” over the release of the girls, a few persons could not accept the reality that the abduction of the girls from Government Secondary School Chibok actually took place. I can only have pity for such persons who having over the period refused to believe or having disbelieved all along, have gone ahead to weave conspiracy theories around the whole incident. The best thing is to allow them wallow in their unbelief and ignorance while we move on.
Moving on means we still have to sustain the pressure on government to do all that is necessary to secure the release of the remaining girls numbering about 200. This is because, but for the pressure galvanised by the unwavering commitment of the members of the Bring Back Our Girls group, the country would have long forgotten about these girls, as we are wont to do in situations like this. The history of our country is dotted with unresolved crimes which leave the victims in a terribly state and often without proper closure.
I know how many people dismissed the BBOG group, especially one of its noticeable leaders, Oby Ezekwesili, as troublemakers and irritants who would not allow the families of the girls to let go even if they wanted to. To such persons, the victims of the Chibok abduction, just like in many other cases of crimes, were mere statistics. They did not represent real lives they could relate with, just some distant Nigerians suffering somewhere. Yet, the failure or incapability of the state to resolve the Chibok girls’ situation represented our collective failure as a people to resolve crime.
That the Chibok case happened at all and has dragged for this long tells a lot about our quality, standards and efficiency of security across the country and our ability to resolve crimes when they happen. Little wonder that since Chibok, we have had many more cases of abductions of citizens; maybe, not as dramatic and on a large scale as Chibok’s. We can thus understand the increase in the incidents of kidnappings that have happened in public schools since then, even recently in Lagos State.
While efforts are intensified in getting back all the girls, it is equally important to ensure that the rescued ones and their families are given the best possible quality of psychosocial support they require at this point. I recall expressing my worry about the public display and parade of an earlier lone Chibok girl rescued earlier in the year. All that photo ops with the President inside the Presidential Villa for someone just rescued from a horrendous captivity did not appear very necessary to me. It didn’t seem that the welfare and interest of the rescued girl was as high as the public relations interest of the government. The media exposure of the latest 21 girls still seems to follow that pattern.
There was equally this distraction from the main story of the released girls. That was the controversy whether the girls were in fact swapped for some Boko Haram fighters in state custody. While the government said there was no exchange of fighters, some news reports insisted that four of the fighters were in fact traded for the 21 girls. What I could gleam from the government statement was that the release of the 21 girls was unconditional by Boko Haram to show commitment to the negotiations. So, in fact, there may yet be a possible swap or some form of trade-off in future, even if none happened now. I will rather focus on the release of the girls and actions to help rehabilitate them wholesomely back to normal life than with what the state offers to guarantee their return. That may be some security issues that may never be open to the public, at least not at this time.
While the release of the 21 Chibok girls was fantastic news to celebrate the girl child, something worrisome was being reported in Katsina. The report said another of those dubious marriages involving an underage girl happened with the endorsement and protection of the Katsina Emirate Council. A certain Isyaku Tanko had petitioned the police over the alleged abduction and forceful marriage of his daughter, Habiba, whose age he put at 14, as of when the abduction happened last August.
Tanko accused one Jamilu Lawal of forcefully taking his daughter from the Government Senior Secondary School, Kudun Kankara, Kastina State and taking her to the Emir of Katsina’s Palace where he, Jamilu, works. The report indicates that the Emir admitted to the incident but claimed that the girl had converted from Christianity to Islam “on her own volition” and had “indicated her interest in marrying Jamilu, who is from the same area with her, and that the Emirate Council married her to her heartthrob, who paid N50,000 as dowry.”
The Emir’s palace further claimed that the father of the girl had written an apology to the palace after discovering that he had made wrong accusations to council. The news report said a copy of the apology letter was presented to journalists.
The above is the height of madness and irresponsibility, to put it mildly. It does not matter if the parents of the girl acceded to the said marriage. To the extent that the girl is under 18, she cannot legally be married under Nigerian law. And the police again deserve all the condemnation for failing to act on a petition and information of forceful seizure of a school girl, report of conversion of religion and marriage to a man, all within a few weeks. Instead, the police handed over their statutory powers to investigate and resolve an alleged crime to the Katsina Emirate Council to resolve, conscious that the same council is cited as an accessory to the crime.
This latest act of criminality is one too many, recalling how a certain Ese Oruru was abducted in Bayelsa, by one Yinusa Dahiru and taken to Kano and again allegedly married by the abductor, after claiming that the victim had converted to Islam and agreed to marry him. The police, the National Human Rights Commission and the Ministry of Women Affairs must speedily get involved in this Katsina sordid drama and rescue the present victim. We cannot continue with this form of criminality and impunity.
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