September 29, 2020

When is Nigerian life worthy of respect?

Tomorrow, Friday, October 30, will be the 200th day since the Chibok girls were abducted. The Federal Government has promised that following an expected development from ongoing negotiations with Boko Haram members, their release is “imminent.”

If you have been following this tale from the start, you will not be a re-baptised Thomas if you took the Federal Government’s promise less than a pinch of Abakiliki salt. Given how unreassuring their conduct has been since this saga started, why should we begin to believe them now?

The case of the Chibok girls makes me wonder if, were I ever in a similar situation, Nigeria would be bothered to search for me. Does Nigeria consider my life worthy of respect?

The last Israeli-Hamas skirmishes snowballed from the kidnap of three teenagers; since the filmed beheading of Steve Foley and other western hostages by the IS, their nations have become more strident in their confrontation of these barbaric fundamentalist collectives; the prosecution of the South Korean captain who fled his sinking ship (in his underwear!) and “watched” school pupils drown are instances of nations displaying the incalculable worth of their citizens’ lives. What would it have taken Nigeria to treat its abducted citizens with a similar courtesy?

Lately, Oyamuyefa Alamieyeseigha, a son of former Bayelsa State governor, Diepreye, was reported killed in Dubai. It would have been a routine report if not for the victim’s surname.

In a startlingly swift reaction, the Federal Government promised to unravel the circumstances surrounding his death. This intervention prompted sports writer and CAF member, Aisha Falode, who also lost her son in controversial circumstances earlier this year in the same Dubai to question why her own son’s death was not deserving of a similar attention.

The swiftness and belatedness, both ironic in equal measure, invite a question those of us who carry the Nigerian passport should ask ourselves, “Who do I have to be in Nigeria to deserve administrative attention?”

And for the Chibok girls, the question is, would they still be within Boko Haram clutches if they were not from a rustic town in a part of Nigeria most people would probably never have heard of? Who do I have to be for my Nigerian life to be worth a premium?

Nigeria, measured by the nostrum of the Federal Government, is a primitive stratified nation of pretenders in power, pretenders out of power and, the insignificant others. The Federal Government, myopic for aeons, perpetuates the anomaly by deeming pretenders worthy of red carpets, security and protocols whilst the nation’s others – all who have never been in power; whose homes and addresses are a shame to humanity, and, whose stories never make the headlines – as insignificant and disposable.

Initially, when the girls were abducted, the Nigerian Army authorities lied brazenly about rescuing the girls and the Federal Government pretended it never happened. Somehow, they would have preferred the story to wane just like the multiple abduction and mass killing stories that have taken place before and since the schoolgirls were abducted.

Except of course, the rest of the world took note and the embarrassment got too intense even for a government that regularly bathes in the mud. To create a new spin, the Nigerian First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, with magisterial pomposity, got on live TV. She not only reminded Boko Haram about the existence of God, she dissolved herself in tears. That was one melodrama that should have warned us of the facetious turn things would take.

It took a visit by Pakistani 17-year-old girl child education activist, Malala Yousafzai, for Mr. President to activate the basic moral step he ought to have since day one. Even then, he did not go to Chibok, and has yet to do so as I write, but summoned the parents from the safety of his enclave in Aso Rock. He offered his usual goodie bag of cash-laden promises. Without a straight face, he even added that after the girls must have been rescued, he would fix their school gate!

A number of Nigerians and non-Nigerians have moved on from the initial frenzy generated for the girls. Some have given up hope that the girls would ever be found and, the abomination has receded from public consciousness. Gradually, it has become another missing $20bn – a mere point of reference when we need to allude to the failures of our nation and its various institutions. Once in a while, when some of Boko Haram’s victims escape from their abductors’ gulag, they return with stories of sexual violence that make one tremble with fear and shame. The 2014 report on Nigeria by Human Rights Watch is alarming.

Despite the apathy that has been cultivated by the passage of time, a dogged few have held the Federal Government to account – either as individuals or groups. They have endured stomach– churning disdain in the process. I commend the #BringBackOurGirls campaigners for their resoluteness and implacability. They have refused to let Nigerians forget about the existence of those girls and for their humanity, they have been harassed, labelled, intimidated and even stigmatised but they have stood their ground.

The visceral nature of state resistance to the #BBOG’s altruism shows that the present administration is more interested in whitewashing its own sepulchre and winning the 2015 elections than in finding those girls. Understandably, the Federal Government and its sedulous assistants have accused the campaigners of politicising the issue, conveniently forgetting that the whole issue was political from the start.

One question they have yet to answer, however, is why do they not consider the #BBOG a partner pursuing the same course with them? Why deem them a threat that must be vanquished from existence? What is it about the existence of this group that gnaws at their nerve that they want to run them out of town? Could it be because the Federal Government is not used to being taken to task over her failings and foibles?

But then, somewhere in the not too far off future, we shall narrate this tale, recall the efforts of the likes of Oby Ezekwesili, Hadiza Bala-Usman and several others, and remember these #BBOG campaigners as those Nigerians who redeemed our humanity.

They remind the nation that life should not be weighed on the scale of social class; government ought not be moved to respond to accidents because of your surname. It should be for one reason only: the fact of your being Nigerian.

Tomorrow, it will be 200 days since the abduction –abomination commenced. The world might have moved on but the way the Jonathan administration resolves its case will go a long way in defining how our Nigerian lives would be “premiumed” on the world’s market.

And that is why none of us should look away.


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