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The Sambisa Forest Could not Hold Our Girls Forever

Women react during a protest demanding security forces to search harder for 200 abducted schoolgirls, outside Nigeria's parliament in Abuja

By Prof. R. A. Ipinyomi, University of Ilorin, Nigeria

There were moments in the struggle against the militants when it seemed to the general public that our president, Dr Jonathan and his administration had given up on Boko Haram. It was like they were saying to Boko Haram “Let heaven fall and see who would lose the most”. In those moments the militant Islamic sect seemed also to have waxed stronger as they took many strategic steps including burning down church buildings, stealing away over 200 school girls from Government Girls Secondary School Chibok. We believe that the stolen girls, together with many other men and women they kept stealing, were taken to somewhere in Sambisa Forest. Sambisa Forest, before this episode, has been unknown but remains as a very fertile land area and mostly sparsely inhabited and therefore home for nomadic and local settlers.

Women react during a protest demanding security forces to search harder for 200 abducted schoolgirls, outside Nigeria's parliament in AbujaBoko Haram strategy became predictable as soon as they suspected that the Nigeria government was not ready to confront them beyond a cosmetic declaration of a State of Emergency in the areas where the militant Islamic operate. The Nigeria government failed to carry the public along with up to date information or even equipping its mouth organs like NTA to cover the whole events. Hence Boko Haram had a field day capturing one town after another. In particular they captured several towns and villages in Borno South senatorial district and also in Adamawa north areas and moved with the captured girls to the Sambisa Forest. The captured girls awaken the public and brought the much needed publicity Boko Haram had been waiting for. Boko Haram did not want anyone to do or publish on other issues but they were taking steps that would bring them and their evil activities as headline news.

Our overall fear was our suspicion that our president didn’t know what had been going on and if he knew he also knew that those sponsoring the Islamist sect were too powerful for him to confront head on. Secondly we also suspect that the president has been investing too much on his re-election and may have been afraid to hurt any constituency that may stop him. As some investigation by the Australian is suggesting some individuals in the Nigerian military might have compromised their positions and allegiance. Thus the major strategy adopted by the administration was that of merely protecting the presidency and forgetting the three states in the north east corner of Nigeria. When the government officers was boasting either of pushing Boko Haram to the fringes or of knowing where the girls were kept Boko Haram might only have retreated to a position where they could reorganize. Boko Haram overran Giwa barracks and many other military institutions many times. The analysis of the compromises and the performances of a number of the Nigeria military generals should be thoroughly investigated in the interest of having a unifying military force henceforth. We understand that extreme corruption, outright misplacement of loyalty, nepotism, religious or regional factors was blatantly at play. All these together with a seemingly “carefree on the issue” president prolonged the reign of Boko Haram and increased the terrors and their choices in their weapons of war.

However it could be recalled that on Thursday 16 October 2014, the chief of the Nigeria’s armed forces, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh announced that there was a ceasefire agreement with Boko Haram. His announcement had been supported by a number of senior government officers but Boko Haram has not spoken. We need action rather than words at this time because we still hear about alleged Boko Haram militants wreaking chaos and havoc in the areas. Government spoke persons are not the right people to defend either Boko Haram or listing reasons why pockets of killing and maiming are still being perpetrated by factions of the militants. A ceasefire must be honoured as a ceasefire and everywhere, even by the Islamic sect.

How have we got this far, where the Nigerians are turning the guns against each other? Boko Haram has been said to be an offshoot of several earlier Islamic sects and movements especially originating from the northern part of Nigeria. There have been several inequalities in Africa societies and the inequalities are glaring here in Nigeria and especially in the northern part. Originally the movement started from the elites of the north who have both been trained in both the Islamic and socialist schools of thought. The Islamic region believes and preaches fairness and sharing with the have less. The Communists also share on equality backing their philosophy especially with full employment, provision of accommodation and other social welfare. Here in Nigeria many of the political and military leaders have been from that same northern region. What have been happening are the refusal and the inability of northern elites to face the true fact of developing self. For example of the 218 girls expected to be released 180 of them are from Christian homes. If Borno State had been predominantly a Muslim State why should we have such abnormal figures? Simple, because the very few Muslim politicians in the north are extremely rich and would normally train their children abroad while the majority could not even afford the daily feeding of their daughters. They prefer to marry them out early. My father told me in the early 1950s that if you refuse to train your children you are denying them tomorrow food.

The northern elites must agree for a truce and let us start the job from the very beginning. Artificial education programmes had been developed for this region before now but each of them failed because of insincerity and religious confusion. If allegedly the northern Nigeria elites, the Christian Communities in Nigeria (my own constituency), the politicians had failed us why should the international community sit aloof or indifference to the happenings in Nigeria since 2009? The world is only interested on the sensational pieces and not the big pictures or the entire story. Right now Ebola is ravaging but many countries are only busy closing their boarders almost unconcerned, waiting until their presidents get Ebola.

Let us recall a man in very early history Noah, whom many people make jokes about and his ark and equating Noah as being the first stock market manipulator in history by his floating a company while the whole world was in liquidation. In reality however Noah was a survivor. Noah was saved from the deluge of destruction that engulfed his world and his greatest contribution is that he set out to rebuild that world. We don’t read about him sitting down and crying or wringing his hands in despair, although we are sure that he had his moments. Noah emerged from his floating bunker and began the task of rebuilding a shattered world from scratch. He got busy and picked up the pieces and, slowly but surely, society was regenerated. Nigeria needs to rebuild her own shattered society and turning around the future of these girls for good. We are recently encouraged by a plight of similar young girl from Pakistan called Malala Yousafzai who turned such a misfortune to rebuilding her life.

Similarly the Nazi’s plan was to exterminate every Jew on earth and Nazi earmarked on the destruction of Jews. Not one Jew was meant to survive just as every Christian, or those who may not look or think like them must have been marked for extinction by Boko Haram and their sponsors. Hence these girls are survivors of Boko Haram just as many of us are unknowingly. We are all survivors that should necessarily give us the moral duty to rebuild our society where we can tolerate each other and live in harmony and true love. What we may not realize is the fact that each of us may have been marked for death with a number. Hiltler marked every Jew he was able to put in the concentration camp with a number. If you are lucky to still meet an elderly Jew survivor you will see that every time one of them rolls up his shirt sleeve to put on another Hitler’s death tattooed number will be revealed. Today we must become more sensitive to the feelings of these girls, their fathers and mothers, other children of family and friends, because these girls have gone through much more than imaginable in our estimation. They have become superheroes. After all they went through, to be able to live normal lives again, to continue their education, to marry and bring up their children into this world, to carry on life, businesses, relationships, are mind boggling achievements. We must purpose in our hearts not to make it more difficult for them. Who will rebuild these children and nurturing them properly if not you and I?


Prof. R. A. Ipinyomi

ipinyomira@yahoo.co.uk or/and raipinyomi@unilorin.edu.ng


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