Until now, I didn’t believe any representative of the Nigerian government would raise their voice during a conversation with parents of the missing Chibok schoolgirls. Government exists to protect life and property, and, where it fails as in the case of the Chibok schoolgirls, it should at least feel guilty. I thought no Nigerian leader could look the distraught parents in the face and still speak words that hurt.
I was proved wrong on Thursday, as I read with disbelief what “Mama Taraba” Aisha Alhassan told the Chibok parents during a meeting in Aso Villa. Here were agonising parents transported from Chibok by the #BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) movement to receive consolation from the powers that be. Here were parents expecting the presidency to tell them when to expect their long lost daughters. The presence of Hajiya Alhassan, who is also Nigeria’s minister of women affairs, must have reassured them that there was a mother who would protect their interests. How then could Alhassan, a mother and grandmother who is still hoping to be awarded the governorship of Taraba State, have spat on their faces?
“Mama Taraba”, first, told the grieving parents they were not invited to the villa. Then, she reportedly told them that the girls were not kidnapped under the current government, “so why are you harassing us?” As if the diatribe was not enough, Minister Alhassan reminded them: “You wanted schools, you wanted hospitals, you wanted this and that… you wanted so many things.”
BBOG leader Oby Ezekwesili was said to have rebuked Alhassan for not being sensitive to the parents’ feelings. But did the minister show any remorse? Not likely. A group named Taraba Women for Democracy Network had to issue a statement expressing shock and calling on all Taraba women to rise against the woman “who wants to be our first female governor” for acting like “a typical Jezebel with wickedness and callousness towards these poor parents who travelled all the way from Askira Uba to Abuja”.
Up until the time of this writing, I have not heard that “Mama Taraba” has apologised for the alleged insult or replied the women’s group from Taraba. Does it therefore mean that she uttered those words in the presence of parents whose daughters had been missing for almost two years?
Not many can live by the philosophy of the parents of the 219 Chibok schoolgirls. I can’t imagine how I could have stayed alive for 21 months (God forbid!) without my daughter and still wait to be told stories. Some of the girls’ parents have died already. But, were I one of them, I would have been the first to be reported dead. From the minute I received the news, I would not eat or drink until I saw my daughter. I would have raced to Sambisa Forest, perhaps alone, and fought the terrorists until I dropped dead.
So, I really applaud the parents who have been attending meetings with and listening to overfed government officials. And how much more, when they listened to a minister pouring insult on their traumatised souls!
While the parents must have reached the lowest depth of despair by now, the nation might have turned the Chibok disaster into a comic affair. President Buhari, for his part, told the parents that he did not know where the girls were. He promised to constitute a panel that would investigate the circumstances of the kidnap. Hugh? Was Alhassan speaking for the presidency also?
Nobody should be blamed for expressing doubts about Chibok anymore. President Goodluck Jonathan initially didn’t believe the kidnap story was true. Later, he and other government officials kept saying they knew where the girls were and promising to rescue them. Twenty-one months after, another president is seeking an inquiry into the affair. Doesn’t someone smell a rat?
One theory that gained ground shortly after the abduction was that it was a hoax organised by politicians to blackmail the government of President Jonathan in an election year. A fortnight after the Chibok story broke, a woman (not “Mama Taraba”) asked some probing questions. PDP woman leader Kema Chikwe, at a prayer session for “the security and peace of the nation” on April 30, 2014, asked: “How did it happen? Who saw it happen? Who did not see it happen? Who is behind this?” The same Chikwe praying for the kidnap victims was later described as insensitive for asking those simple questions. When, a columnist asked at the time, did we start accepting every statement as a dogma that must not be questioned?
As it appears, Chikwe has not been alone. Perhaps Alhassan too had viewed the Chibok parents as impostors, hence her vituperations. There are still sceptics who believe that just as no one knows what Boko Haram is today, nobody knows how information is manipulated to achieve certain interests in this age of terrorism: They reason that, at first, we were told 129 girls were kidnapped; later, the number became 234, and then 276. Could one truck or four Hilux vans have been used to abduct 276 girls even if they were packed like sardines? Some girls that later escaped implicated some local people and some people in the same school where the crime was committed. Could 30 trucks or vans have moved into Chibok and departed with 276 girls undetected?
I see no justification for Minister Alhassan’s attack on the Chibok parents, except that she perhaps had some doubts too. I see no other reason for the effrontery of asking the Chibok parents to stop harassing the current government. Or scolding them for making demands. Or reminding them they were not invited to the presidential villa.
The parents were really longsuffering. As I stated, if I were one of them [God forbid!], I wouldn’t have had the disposition to attend any meeting with any government official in the first place. And if I did, I would have punched Alhassan’s nose if she dared add insult to injury.
For failing to empathise with the troubled Chibok parents, Alhassan has simply put her name in the black book of not just the parents from Chibok but all parents in the world. It’s bad enough that she spoke as minister of women affairs; what if she had been sworn in as the governor of Taraba State?
— By ANIEBO NWAMU