HE hasn’t been sworn in yet – that happens on May 29 - and already, Nigeria’s President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari is acting more presidential than outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan. His remarks on the anniversary of the over 200 Chibok girls’ abduction is one indication.
It was Buhari and not Jonathan who issued a statement on April 13, that read in part: “Today, we remember the kidnapping of 276 girls from a school in Chibok one year ago. This crime has rightly caused outrage both in Nigeria and across the world. Today is a time to reflect on the pain and suffering of the victims, their friends and families.
“I want to assure all of them, and particularly the parents, that when my new Administration takes office at the end of May, we will do everything we can to defeat Boko Haram. We will act differently from the Government we replace: we hear the anguish of our citizens and intend to respond accordingly.”
“This new approach must also begin with honesty. We do not know if the Chibok girls can be rescued. Their whereabouts remain unknown. As much as I wish to, I cannot promise that we can find them. But I say to every parent, family member and friend of the children that my Government will do everything in its power to bring them home.
Make that “Find Our Girls” now.
“What I can pledge, with absolute certainty, is that starting on the first day of my Administration Boko Haram will know the strength of our collective will and commitment to rid this nation of terror, and bring back peace and normalcy to all the affected areas.”
Better to tell bitter truth
That statement alone highlighted the difference between the two leaders. One wonders why Nigerians don’t swear Buhari in earlier and get on with business.
It may have simply been rhetoric on Buhari’s part but he sounded genuine, if not pragmatic, a change from Jonathan’s indifference on several issues and belatedly, many empty promises.
The latter may have had the best of intentions but declarations like “We’re going to defeat Boko Haram in one month,” which is what he promised in the run-up to last month’s presidential elections, were always going to haunt him. Better to tell the truth, however bitter, than make promises you know you can’t keep.
Now about the missing girls, Buhari’s government should try these four things to hasten the search.
Drop the slogan “Bring Back Our Girls” for “Find the Girls” which is already being used in some circles. Like Buhari rightly said, we don’t know where the girls are and those holding them certainly aren’t about to bring them back to us. Thus we have to find them.
Raise the bounty on Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau’s head. Currently, it stands at $7 million, set by the US in June 2013 for anyone with information leading to the militant leader’s arrest. How about tripling it to $25 million, which Africa’s biggest economy can afford, for the man who has caused so much pain and destruction? People will start talking.
Share the girls’ profiles beyond Nigeria’s borders. There’s a chance some of the girls were moved out of the country or married off as Boko Haram claims so, more than holding up close-ups of their pictures during protest marches, the parents and guardians should give detailed descriptions of their children. What were they like, their hobbies, strengths, aspirations, and mannerisms? You never know when people elsewhere might pick up on those.
Do the Amber Alert
Replicate the AMBER Alert. Started in the US in 1996 in memory of a 9-year-old girl, Amber Hagerman who was abducted while riding her bike in Arlington, Texas, and was later found murdered, the programme is used not just in the US but also Europe and is basically a partnership between law-enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transportation agencies and communication firms.
The goal is to raise urgent and persistent awareness to galvanize entire communities to assist in the search for and safe recovery of missing children.
Had such a programme been in place in Nigeria, those girls could have been rescued many months ago. There have been several reports of sightings, with an eyewitness even telling the BBC she saw more than 50 of them alive just in late March in the north-eastern town of Gwoza.
Apparently, she got close enough to ask if “they really were the Chibok girls.” If communities had been facilitated with say mobile phones, all she had to do was send a text message to a community leader who would then alert the police and other law enforcers and who knows, they girls could have been home by now.
Now go find them.