In 2014, when President Goodluck Jonathan announced his government was exploring ways to negotiate the release of the schoolgirls who were kidnapped in the middle of the night from their Government Girls’ Secondary School hostel in Chibok, Borno State, by Boko Haram terrorists, Muhammadu Buhari was one of the politicians who jumped on Jonathan, warning the government must never negotiate with terrorists. Four years on, Jonathan and Buhari have swapped positions. What caused Jonathan sleepless nights in 2014 is now a source of anguish to Buhari. In the relatively recent history of abduction of schoolgirls in Nigeria, politicians must be careful what they wish their enemies.
Following the abduction of students at the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State, on Monday, February 19, 2018, Buhari is now listening to the same grating music that played endlessly into Jonathan’s ears four years ago. To use a tired cliché, Buhari is now consuming the same humble pie he criticised in 2014. He announced last week, to the astonishment of the nation, that his government was negotiating the release of the kidnapped Dapchi schoolgirls. Whatever happened to Buhari’s previous view that government must not negotiate with terrorists?
When Buhari met with former United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson moments before the man was sacked by President Donald Trump last week, Buhari revealed his government’s position was to rescue the schoolgirls alive, hence his preferred the option of negotiating with Boko Haram rather than use military force. It was exactly the same argument that Jonathan advanced in 2014 when he was under pressure from the international community and local civil society groups to save the kidnapped Chibok girls. So, Buhari’s decision to negotiate with Boko Haram to free the Dapchi schoolgirls signals the President has committed a political blunder.
Opposition politicians, including Buhari, said in 2014 they didn’t like the idea of government negotiating with kidnappers. Negotiating with a terrorist group, they said, suggested the Jonathan government was in extreme anxiety to achieve results quickly because the longer the Chibok schoolgirls remained in captivity, the greater the pressure from parents and the international community for Jonathan’s government to free the girls by force or any means whatsoever. There was the perception then that a government that negotiates with a terrorist organisation is desperate, weak, and clueless.
In the current environment, negotiating with Boko Haram will do more damage to Buhari’s image and persona. The myth that Buhari is an ascetic and no-nonsense man has already been shattered by so many unfulfilled promises, including the gaffes the Buhari government committed in the past two years.
If Buhari believed it was wrong for Jonathan to engage Boko Haram in negotiations following the kidnap of the Chibok schoolgirls in 2014, why is Buhari travelling the same route after the abduction of the Dapchi schoolgirls? It is hypocritical and inconsistent for Buhari to practise in 2018 what he criticised in 2014.
There are far too many risks involved in negotiating with Boko Haram. First, there is the danger the government could be in conversation with scammers and fake abductors of the Dapchi schoolgirls who would be keen to extract as much money as they could from government negotiators and still snub the agreement reached with government. This is the risk Buhari is running by negotiating with Boko Haram. For years, this terror group has proved to be devious, unreliable, untrustworthy, evasive, vague, and creepy in the way it dealt with Jonathan’s government. Buhari might wish to give Jonathan a call to learn how he (Jonathan) handled Boko Haram’s bogus representatives, their endless requests for money, their inability to commit to anything in writing, and their sheer refusal to release the number of hostages to which they agreed.
Boko Haram knows how to humiliate government officials. It knows how to play on the emotion of parents and the rising public expectations that something good would emerge from negotiations intended to free abducted schoolgirls. In short, Boko Haram knows how to frustrate government’s efforts.
Last week, Buhari taunted Jonathan’s handling of the kidnap of the Chibok girls when he said he responded in a more effective and meaningful way to the abduction of the Dapchi schoolgirls. Quite frankly, the two kidnap scandals should not be used by Buhari to score cheap political points. Neither Buhari nor Jonathan responded promptly and robustly to the kidnap of the Dapchi schoolgirls and the Chibok students. It is cheeky for Buhari to aim to take credit from one of the two adversities that hit the nation twice in four years. On both occasions, incompetence, nonchalance, inattentiveness, and poor handling by government officials enabled Boko Haram kidnappers to get away with their hostages.
During his flying visit to Yobe State last week, Buhari said: “The Federal Government’s response to the unfortunate abduction of the schoolgirls is a clear departure from the insensitivity of the past administration, which looked the other way while the Chibok girls were taken away in 2014 and held in captivity for over three years.” Really? It is not good for Buhari to engage in unnecessary point-scoring from a grave crime that deeply exposed the weaknesses in our national security.
Buhari said further, to the delight of an audience that was easy to fool: “Due to our commitment, over 100 Chibok girls have been rescued and reunited with their families, sent back to school and empowered with requisite skills … I have directed the Nigerian Army, Air Force, Police, Department of State Services and the rest of the security agencies to find the girls wherever they are.”
Paradoxically, hours after Buhari ended his short visit to Dapchi, parents of the abducted schoolgirls and community leaders expressed doubt and cynicism over Buhari’s promise to rescue the kidnapped girls. The parents said they were not persuaded by Buhari’s pledge to deploy military might to free their daughters: “We are not convinced about efforts to rescue our girls because we haven’t seen anything. We haven’t seen much of the military work.”
Those were the words of Kachalla Bukar, a representative of parents of the abducted Dapchi schoolgirls.
Re: When citizens are broken by poor governance
The major problems that have weighed heavily on Nigeria are tribalism, religion, and other primordial sentiments. This is why all the unions in the country have become uncharacteristically dumb. The day the nation will rise above these ills will mark the beginning of our liberation.
It is a shame that the Federal Government cannot provide or maintain basic infrastructure, yet the government budgets billions or even trillions of naira for all that. Only time will tell the catastrophic effects the current rate of youth unemployment or youth under-employment would have on the country in the coming years. God bless you, sir, for this piece.
– Chigozie Chrisantus