Nigeria is a country of drama. It is a land where events take place in quick succession. One overthrows the other almost on a daily basis. And, as a people who are given to excitement, we hardly have the discipline to follow through any issue. We switch over to anything that comes our way, forgetting, almost compulsively, what was.
The abduction of over 100 schoolgirls in Dapchi some weeks back is a case in point. The story of the abduction is an excellent piece of drama. It was well-choreographed, complete with sensation and exaggeration. It was meant to command and compel attention. And it worked. We were taken in by the make-belief. As a naturally excited people, we went into a frenzy. We analyzed. We argued. We reached conclusions. Then, suddenly, we forgot. We moved on. Other matters came in-between. The talking point now is the second term bid of President Muhammadu Buhari. Every other national issue has been subsumed under the President’s ambition, at least for now. And Dapchi, like Chibok before it, has become a footnote in our national discourse.
The only thing that has sustained the Dapchi drama is the Leah Sharibu factor in the mix. We have fretted over her. But nothing seems to have changed. Perhaps, the only thing we are holding on to now is that the absurd drama called the Dapchi abduction has given us a new national figure called Leah Sharibu.
How did we encounter this young girl? We were told that Boko Haram terrorists made their way into a town called Dapchi in Yobe State and packed over 100 schoolgirls into trailers and drove away. They were not accosted. They were not interrupted or molested. The pattern of the abduction, according to reports, mirrored faithfully the Chibok incident of 2014. Dapchi, they said, was made possible by the unexplained withdrawal of troops from and dismantling of roadblocks in Dapchi. This paved the way for the smooth operation of the terrorists. The story sounded so simple. It was lacking in any form of complexity. Its simplicity almost made it look like child’s play. But that was the story from Yobe State. We took it in.
Then government stepped forward with its magic wand. It sent a fact-finding team to Dapchi. It came back and announced that a certain number of schoolgirls different from what we were earlier told was abducted. It assured us that it had put everything in place to ensure that the girls were returned safely. Weeks later, the minister of defence put a time frame to it. He said the Dapchi girls would be returned within one week. And that was what happened. We were told that the terrorists returned the schoolgirls on their own. That they had a deal with government that it was going to be that way. We were told that they were assured of their safety. To achieve this, the military had to clear the highway for them. The terrorists had a free reign. They dropped off the girls in their school and went away.
That was strange enough. We wanted to reflect on the possibility of giving red carpet treatment to an enemy. But we decided instead to suspend disbelief. It was even stranger that the returned girls were seen clutching their bags. Which bags? What luggage? How did they acquire them? Did the terrorists take their abductees on a shopping spree? What were the bags meant for? What were they carrying? Questions. And more questions. Then more stories and theories followed. All the schoolgirls were returned except one whom they identified as Leah Sharibu. They said the Dapchi girls were returned because they were Muslims. They said the terrorists held on to the Chibok girls because they were Christians. Leah, we were told, was not released because she refused to renounce her Christian faith. The terrorists would have none of that and they decided to hold on to her. Weeks later, they made the drama to assume a more momentous dimension. They said that Leah escaped from captivity but was rearrested. Escaped? How could that have happened? It was a most unlikely possibility. But they had to feed us with that in order to continue to give the story immediacy of appeal.
Since the Dapchi melodrama, stories have been told about how the abduction was stage-managed. We have been told that it was planned by government and masterfully executed to achieve a certain objective. That government wanted to use it to score a political point in the war against terror. That the abduction and release of the schoolgirls within one month would give the impression that government is on top of the situation. That it is working round the clock to win the war against terror. Perhaps, the ploy would have worked. But there were a lot of gaps in the drama presentation. The plot was flawed. It lacked what in literary parlance is called verisimilitude. And so the story ended up not being believable. Many believe today that no real abduction took place. Government, so far, has not been able to make us believe otherwise. The Dapchi story has, therefore, remained questionable.
But then, as we already noted, the only reason why we have not forgotten the Dapchi drama is the involvement of Leah. It looks like she is being held back for a reason. The Dapchi story, if it must endure, must be made to rest on a plank, that is that the incident was not as simple as we have imagined. A complex dimension must be infused into it to make it look real. That complex aspect is Leah. With her continued stay in the custody of her abductors, government will be believed to be doing something to ensure her release. Nigerians, particularly Christians, will continue to feel agitated. They will continue to insist on her release. That way, the Dapchi drama will continue to endure, and, if possible, acquire a veneer of believability. Were it not so, we hardly can imagine what the detention of a single girl out of over 100 would achieve. It is meant to draw attention. It is meant to further dramatise the poor show that is the Dapchi abduction.
Beyond that, Dapchi is meant to divert attention. Having reached its dead end over Chibok, government is in desperate search for an anchor. It has exhausted all its strategies and assurances on Chibok. To say or do something new, government had to invent Dapchi. Leah is supposed to give meaning to the absurd display. But it has not worked. The release of Leah, whenever it will be procured, will still not make it work.
Significantly, however, the story must go on. The government of the day must continue to find reasons to stay on for another term. That was what Buhari did a few days ago. He has told us that he wants another term despite counsel from Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida. Buhari has brushed them aside and stepped forward to confront the monster of reelection. As things stand now, Chibok or Dapchi will no longer be the issue. The President has taken a plunge. That was expected. It would have been cowardly to do otherwise. As he travels along the reelection highway, Dapchi and Chibok can only be used as campaign issues for and against. Until then, Leah remains our source of sustenance. She is the only reason we still remember that an abduction took place, real or arranged.