School should be a fun place – an environment filled with wonder and adventure. Ordinarily, every child should look forward to being in school. The experience should be magical. But quite unfortunately, for millions of Nigerian children, especially those in the Northern part of the country, school has become synonymous with torture. One only needs to look at the expression on the faces of the students of Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe, in Zamfara State after their release from their abductors on Tuesday to understand how torturous schooling has become for these kids. Their looks depict fear, shock, agony and confusion. One of them, Hafsat Anka, said their abductors threatened “to kill, fry and eat them if they misbehaved.”
Hafsat also said they trekked over a long distance from the school, had a stopover for some hours before they finally reached their destination. I still wonder how 279 students – (assuming we are accepting the state governor’s figure as police had initially said 317 girls were abducted) – were able to trek for hours with gunmen without being challenged by anybody whatsoever? To further show how useless the nation’s security apparatus is, the gunmen boasted to the children that they had defeated Nigeria’s security officials. Can anyone dispute their claim? How can bandits invade a school, whisk away hundreds of children successfully and walked them for hours without being challenged in a country worth its name? Hafsat continued her narration thus: “There was no clean water or good food, and we felt we had already spent years even though it was our first day and the bandits kept firing into the air to scare us. They were very young boys with one elder they called Kasalle or Yaya who gave them instructions, and he was the one that stopped them from touching any of us.”
This is the despicable state of today’s Nigeria. Everything has turned upside down. Our leaders have turned the absurd to the normal. In our own eyes, securing the release of students who shouldn’t have been kidnapped in the first instance, is being turned into an achievement by our leaders. Nigerian leaders hold stakeholders’ meetings with bandits; they pamper them, pay them huge ransom, and appease them like gods. They even use their agents to tell us not to call bandits criminals because doing so will further get them angry. What is more? Each time abducted students are released, our President tells us how happy he is and that ends it. No one is arrested, no one is punished. Yet, the last time I checked, the oldest and simplest justification for government is as a protector. Governments are put in place and saddled with the responsibility of providing security, basic economic infrastructure and welfare. But, our leaders have shamelessly abdicated these responsibilities. When the Jangebe students were released, all we could hear from the Zamfara State Governor, Bello Muhammad Matawalle, was: “Alhamdulillah! It gladdens my heart to announce the release of the abducted students of GGSS Jangebe from captivity. This follows the scaling of several hurdles laid against our efforts. I enjoin all well-meaning Nigerians to rejoice with us as our daughters are now safe.” Up till now, the governor has not told us how many people have been arrested or about to be prosecuted for this criminal act. He only told us that Nigerians would be shocked if he revealed the names of the people behind the abduction. So, as far as the governor is concerned, it is better for him to spare Nigerians the pains of being shocked than name or arrest the tormentors of “our daughters!”
The governor also wants us to believe that the state did not pay a ransom for the release of these girls. I have a feeling that Nigerian leaders think all of us are like them – stupid, foolish and bereft of the ability to think. If not, how can a governor be so bold to insult our collective intelligence with such nonsensical statement? He is not alone though in this orgy of silly outbursts among our leaders. Our minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has also told us that mass abduction of students is commonplace across the world even in the most developed countries, implying that Nigerians should live with it. I guess in the next five to ten years, some of these people will be terribly ashamed of the senseless utterances that came out of their mouths all in a bid to sound politically correct.
We know that Africa, especially the sub Saharan Africa, has always been the worst place in the world to grow as a child. Many children die in the region before the age of five due to lack of health facilities, poverty, hunger and war. The food insecurity crisis in Afghanistan is no longer news to us; the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo; the decades of war in South Sudan, conflicts in Burundi, and the civil war in Somalia, etc are no longer strange tales. Our poor statistics as the worst region to raise a child is commonplace too. A report by an international NGO, Save the Children, which ranks 172 countries based on where childhood is the most protected and where it’s been eroded the most, says that children in sub-Saharan Africa are among the worst off in the world. But in spite of all these negative indices, I doubt if there has ever been a time that African children have become such targets of mass abduction as we are currently witnessing in Nigeria. Nigeria is not at war, yet its children are not safe. Mass kidnappings of children here and there! There is no point chronicling these episodes. It is sickening. Many of them are still with their captors as I write. Six years after, some of the 276 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Chibok, Borno State, in 2014 are still missing. February 19 this year marked the third anniversary of Leah Sharibu, the Christian girl among the 110 kidnapped students of Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State, with her captors. Her only offence was being a Christian. She was held back in captivity when her mates were released by the insurgents.
As far back as 2019, I wrote an article on Nigeria breeding children of anger every day. I also wrote another article same year on a nation that values cows more than its children. The situation has not changed. In fact, it has grown worse. Now, nobody even pays attention to the plight of Nigerian children. We would rather discuss the welfare of cows, killer herders and bandits than focus on the Nigerian child. Besides, banditry and kidnapping have become some of the most lucrative and successful business ventures in Nigeria courtesy of our leaders. Nigerian leaders pamper criminals maybe because they know that they are also criminals. After all, the fact that our leaders steal from government coffers is incontrovertible. For many of them, there is no difference between government and personal purse. Everything is their money. Our governors prefer to leave their schools unprotected, unequipped and pay billions in ransoms to faceless bandits. Sometimes bandits even tell us that the money government officials claim to have paid them is not the actual money they received. Our leaders hold meetings with bandits and killers of the people and display pictures of their meetings without shame. For years, governors of states with the worst education indices in the country have failed to engage the stakeholders in the education sector with a view to finding solutions to the myriads of problems in the sector. But they freely hold “fruitful” discussions with bandits and hundreds of students are kidnapped moments after the so-called fruitful meetings. Believe me, if the money invested both at the state and federal levels in appeasing bandits and insurgents in this country is invested in our education, Nigeria’s education sector would have long been on the road to recovery.
The criminals abducting these children are also smart. They make sure they don’t lose in any way. When they are paid, they release some and hold on to the others so that they can keep using the ones with them as baits for negotiation. In our euphoria, we thank God for the rescue of the ones that are released and simply forget the remaining children in their dens. And because, the cases are so rampant nowadays, the media soon lose count of the ones still in captivity. What happens to these remaining children? Their captives either turn them to wives or servants. Either way, they win. This is pathetic.
With the way things are, there is no point comparing the lots of Nigerian children with their counterparts in saner climes. I mean, how do you place a Nigerian child side by side with children from Luxembourg, Finland, Sweden, or Norway for instance? It’s like comparing sleep with death. Most Nigerian children have probably accepted their lot. Thankfully, many of them don’t even know what they are missing. So, ignorance is bliss. This notwithstanding, my passionate appeal to government at all levels is to at least be merciful on these children and allow them to live their impoverished life in peace. After all, they know how to protect their own children. Enough of these absurd abductions!
Olabisi Deji-Folutile is the Editor-in-Chief, Frnaktalknow.com and member, Nigerian Guild of Editors. Email: [email protected]