It has been more than two weeks since the media in Nigeria reported that gunmen suspected to be Fulani bandits broke into Prince Academy, a private high school located in Damba-Kasaya community in Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State, northwest Nigeria, and abducted seven students who were receiving classes in preparation for their upcoming Junior Secondary Certificate Examination. The gunmen also abducted a female teacher from the school.
But surprisingly, since the incident took place, not only has the Kaduna State government been unusually quiet about it, but the entire nation has carried on as if nothing ever happened in what appears to be a cynical conspiracy of silence over the incident.
Incidentally, the Kaduna student’s abduction would not be the first time that gunmen would abduct a large number of students from a school since the emergence of the Boko Haram insurgency and armed banditry in northern Nigeria more than a decade ago. It would, in reality, be the third time that it has happened.
However, the difference between the Prince Academy student’s abduction and the previous two abductions is that in the other cases, unlike its case, everyone rose in unison to demand the immediate release of the students.
On the night of April 14, 2014, Boko Haram abducted about 276 schoolgirls from a school in Chibok in Borno State, northeast Nigeria, at the height of the insurgency.
A former cabinet minister and renowned female politician, Dr. Oby Ezewesili, alongside other prominent personalities, floated the #BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) campaign, which quickly became the point of convergence around which the demand for the release of the girls revolved.
Members of the campaign, dressed in red attires with BringBackOurGirls boldly emblazoned on them, rallied and protested in Abuja, the nation’s capital city, for months on end. They held press conferences to draw the world’s attention to the plight of the girls in captivity. You could not just have been a Nigerian and not realized at the time that evil of a very sinister kind had happened in the country.
Yes, the campaign was that massive and effective. It went viral on the microblogging site, Twitter, and quickly caught on with the international community. Prominent public figures such as Michelle Obama, wife of the then President of the United States of America, Barak Obama, and many others, soon joined the train.
The campaign also caught the attention of world leaders who then mounted pressure on then Nigerian President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to ensure the release of the girls from Boko Haram captivity. The leaders also pledged to help the Nigerian government secure the release of the girls.
Many renowned national and international public figures, prominent personalities, Nigerians in the diaspora, the Nigerian human rights community and women’s rights groups rallied around the BBOG campaign. The widespread protests brought immense pressure to bear on the Jonathan government. That multi-level pressure eventually yielded some fruits as the government moved to secure the release of some of the girls.
Almost the same level of energy and public outcry attended the second abduction incident.
A splinter group of Boko Haram had on February 19, 2018, abducted 110 schoolgirls from Government Girls’ Science and Technical College, Dapchi, in Yunusari Local Government Area of Yobe State, northeast Nigeria. The sustained pressure from individuals and groups which followed the incident forced the Nigerian government to negotiate the release of the girls with the terror group. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) facilitated the government’s negotiations with Bok Haram for the girl’s release. The group eventually released 104 of the girls.
When you juxtapose the two incidents, with the Prince Academy incident, you would be tempted to ask the question of why everyone is silent about the latter.
Granted that the sheer number of girls involved in the two previous abduction cases must have stirred the world to speak up for their release, no one has even bothered to ask about how many students were involved in the Prince Academy abduction. Although the number of students involved in the Prince Academy abduction was far less compared to the numbers in the other two cases, it takes nothing away from the fact that their lives do not matter any less. Their lives equally matter to their parents and loved ones and society at large.
It is also true that the fact that all the victims of the two previous abduction cases were girls must have swayed public support towards the BBOG campaign. And it is quite understandable given the girlchild’s particular vulnerability in such circumstances.
The Kaduna student’s abduction, however, involved a mix of boys and girls. It must be pointed out that these students are much younger than the girls in the other two abduction cases who were preparing for their Senior Secondary Certificate Examination when their abduction happened. This makes the Prince Academy students even more vulnerable.
Why then is the Nigerian society neglecting to talk about their abduction? Why are we not revving up the campaign for their release to put pressure on the authorities to do the needful? Why are we not letting the world know about the case? Why the cynical conspiracy of silence over the plight of these young lives?
Could it be that we fail to realize the repercussions our collective silence could have on us as a people?
The longer those students remain in the custody of those deranged gunmen, the greater the danger their abduction poses to us. This is because they will get radicalized with extreme religious ideologies and deployed to wreak even more havoc on society. If they refuse the radicalization, the gunmen could kill them outright. The girls among them will be sexually assaulted, brutalized, and dehumanized. Their captors will forcefully marry them off to fellow terrorists, sell them into sex slavery, or deploy them in suicide bomb missions.
Meanwhile, after the Chibok girl’s abduction happened, a conspiracy theory, which suggested that some unscrupulous politicians opposed to the then government under Goodluck Jonathan planned and orchestrated it, made the rounds in the country. Their motive, according to the theory, was to portray the Jonathan administration in a bad light—paint it as being incapable of tackling the nation’s security issues—to discredit it among the electorate before the next election cycle.
No one could provide concrete proofs to support that insinuation at the time. However, the succeeding government of Muhammadu Buhari, which compromised most of the previous opposition politicians, appointed some leading campaigners of the BBOG group into key government positions.
For instance, the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, appointed Hadiza Bala Usman as his Chief of Staff in 2015. In 2016, President Buhari appointed her as Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), thus somewhat confirming the speculation that the Chibok girl’s abduction might have had a political motive to it.
A prominent northern Nigeria female politician and one-time Minister of Women Affairs under Buhari, Amina Alhassan, sometime in September 2017, threatened to expose el-Rufai’s involvement in the Chibok girl’s abduction following a spat between the two of them because the minister had openly declared her preference and support for Atiku Abubakar in a leaked video.
Abubakar would later move from the ruling party to the main opposition party and contest against the incumbent Buhari in the 2019 presidential elections. The minister was still serving in the Buhari cabinet at the time. el-Rufai had allegedly accused her of disloyalty to Buhari, prompting her to issue the threat. The minister further accused el-Rufai of being an addicted serial liar and a traitor.
Some other BBOG activists, like Aisha Yesufu, who were not given appointments, became vitriolic critics of the Buhari administration.
These later developments helped lend credence to the fact that there might indeed have been some political undertone to the Chibok girl’s abduction after all.
What that would mean is that the whole hullabaloo about the abduction was an integral part of the conspiracy. That, some of the most vocal BBOG activists must have wittingly or unwittingly been used as pawns on the political chessboard of the then main opposition politicians. That, the conspiracy of silence over the Kaduna case is because it does not promise political benefits and pecuniary gains.
That would be rather very sad indeed.
Moreover, if these developments, in any way, suggest that the speculations were true, then the current conspiracy of silence over the Kaduna student’s abduction would not just be cynical, but also sinister. It would represent the height of human selfishness and insensitivity to the plight of fellow humans—even more so, little children.