There was unmistakable relief in the community of Dapchi in Yobe State and across Nigeria when Boko Haram returned over 100 schoolgirls it had abducted from the Government Science and Technical College located in the town after holding them captive for a month.
The federal government had announced beforehand that it was negotiating their release and President Muhammadu Buhari had promised, during his visit to the town, that his administration would secure the release of the girls without any ‘incident’ . That had raised hopes of an early return of the girls unlike in the case of Chibok girls in which official denial, foot-dragging and tetchiness meant that some of them are still in captivity since April 2014. For this reason, Nigerians commended the present administration for the feat.
However, the celebration of their return has thrown up a few niggling issues that the government cannot afford to gloss over. Six of the girls are still unaccounted for , and the whole matter was somehow soured by the story that filtered out that one of them, Leah Sharibu, was held back for refusing to convert to Islam.
Considering the religious tension her case has generated among Nigerians, the administration should do its utmost to secure her freedom, like it did for her mates, along with the remaining five whose fate are unknown.
Then there is the matter of the remaining Chibok girls. This administration, true to its promise, has facilitated the return of 106 of them. However a portion of the 276 girls abducted four years ago is still in captivity. The return of the Dapchi girls would no doubt have raised both hope and apprehension among the parents. The federal government should take advantage of the strategy it employed in Dapchi to bring succour to the long suffering families in Chibok. We make a similar call for the other girls and women in the captivity of Boko Haram.
Apart from the return of the kidnapped girls, there are other worrying dimensions to the whole saga. One is the negative impact this mass abduction would have on education, particularly girl- child education, in the region.
One of the lucky students to escape the attack on Dapchi, Rakiya Adagu, an SS2 student, has bluntly declared in an interview that she would not be returning to school. She would not be the only one with this stance at the moment.Apart from Dapchi and Chibok, the terrorists had destroyed numerous schools , and killed many teachers and students in pursuit of its warped ideology that western education is forbidden. The traumatic experience of encountering these insurgents is enough to drive many out of school. That would be handing victory to Boko Haram whose stated motive is to scare people from seeking modern education.
For a country already with over 10 million out-of-school children, most of them in the north, Nigeria has an enormous challenge to change this dismal statistic. It must articulate a strategy that would counter this threat by Boko Haram to plant ignorance among the coming generations. Government at all levels must deploy its mass media units to disabuse the minds of children and parents that there is an alternative to education. However, it must first secure the schools and make the environment conducive for learning.
It is doubtful if the government’s promise, in the aftermath of the girls’ release, to provide security at schools in the North East is anything other than rhetoric. With about 10 internal security operations going on in different parts of the country, it is understandable that the military may be overstretched and cannot cover every blade of grass in the North East. However, the armed forces must draw up workable strategies, assisted by technology , to ensure quick response to distress situations.In the interim, government should consider closing all boarding schools in the North East until it can deal with the threat posed to them by the insurgents.
There are a lot of suspicions around this kidnap that have given rise to incredulity among the discerning public. Apart from the reported withdrawal of troops from the town a fortnight to the attack, a credible organisation like Amnesty International has accused military authorities in the area of receiving warnings ahead of the attack but choosing to do nothing.
The Dapchi abduction must have taken hours to execute and the terrorists were said to have travelled through towns and open land in a long convoy both before and after the attack such that had the security forces been alive to their responsibilities, the attack would have been foiled and the country would have been spared this massive embarrassment.
It is our considered opinion that the federal government should institute a public enquiry into the Dapchi abduction to expose and punish those whose actions and inactions were instrumental to this crime. This is one sure way to dispel the insinuation that the whole saga was a rip-off.