Opinion: The Girls And The Rot

by Chidi Amuta 

For Nigeria, the hour of collective redemption may not be here yet but the voices are being raised and a clear message is out: free the Chibok girls and save Nigeria. The colour of the struggle is red. And its leaders are women with us men and the rest of the world population as converts and recruits. I am afraid of women in red especially when they are united by a common cause that defies geography, race, religion, class and distance.

Over the travesty of the 200 plus missing schoolgirls from the village high school in Chibok the history of Nigeria may be re-written permanently. It does not matter what happens after the girls have been found and rescued. It does not matter what happens long after the protests and barricades springing up around the world have abated and the campaign to free the girls has been overtaken by more urgent news. The unintended benefits of this tragic event would accrue to all Nigerians.

First, one of the major sustaining planks of successive useless governments in Nigeria has been shattered. It is the assumption that we can conduct the affairs of state with Medieval crudity and ride rough shod on the rights of our people without the world noticing. Worse still, it was a long held notion in Nigerian politics and government that we could visit all manner of barbarism on our people without attracting world attention.

Because of the Chibok girls, the world is calling Nigeria to account. The window is open. We can no longer conceal the epic incompetence of our governments within our borders. We can no longer carry on with the scandalous approach of pursuing security without intelligence. We can no longer use public information channels funded by the state to insult our people and tell foolish lies that do not befit children. We can no longer smuggle clannish politics into nearly every serious national problem and hope that our troubles will go away once we attribute them to the ‘other side’ in a political divide and rule created by the greed of fraudulent incumbency.

On this crisis, we cannot, unfortunately, contribute contingents to a multi lateral effort to keep peace in far away places when we deny our own people peace and security at home. The old axiom that after all this is Nigeria, anything goes is dying with the sadness of families whose daughters as still missing.

Throughout the world of social media and the global information superhighway in the last one-week or more, Nigeria has come to occupy its rightful place as deserving of world attention in its embarrassing display of how NOT to be an important nation. From New York to Washington, from London to Brisbane, from Pretoria to Rio, Nigeria has come to dominate world attention. Now we are the world! This is our crisis and we have to deal with it or it deals with us permanently.

You can hear the divided tongues of a desperate nation in turmoil. From the desperate and clueless emptiness of the vaults of power in Abuja, it was a pitiable Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the beleaguered Finance Minister of the Jonathan government that was literally groveling and begging for international help to free the missing girls on CNN. What a pity. Madam Minister, your plea means that all those billions of dollars approved for security over these recent years have yielded only this harvest of shame. Help to free our girls is urgent. But the tottering edifice of state needs even more help.

We need forensic help to track monumental corruption. We need help to re-base our politics and governance so that they do not continue to embarrass and debase the economic potentials of our people. We need help to retrieve our institutions, including unfortunately the Ministry of Finance, from the depths of rot and the vice grip of phenomenal incompetence that has become embarrassing to most decent Nigerians. As superlatives go, Jonathan’s is the most inept government in Nigerian history.

Shortly afterwards on the same day on CNN, it was our own Wole Soyinka, a man whose life work has been the pursuit of the painful retrieval of our collective humanity from the crushing embrace of sundry autocrats and ‘elected’ gangsters. Soyinka was unbowed in his trademark castigation of the epic official foolishness that has brought us to this pass. For people like Wole Soyinka and the rest of our silent but dignified compatriots, a nation exists in our mind that should stand shoulder to shoulder with the best. It is the constant truncation of the ideal of realizing that nation that pains us.

From far and wide, there have been the collective voice of ordinary people, of global celebrities and ordinary people-Nigerians and friends of Nigeria, massed in open protest for the return of these innocent girls. From the streets of Abuja to the dusty open fields of Chibok and Maiduguri, from the UN headquarters in New York to the precincts of our embassy in Washington DC, London and a growing number of centres of world conscience, the world has united in a single cry: BRING BACK OUR GIRLS.

The Chibok girls have become our daughters, sisters, siblings and collective responsibility. For Nigerians, the misfortune of the parents of the Chibok girls has reaffirmed the unity that has always existed among Nigerians and shamed the political shenanigans of politicians, misguided zealots and other merchants of discord. Our voices have been joined by those of truly great nations governed by the higher values of premium on human rights, the sanctity of the human person, the obligation to the protection of life and property. The US and the United Kingdom have joined in offering help to free the girls. Do we have the capacity to absorb the help we desperately need?

There is a new fine print on the placards that have adorned the global protests over the missing girls. One of them in far away New York read: BRING BACK OUR GIRLS. NO GIRLS, NO VOTES IN 2015. Mr. Jonathan, his advisers and omnipresent wife should read that last line very carefully.

The history of nations is uncanny and cunning. Great change comes not necessarily through momentous upheaval involving great men and their women. More often than not it is through a slip up in matters concerning small people, ordinary everyday people, that great change is inaugurated. The fruit vendor in Tunisia who opted for self-immolation in revolt against the high handedness of local officialdom sparked off the Arab spring. The rest is history. But the permanent legacy of popular uprisings that originate from the wrongs done to small people is that through them, the people discover themselves, identify the adversary and, most importantly, find their own voice.


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