Last Sunday, many newspapers commemorated the 90th day of abduction of the over 200 Chibok schoolgirls. The incredible abduction remains a major blot on the conscience of Nigerians and has continued to shock people around the world.
The fragile capacity of the Nigerian state has been exposed in the intervening period since the abductions, especially with the pattern of atrocities that the Boko Haram insurgency has wrought in our country. A huge swathe of Borno State has become the classic killing field, where the insurgency holds sway and our armed forces seem unable to do much to protect the people.
When the Boko Haram chieftain released a new video this week, claiming responsibility for the bombing of a shopping mall in Abuja and another one in Lagos, far away from the normal areas of the group’s operations in Northern Nigeria, it was clearly an effort to underline the strength of the insurgency, the incapacity of our security forces and dampen the spirit of the Nigerian people.
Nevertheless, the pattern of woes was interrupted in recent days with the heart warming successes recorded by the nation’s forces in the Balmo forest in Bauchi State as well as assurances given by the Chief of Army Staff, General Kenneth Minimah, that the army will soon get new weapons to fight the insurgency.
Taken together, the successes and setbacks reflect a deep pattern of crises in the struggle against the insurgency as well as the struggle for the hearts and minds of the Nigerian people and the international community. In recent weeks, the Jonathan administration has paid a hefty sum of money to an American firm to put its case to the American public on the Chibok abductions and the insurgency in general.
The effort included an Op-Ed piece allegedly written by President Jonathan in the WASHINGTON POST, that unfortunately did far more damage to the administration. But it seems that the administration has been far more rankled by the persistence of the #BRINGBACKOURGIRLS campaign; the day-to-day, peaceful gathering of a courageous group of Nigerians stabs at the heart of power in Abuja.
So not surprisingly, on Wednesday, July 9, 2014, spokesperson of the Department Security Services, DSS, Marilyn Ogar, accused the campaigners of turning the issue into a “franchise”. According to Ogar: “Bring Back Our Girls Movement has become a franchise and security forces know what they are up to.
If it is an ordinary movement seeking to pile pressure on government or security agencies to release these girls, there will be no need for the group to begin to have tags, insisting that you must have a tag and be properly registered (to be part of them)”. In the surreal world of “security” inhabited by Marilyn Ogar, “insisting that you must have a tag”, is an anti-state offence which labels your action “a franchise”.
Note that it was the United States that began to label terrorist organisations around the world as “franchises” of Al-Qaeda. Well, the neo-colonial copycats cannot think originally, so the “franchise” label is being borrowed to tar a persistent but peaceful group of citizens that is asking the government of the day to do the duty it swore to the Nigerian people to do! But Ogar was not done: “Security forces also know that they have bank accounts; we also know that they want to go to Asokoro Extension and simulate some false movements where they will have some foreign media to say that they are marching inside Sambisa and Chibok.
They want to simulate a protest march inside Asokoro extension in Abuja and claim that they were doing so inside Sambisa Forest to be reported in some foreign media; we also know that they brought in some experts from outside the country to come and teach them on how to beat security onslaught when they are demonstrating; to withstand police teargas and security operations”.
This aspect of Marilyn Ogar’s statement appears far more like some farfetched hallucination than any serious statement, and frankly she resembles an object of pity in that instance: “They have bank accounts…they want to simulate a protest march inside Asokoro extension…and claim they were doing so inside Sambisa forest’! That is the same Sambisa Forest that our armed forces have been unable or unwilling to enter! Bring Back Our Girls campaigners are planning to simulate an entry into the forest and Marilyn Ogar expects Nigerians to accept such a farfetched allegation as a reason the campaign should be labeled ‘a franchise’.
But she went further to underline her definition of the #BRINGBACKOURGIRLS campaign a “franchise”: “I also want to ask that if it is not a franchise, why would those involved in the movement decide to carry out smear campaign against certain government officials”. Ogar did not name the government officials at the receiving end of a “smear campaign”, but she probably forgot that this is supposed to be a democratic society.
There are no sacred cows in officialdom. Every individual is open to the scrutiny of citizens; if any official of state feels that he has been unfairly libeled, such an official has the right to go to court, and frankly that should not be the business of the secret police. The problem is that the authoritarian pall of the years of military dictatorship seems to be the most cherished template within the security apparatus; otherwise, that was not an appropriate statement from the DSS.
There is a related crisis that must be pointed out: our secret services still find it difficult to maintain the dialectical balance between state security and regime survival. That is why they become overly gung-ho in their appreciation of the various, but often unavoidable, crises that governments have to deal with in a democratic society. This is very much the underlining problem in Marilyn Ogar’s statement last week.
But thank God for the #BRINGBACKOURGIRLS campaign, the whole world was sensitized to the fact that the Chibok Girls were abducted at a point that the Jonathan administration was in denial and passing the buck and attempting to play politics.
That campaign lifted the lid off the hypocrisy of the government of the day and the international response that the campaign kick-started was actually the source of annoyance in governmental and security circles. That is why the campaign is being labeled a “franchise”, in the same manner that terrorist groups are labeled!
It is imperative for the DSS and other security outfits to always remember that citizens have the constitutionally-guaranteed right in a democratic society to manifest for causes, especially when they are responsible and peaceful as the #BRINGBACKOURGIRLS campaigners have been.
There is no law in a democracy that obliges citizens to “like” or “love” the government of the day; and there are no government officials vested with an immunity that makes them sacred cows. They have chosen to serve the country; they cream off privileges but they must also be open to scrutiny and criticism. That is in the nature of the beast of public service!
When Marilyn Ogar chose to wear the toga of a putative, local version of Joseph Goebbels, the notorious Nazi propaganda chief, she missed the point. The campaign she was smearing is actually one of the most important citizen initiatives of the years since our transition to civil rule.
That ordinarily privileged members of the Nigerian establishment like Oby Ezekwesili would take time out, day-in-day-out, week-in-week-out, to ask the Nigerian government to live up to its responsibility, in respect of the abduction of young Nigerian girls from far away Chibok, is a major statement for state security than the very poor effort to label the campaign a “franchise”.
I think the campaigners see farther than those who have reduced state security to the preferences of the administration of the day. It will be far more disastrous for the Nigerian state and its security apparatus, to have a mass loss of faith in the capacity of the state to offer the protection of citizens’ lives. The danger that can follow is an anarchic breakdown and resort to self-help that will not do society any good.
So let us return to the main narrative. Over 90 days after their abduction, we are still not close to the return of the girls from Chibok. This week, President Goodluck Jonathan told the Pakistani girl child activist, MalalaYousafzai, that he would return the girls home and finally, arrange to meet the girls’ parents. Those are very commendable, if belated assurances.
But we arrived at that point of responsibility by the President thanks to the work which the #BRINGBACKOURGIRLS campaign did to sensitise the world, while also insisting that the Jonathan administration did its duty to the Chibok girls and the Nigerian people. When Jonathan sought our votes in 2011, protecting the lives of the Nigerian people was the most important item on the presidential menu.
If he and his officials feel offended by the sustained campaign seeking the return of the girls, they probably have not sufficiently understood the magnitude of the responsibility of leadership. It is that refusal to understand, which conditioned the franchise of blackmail, which Marilyn Ogar sought to let lose on Nigeria last week. For as long as those girls are not back home, that campaign should be encouraged to stay the course.
The #BRINGBACKOURGIRLS campaign is not a “franchise”; certainly not in the sense that Ogar attempted to conflate it with “franchise” that those in security circles use to describe terrorist organizations!
On a final note, our security apparatus seems to have a special disdain for the expression of citizen dissent in our society. But at the heart of democracy is the right to dissent; that right to decide along with other citizens to hold power and officialdom accountable and asking very uncomfortable questions of those in authority.
No security service can take away that right from the citizen, if we want the survival of our state system. Of course, the security apparatus must protect all of us from terrorism and other subversive attacks on the state and society; but the most important issue is that letting lose the franchise of blackmail, in the long run, does not assist the security of the state.
When citizens enjoy the rights guaranteed by democracy, they are more likely to be willing helpers in the protection of the state. That should be Security 101, in any syllabus of security training!.