Yesterday, I woke up to more heartbreaking news, that ‘bandits’ have struck a school yet again. This time, the Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe, in Talata Mafara Local Government Area of Zamfara State, where hundreds of students were whisked away. This is less than 24 hours after the state government said some ‘repentant bandits’ had surrendered their arms. In the news that followed, Alhaji Sulaiman Tunau Anka, Commissioner for Information, was quoted as having said: “We are on top of the situation.” With all due respect, we’re not. If we were, the heinous act wouldn’t have happened in the first place.
Parents, mortified and distraught, some of them even fainting, rushed to the school, where only 55 girls were lucky to escape being taken by murderous individuals. No, I refuse to call them bandits, robbers, or whatever else is the flavour of the week. When will we start calling them by their true description? As far as I’m concerned, they’re terrorists. They are among the worst of us, and now they have – according to the state’s CP – 317 of our daughters. After all, their leader even instructed a minion of his to refer to him as ‘leader of the terrorists operating on the northern flank’. His name was given as Kachalla Halilu Sububu Seno, and thus another ‘celebrity’ terrorist is born. But I digress.
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Why do we negotiate with criminals, and pay ransoms, and offer amnesty? You’ve probably heard this before, that once a dog has killed another animal, it develops a taste for blood, and it will be nigh impossible to cure it of that newly-acquired taste. While that’s not scientifically proven to the best of my knowledge, the anecdotal value of it all illustrates what’s currently unfolding. Armed groups attack or kidnap innocent, law-abiding people, and are ‘rewarded’ with ransoms. They attack security agents, and they are ‘rewarded’ with amnesty. It goes on. How do you expect them to stop?
Like those in Chibok and Dapchi, the attackers of Jangebe in Zamfara State targeted a girls’ school. I put myself in the shoes of the parents, and I began to feel feverish, from emotions that ranged from anger, to sadness, and to abject terror at what those innocent souls must be going through right now. That’s why I wasn’t in the least surprised when I learnt that families threatened to set the school ablaze, and they even attacked journalists who had gone there to bring their plight to the attention of the world. Who can blame them, really? Grief and rage can do things to a person. This is just days after an attack on a school in Kagara, Niger State, where scores were kidnapped and are still in the clutches of the terrorists who took them.
Why is it so hard to secure schools, when the attackers have for some time shown an unhealthy interest in them? Yes, there were reportedly some soldiers in the vicinity, but obviously not enough. Why is it so hard to see that extra measures need to be taken to secure schools these days, much more than before? One would think that after the Chibok tragedy, we would have learnt painful-but-expensive lessons. But no, the tragedy will simply simmer in the news cycle, until another tragedy pokes its head out to distract and spark outrage. Leaders and officials, who should know, would simply bandy conflicting figures about, leaving everyone more in the dark than ever.
As a nation, we cannot afford any kind of distraction right now, at a time when there’s so much division among Nigerians. We cannot allow yet another blow be dealt to education, being as far back as we are as it is. I mean, parents still send their children to schools for education, on the hope of bettering their lives. With the spike in attacks on schools – and the terrifying kidnappings – how much more can parents nationwide take before they start to withdraw their children and wards? We are definitely not on top of the situation.
Finally, and obviously after much prompting, President Muhammadu Buhari – via his Chief of Staff Prof. Ibrahim Gambari – has declared war on the terrorists. “The government shall continue to deal with insurgents, bandits, kidnappers and other criminals who constitute a threat to innocent citizens across the country,” he was quoted as having said. But this is after the Niger State government is crying out that the Federal Government has ‘abandoned’ them and left them to their own devices regarding the schoolchildren currently being held, at least at the time this is being written.
I sincerely hope that the president’s tough words will translate into tangible action. While I’ve called the current siege on schools a tragic shame just last week, today I have no words to offer. While Jangebe plays out, Kagara is ongoing. Children are suffering, and parents are crying. When will those who are supposed to listen to them, and do what needs to be done? For now, all I know is that it is crystal-clear that we’re far from being on top of the situation, and we need to be, as a matter of life and death.