The saga of the recent “Kidnapping” of over 300 students from the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, Katsina State, has fostered many differing explanations and unanswered questions. When it looked as if the situation would end in another inexcusable tragedy, Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, told the nation that “only 10” boys were kidnapped.
The Katsina State Governor Aminu Masari told the nation that there were 333. A kidnapped student who escaped claimed that they were counted by their abductors and the total was 520, then eventually 344 were released. Garba Shehu later “apologised” for misleading Nigerians with the sort of “fake news” he always complains about. Not only do the numbers differ, but also do the stories of who is actually responsible for their return. As the nation moves into 2021, it is important that this administration gets its public relations act together. An environment needs to be created in which Nigerians no longer need to focus on whether or not government spokespersons are telling the truth.
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The spokespersons themselves must get a grip on reality and learn to admit when they don’t know. There must be an end to the varying stories concerning everything government is involved in. The stories differ from Minister for Information, Lai Mohammed, who was quoted as saying “Nigeria got help from foreigners to free Kankara boys”. The Katsina State Governor Aminu Bello Masari said “Myetti Allah helped bring back our boys”. Defence Spokesperson, Major General Eneche, said “We rescued Kankara students” while federal government spokespersons said “Buhari personally directed the rescue.” These statements constitute four different answers from the same government. There were other twists to the story. For example, there is a difference between “rescued” and “released”.
If indeed the students were rescued, what happened to the abductors? Also, if they were rescued, how come it was done without a bullet being fired or no injury sustained? It appears more than likely that they were released. There are those who believe that whether or not statements by government spokespersons are reliable should not be the debate. To them, what is important is that a repeat of Chibok and Dapchi was avoided and that rather than pointing out the contradictions and misinformation spread by government sources, Nigerians should be tasking government on how to avert future occurrences. There is sense in such commentators asking if it would have been better if Aminu Masari’s, Lai Mohammed’s and Shehu Garba’s accounts had been identical and the kids were not returned.
However, this point of view avoids the question of whether government spokespersons must always talk even when they are not sure, especially of numbers. Is it not more honourable for them to say that they will reply in due course because they need to confirm the numbers and the actual events which took place? Why is it that they routinely and initially reported numbers which turned out to be wrong? Aside from the disparity in reported numbers of kidnapped students, there is also disparity in versions of events which took place. The National Spokesperson for Miyetti Allah claimed that Katsina State Governor Masari wasn’t telling the truth, because they have had no contact with either the schoolboys or their abductors.
He said that maybe the governor was discussing the issue with the Katsina State branch of the association, but definitely not with the national leadership. Later, Ngelzarma confirmed that he had spoken with the Katsina State branch of MACBAN, and they also denied ever being approached by the state government to enter into discussion or negotiation with the bandits to free the school children. The undisputable truth is that this is not the first time in Nigeria’s history that government spokespersons have not been truthful or trustworthy towards the Nigerian people.
Even those leaders who ruled during the time of opulence and threw money around were not better managers of information and taking public opinion into account. At the end of the day, the results in inappropriate investment in spite of opposition and adverse public opinion is there for all to see. There are those who believe, rightly or wrongly, that what happened was stage-managed to deceive the citizens. First because it happened in the president’s home state, and they believe it was supposed to suggest that he is neutral and has no hands in Boko Haram activities.
They believe that the public are being fooled and that the whole affair was scripted to relieve the pressure on security chiefs to perform better. Meanwhile, publicity machinery which is supposed to help build patriotism and show the sacrifices being made by gallant troops quite absurdly chose to publicise the Chief of Army Staff being concerned about playing a golf tournament and toying with snakes as if totally unconcerned about the abysmal security situation.
This was a major disservice on the part of a man who reportedly and continuously frets over his frustration at increasing insecurity and troop losses. Be that as it may, it is becoming increasingly difficult to support the current security architecture in the nation. All pleas for change have fallen on deaf ears. Questions remain as to how come no member of any security force saw over- 300 hundred students being kidnapped? Is there no daily roll call in the school or how come the number of children kidnapped is a matter for dispute? Were the children left unsupervised? Or what happened to their teachers? Speaking of teachers a major problem with the kidnapped students which has been ignored in the whole affair is their command of the English language.
The president addressed them in the Hausa language. None could speak the type of English which would give them a credit in WAEC and gain them university admission. It was hard to believe and disappointing to hear that they are students of a science secondary school, perhaps they are being taught Physics, Chemistry and Biology in native dialect or vernacular. The Ministry of Education should investigate the matter. The children are the future of the nation and, like most Nigerians, are more interested in the unity and progress of Nigeria than the average kidnapper, insurgent, politician or ethnic nationalist who ignores their sufferings.
As Nigeria marches into 2021, national unity must be premised on justice, equity and fair play; not on the decision of armed groups to force their views, desires, and interests on others and be “settled” by government. That is not acceptable. If Nigeria continuously bows to those who use violence to achieve their aims then the loose bonds which hold the nation together are in danger of severing. This must not be allowed to happen, otherwise, it is just possible that things may never turn around for a government which has three years left and is struggling to regain the support of the majority of citizens who voted them into office.