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The price of indifference

I offer no apologies for returning to this matter as the curtain is drawn on the year 2021: the fate of the students of the Federal…

I offer no apologies for returning to this matter as the curtain is drawn on the year 2021: the fate of the students of the Federal Government College, Birnin Yauri, and that of the Bethel Baptist High School, Kujama. These children have now spent six months in captivity in their own country. They committed no crimes. They offended no one. It should not be difficult for anyone to imagine and feel their pain and their trauma.

They are the wards of the Nigerian state obliged by the constitution to make all citizens safe and secure. Their freedom and their right to freedom are guaranteed by the constitution of the land and ought to be fully protected by the Nigerian state. Yet, the Nigerian state which has the constitutional duty of making us safe and secure in our country, continues to ignore them as if their lives do not matter.

It is a national shame unspeakable in all its grim dimensions that criminals in our land enjoy this level of freedom to do as they wish to whom they wish without consequences. If the Nigerian state is asleep, it should wake up and take urgent steps to redeem itself.  No country worth its boundaries as a nation can afford to allow its citizens to be held in captivity indefinitely under conditions that are unarguably cruel and inhuman. It is not the duty of the individual to protect himself against an organised assault on his freedom. It is the duty of the Nigerian state and its security agencies to protect that freedom. 

These children held in captivity by their fellow Nigerians have no hope of freedom because their parents and guardians are unable to pay up the ransom demanded by their captors. Few things could be more shameful and scandalous for a nation that loves to advertise itself as the giant in the tropical African sun. This is the season of joy to the world, but these children and their parents and guardians know no such joy; they only know the pain of abandonment by their own country and its leaders.

Here is a fine example of a nation that takes its responsibility to its citizens seriously. A few days ago, as of this writing, a three-year old girl, Lina Sardar Khil, went missing in San Antonio, Texas. Perhaps, there is nothing particularly strange about that. Young people go missing almost daily in the United States of America. But the local police took a serious view of her fate. They did not treat it as one of those things, a matter of poor luck for the girl and her parents. The FBI immediately joined the San Antonio police department for a robust search for her. Because her life matters to her, her parents, and her country. As of this writing she had not been found. I hope she must have been found alive and reunited with her family by the time you are reading this.

All lives matter. But in our country some lives matter much more than other lives. Some lives are indispensable, but others are dispensable. In 2014, Boko Haram captured more than 200 girls from their secondary school in Chibok. As citizens, their rights and freedoms mattered but the Nigerian state made no efforts to secure their freedom. It left them to their fate. More than three-quarters of them have been lost to their parents. Their captors married them off to themselves. But the Nigerian state lost no sleep over their fate.

Lea Sharibu, the Yobe secondary school student who refused to be untrue to her religion, has been left to her fate in the hands of her Boko Haram captors. President Buhari’s robust promises to rescue her are not even blowing in the wind anymore. She too is a victim of a state that does not take the rights, the freedoms, and the security of its citizens as moral, legal, and constitutional obligations consistent with the rationale for the institution of government anywhere and everywhere in recorded human history.

Whereas the Nigerian state is impotent in the constitutional discharge of its obligation to its citizens, other nations continue to do their duty to their citizens. They would not allow a single hair on the head of a citizen to be wilfully lost to criminals. About two years ago, ISWAP captured an American citizen and held him captive in Niger Republic. The American government did not abandon him to his fate. As a citizen, his life and freedom matter to the American government. American security agents flew 6,000 miles to the West African nation, sent his captors to hell, rescued, and took him home. It is impossible for a citizen who enjoys this level of protection from his country not to reciprocate by becoming patriotic and genuinely mouth the slogan, my country, right or wrong. 

Contrast that with what has been happening in our country for more than two years – the rampant abduction of young boys and girls from their schools and colleges by bandits. No attempt to rescue them by the Nigerian state and its security agents. The Nigerian state feels no obligation to secure their freedom. It throws that responsibility to their parents and guardians in a most cruel abandonment of state responsibility or the celebration of its impotence. It is up to the parents and the guardians to meet the ransom demands of those who hold their children and wards in captivity.

Is this the right attitude of a modern government towards its citizens? The ramifications of this tragedy are beyond comprehension. Buhari admitted not too long ago that the frequent attacks on schools in parts of Nigerian northern have forced some 12 million children out of school. In reaction to the abduction of 317 girls from the Government Secondary School, Jangebe, Zamfara State in February this year, the governor of Plateau State and chairman of the Northern Governors Forum, Simon Lalong, said: “The assault on schools where innocent and harmless students are targeted should not be condoned in any way because it has the tendency to set the nation back to ignorance and more poverty.”

I am sure the governor knows that nothing has changed. He is not unaware of the Zamfara and Kaduna students in captivity for more than six months now. I am sure, he knows neither the forum nor the president has done anything tangible to end this reign of terror in our schools. I am sure he is not unaware that the rest of us outside the protective corridors of political power, are sitting ducks abandoned by the Nigerian state. The lives of the big people matter, and the lives of the small people matter too. Rich or poor, important, or unimportant, we are all citizens entitled to the equal protection of the constitution and the extant laws of the land.

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