I leapt for joy last week. News about Nigeria is usually depressing. But this one was elating. I had in my column titled: ‘A country led by the blind and deaf’ highlighted the case of 14-year-old Habiba Gwaram, a student of Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe, Zamfara State. On February 26, 2021, she had been kidnapped by bandits along with 316 schoolmates. But when the captives got to the kidnappers den, Habiba met her father, Mallam Iliya Gwaram who, along with her sister, had been kidnapped three months earlier.
The father had the presence of mind to quickly tell his daughter not to identify either him or her sister as they may be killed. The child did as told, but had to endure seeing him tortured. Four days later, she was freed with her mates. But she did not forget her father. When the freed girls met the state Governor, Bello Matawalle, she told him about her father and the fact that he and other victims were being held in the same place she and her colleagues were held. Her initiative paid off as the governor took steps to resume dialogue with the bandits leading to the release last Monday night of Gwaram and nine others.
The media reported the bandits shooting for hours and rounding up the students without any arm of the security services responding. Yet, we have all sorts of security agencies and chiefs marching around with stars and peeps peeping from their uniforms. I have thought a number of times that if we have a serious government; it should send home a service chief or head of security agency each time school children are abducted en-mass. But this is wishful thinking as even those chiefs who had extended their stay in the military and overstayed their welcome, were eventually sent forth with ambassadorial postings as if the Nigerian foreign relations terrain is a place to reinforce failure.
The newly released were made up of three men, four women and three children. This was the reason I leapt for joy. Hopefully, Gwaram’s nightmare would have come to an end with his rescue, but the experience will always replay in his mind. He gave a first-hand account of the abducted girls: “I have been in captivity with these other people for more than three months when on that Friday morning, I saw the school girls being brought into where we were camped by our abductors. At first, I didn’t know who they were or where they were coming from, until I saw the face of my scared daughter looking at me…I never cried in the whole of my life like I cried the day the girls were taken back because I felt it was the last time I would see my daughter.”
I had wondered how the 14-year- old Habiba was processing the whole nightmare of having her family kidnapped, she suffering the same fate three months later, enduring the movement through forests and darkness to the kidnappers den, finding her father and sister at the den, being unable to do anything, and leaving them there in the hands of conscienceless killers. The nightmare will not go away quickly, but had she lost her father and sister to the kidnappers, I am not sure she would ever have recovered from the trauma.
Tragically for Nigerians, despite vows by President Muhammadu Buhari and his security chiefs that the abduction of school children will end, the trauma continues. Just last Thursday, March 11, 2021, another batch of female students was abducted, this time from the Federal College of Forestry and Agriculture Mechanization, Mando, Kaduna. While the recent mass abductions of school children had been mainly in rural or semi urban areas, this one is right in a busy city which was the capital of Northern Nigeria. The school is close to the Nigeria Defence Academy and is in the same area we have the Kaduna International Airport and the Air Force Base.
The media reported the bandits shooting for hours and rounding up the students without any arm of the security services responding. Yet, we have all sorts of security agencies and chiefs marching around with stars and peeps peeping from their uniforms. I have thought a number of times that if we have a serious government; it should send home a service chief or head of security agency each time school children are abducted en-mass. But this is wishful thinking as even those chiefs who had extended their stay in the military and overstayed their welcome, were eventually sent forth with ambassadorial postings as if the Nigerian foreign relations terrain is a place to reinforce failure. As for the Police Force, expecting it to meet the expectations of the citizenry is like Waiting for Godot; even the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar Adamu, going by the provisions of the 2020 Nigeria Police Act, is not a policeman.
The bandits seem to perceive that there is a lack of will to protect school children. That must be the reason why between December 11, 2020 and March 11, 2021; a three-month period, about 800 school children have been kidnapped in Katsina, Kankara, Kagara, Jengebe and Kaduna. These victims are part of the children in school; there are some 13 million out of school children who are simply abandoned to their fate.
A few months ago, as I drove towards the Veritas University, Bwari-Abuja, I noticed a crowd at the Bwari-Veritas junction. I slowed down trying to make out what was amiss. I noticed no sign of commotion as motorists on both sides drove freely. I slowed down at the intersection only to discover that these were street children newly off-loaded on Abuja. Some were already ‘empowered’ with begging bowls; many were yet to be so enriched. I slowed down and began to count. When I got to 36, which is three dozens, I stopped.
These children are all over Abuja; obviously far from home, out of parental care, unlettered, unskilled but determined to survive. They are now so many and competition amongst them so strong that some have invented new means of begging an increasingly impoverished populace. Somebody told me of an experience in Kubwa, one of the largest satellite towns in Abuja. There was a knock on an office door which was in a gated premises. The manager and some of his clients involuntarily stood up as some homeless children walked in with their begging bowls. They calmed down when they realised it was not an invasion; just hungry children leaving the streets to press for alms. I have no doubt that in the next few years, such visits by the street children would not just be to beg, but to demand with threats.
Tragically, our political elites who as coup plotters, beneficiaries of military regimes and conscienceless administrations, led the country to its present quagmire, do not seem to have woken up to reality. They are still having a ball and ‘privatising’ the country’s resources. I had analysed this parasitic class long ago and thought the best thing is to replace them, but today, I find myself and many patriots struggling to ensure that these political elites do not replace the country.
Left to them, rather than fix Nigeria, they will prefer to sell it to the highest bidder, preferably in foreign currency as they have so bastardised the Naira that they no longer find it useful.
Comrade Lakemfa’s columns, which also feature in Vanguard on Mondays and Fridays every week, will also be published here. Lakemfa was General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Secretary General of the Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU).