CHIBOK PARENTS: HOLDING THEIR BREATHS INDEFINITELY
Mr. Mutai Hona was a loving father of eight kids and a caring husband of two wives. Despite the inherent hardships of catering for a large family in today's economy, Mr. Hona was able to send two of his eldest daughters to Government Secondary School, Chibok to get an education. As with most parents, he had high hopes for his daughters. Hope that the hardship and sacrifices he endured would be worth it when the education his daughters receive would bear fruit. Hope that the success of his eldest daughters would spur their younger ones to follow in their footsteps.
However, his hopes and those of other parents were dashed when in the dead of the night in April, marauding savages commonly known as Boko Haram militants abducted his daughters along with hundreds of other girls. I can imagine how he must have felt; the rage coursing through his veins as well as a feeling of utter helplessness.
A few weeks later, a video released by Boko Haram showed some of the girls dressed in long flowing Hijab reciting verses from the Holy Qur'an. Despite his best efforts, Mr. Hona could not spot either of his daughters in the video. This was the last straw for him. His already high blood pressure shot upwards. Mr. Hona fell ill and died on Sunday, May 18th, 2014.
From the brief narrative given above it may seem like I know Mr. Hona personally. I don't, but as a father I can relate to what he must have felt, as I'm sure most fathers reading this can as well. Aside from this and probably a few other articles, all memories of Mr. Hona will slip through the statistical cracks of the lives claimed directly or indirectly as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency. There will be no glowing eulogies for him. There will be no presidential recognition or sympathy for the plight he suffered as a result of the abduction of his daughters. There will be no condolences offered to his family for the double tragedy that has befallen them. There will only be silence as his life, his plight and eventual death is not considered worthy of any recognition.
If we are to sum it up in a short summary, we could say Mr. Hona died due to the heartbreak associated with losing two daughters at once. However, if we are to really be honest with ourselves the truth is he died because the federal government failed him. It failed him by its inability to adequately secure the girls in Government Secondary School, Chibok despite a state of emergency being in force in Borno State. It failed him when it lied about rescuing the girls a day after the abduction. It failed him when it stayed silent for three weeks afterwards and refused to issue a statement. It failed him when it refused to take responsibility for its failure to secure the girls. It failed him by its strict adherence to trivial matters and it's gross misplacement of priorities. Even in death it has continued to fail him by its indifference and silence regarding the fate of his daughters and other girls.
The harsh and inconvenient truth is that Mr. Hona is just one out of hundreds of Chibok parents who may die in silence as a result of the government's indifference to their pain. This incident clearly illustrates the need for the adoption and implementation of a world class information management system in times of crisis to keep affected families and the public duly informed. For critics that may argue that this is an added expense on the government, I say it is not. There are two agencies already in existence that can carry out this function seamlessly; the Ministry of Information in conjunction with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
The case of Flight MH370 gives valuable insight into the importance of information sharing when such tragedies occur. Though the Malaysian authorities were criticised for giving contradictory and inconsistent information which was sometimes in piecemeal, nonetheless there was a forum for such information to be made available to the public on a daily basis. Grief counsellors were even available to counsel the families and avert the type of tragedy that befell Mr. Hona.
I was shocked out of my wits by Doyin Okupe's response when CNN's Isha Sesay asked him why there was no press conference regarding the abductions and very little information was coming from the government. His response was and I quote: "We are not like the Americans with their showmanship and effusiveness. There is no need for that."
Seriously? People's kids have been abducted by the hundreds and he calls information sharing showmanship? I wonder what he would call a rescue mission. A waste of resources I guess.
The government's disregard for the plight of the common man would be an interesting area of psychological and sociological study if it wasn't so morally abhorrent. In Israel a few weeks ago, three Israeli teenage boys were kidnapped somewhere in the West Bank. All security agencies were on full alert while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lost sleep coordinating the search and rescue of the boys. I couldn't help but marvel at the concern a leader was showing for the lives of just three individuals, whereas in my home country, the government was busy with holding various summits, campaigning for party members' and grounding opponents' aircraft while innocent citizens are being slaughtered daily and the Chibok girls had suddenly taken the back burner as far as national issues were concerned.
I recall sometime in 2003 while watching Sky News with my father, there was a Breaking News story that kept recurring every hour. It was about a fox that had somehow gotten itself stuck in an icy lake. It took the intervention of Her Majesty's Coast Guard to get it out. At the time I could not for the life of me understand what was so important about the life of a fox that was so newsworthy to warrant an hour by the hour news briefing and even a rescue by the coast guard. My father gave me a stern lecture on the importance of all life, not just human life and the value sane and responsible leaders in sane and responsible societies place on it, hence the attention given to a fox stuck in icy waters. I fervently pray that God spares my life to see the day that a Nigerian leader will show compassion and concern for the lives of the people needless to say the life of an animal.
Sometimes I ask myself if we actually have a government because the level of apathy and disregard for the lives and welfare of the hoi polloi is unprecedented. A friend of mine once joked that if you want the road in your neighborhood fixed, adequate electricity supply and security, then pray that someone who holds public office lives in your neighborhood. That's the only way the masses can hope to get any amenities.
Maybe that's the problem. Only the masses are affected. If some or most of the abducted girls consisted of daughters of highly placed individuals, something visible would've been done by now.
As the clock ticks to almost 100 days since these poor girls were abducted and as the government focuses on other irrelevant matters, any hope of recovering these girls is thinning with each passing day. These are the lives of not just the girls that hang in the balance but the lives of their parents as well because the anguish and pain of a parent in such circumstances is immeasurable.
When the #bringbackourgirls campaign went viral I prayed in my heart that it was not just another passing fad. However, with each passing day it is still growing strong despite the government's efforts to curb and frustrate it. I salute the brave men and women that have lent their voice to this campaign.
The government would do well to realize that the biggest dent to its re-election bid is its blatant and nonchalant disregard for the lives and safety of its people.
As another month passes with our cousins, friends, daughters, nieces and sisters in captivity, and as we awake to yet another mass abduction of about 60 plus people, we can only pray that the government wakes up from its self induced slumber and lives up to its most fundamental constitutional duty and #bringsbackourgirls.