Missing Kankara Boys and A Tear-Gassed Nation – By Reuben Abati

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“What is going on?”

“Where?”

“Where else? Nigeria of course.”

“What has happened again?”

“What has not happened? The other week, we were all lamenting that 43 farmers were slaughtered in Zabarmari, in Borno State, and now the whole world is being told that hundreds of school boys have been kidnapped from their school – a Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, Katsina State.”

“And you are surprised?”

“What do you mean I am surprised? I am not surprised. I am shocked and angry.”

“But when Northern Governors, traditional rulers and the Sultan of Sokoto warned that the situation in the North had become very desperate and dangerous, what was the response from those whose job it is to ensure the safety of lives and property?”

“I stopped listening to official statements on security challenges long ago. In fact, I am looking at the government with one-corner eye, as we say”

“You have to listen, because they are the ones in charge of our lives and our country. If the people do not feel safe, and are truly not safe, what you will get is this current reign of chaos and anomie. They told you that they are on top of the situation, in charge and that Boko Haram will certainly be defeated, no matter how regrettable the current situation may be. You can ask questions if you are in doubt.”

“I don’t know what you listen to, what I hear is that the security agencies do not have the kind of equipment that they need to enable them deal a decisive blow to the Boko Haram, because some powerful countries have refused Nigeria access to heavy-weight platforms.”

‘Do you need heavyweight military or police equipment to make Nigerian schools safe? Or to make it possible for people to travel from one part of the country to the other without being attacked by bandits, terrorists and criminals? This is Christmas season. In this same Lagos, many years ago, by now, the middle of the month, lagos would be half-empty. People from the North, the East, the South South would all have closed shop, leave Lagos and travel home to celebrate Christmas in their ancestral homes. There would be no traffic gridlock in the city till the second week of January in the new year. But for some time now, Christmas in Lagos has changed. People don’t leave town. They say it is too risky because of Nigeria’s security problems.”

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“I am not a security expert. I can’t offer you a professional opinion. But I have heard such phrases as “security architecture”; “we will rejig”, “we will remodel” to know that something is wrong somewhere. We don’t even know the exact number of children kidnapped in Kankara. Can you imagine school boys sleeping in their hostels at night, only to be attacked by terrorists running into hundreds? Young, small boys?”

“Chibok, Dapchi, Buni Yadi, and now Kankara…what, where or who is the next target? The criminals laid siege on defenceless schoolboys for two hours. There was no rapid response.”

“To be fair, I understand that the police and the military eventually identified the hide-out of the terrorists and there was an exchange of gunfire, which led to the rescue of some of the boys.”

“How many boys did anybody rescue?”

“You know how we are with figures in this country? Take the killings in Zabarmari. We have been told different figures. In one account, 78. In another, 67. There is also 43. Why is it so difficult to know who is alive or dead, in any community in Nigeria?”

“Simple. Too simple. In Nigeria, we don’t know how many are dead or are living. We don’t even know how many we are. People live and die. Life rolls on.”

“Point of correction. The National Population Commission says we are 206 million.”

“I can bet that even the person who made that announcement does not believe himself either. We treat human beings as if their lives do not matter. The Governor of Katsina State says there are 839 students in the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara. Following the President’s directive that a proper audit should be carried out, the Governor announced that 333 students were still missing. But I understand Presidential Spokesperson Garba Shehu told BBC Hausa that only 10 students are missing. And that led to even more speculations.”

“Well, these things happen often. Garba Shehu spoke in Hausa. Whoever is quoting him may not understand Hausa. We should wait for him to translate what he said into English. You know he had to do that not too long ago”

“Is he the only one that speaks Hausa in Nigeria? Whatever it is, the people deserve to know what exactly happened. The parents of the missing students want their children back home. No Nigerian, boy, girl, man or woman should ever be kidnapped or subjected to any form of indignity or abuse”

“I understand the Governor of Katsina State is already negotiating with the terrorists. They have reportedly made contact and they are asking for ransom, and they are talking.”

“Fake news. Don’t peddle fake news. Have you forgotten that when the children were first abducted, we were told that the kidnappers are cowards?”

“This is not fake news oh. You know the Katsina Governor used to have some kind of understanding with the insurgents. I think they understand each other.”

“An understanding with criminals and cowards? Who does that?”

“These ones are not cowards oh. People who go from community to community either on foot or on motorbikes causing mayhem, kidnapping persons, raping, maiming and slaughtering human beings, you call those ones cowards? In fact, in the last few weeks, they have been on rampage in Katsina and other parts of the North, and for me that is a demonstration of courage, chutzpah-style. Two days before the incident in Kankara, a village head and 20 other civilians were kidnapped in Gamji Village, Sabuwal Local Government in Katsina State. The attack on the Government Science Secondary School happened barely 24 hours after President Muhammadu Buhari arrived in the state for a week-long private visit. By Sunday, there were further attacks in Jibia Local Government. The same day, terrorists also struck in two villages in Niger State.”

“My heart bleeds for the North”.

“My heart bleeds for Nigeria, because we are all in this together. I can’t blame the Governor of Katsina State if he is negotiating with the terrorists. If that is what will bring back the boys, so be it.”

“Do you think the President himself should negotiate with the terrorists? Those people may not listen to just a Governor.”

“When the President refused to discuss with the elected representatives of the people, you think he should now go and sit down with common criminals? Lend yourself some sense, my friend.”

“Okay may be the President should visit the families of the affected school boys then?”

“Is that why the President is in Katsina? The President is in his village on a private visit, not to start going from one village or the other greeting people.”

“We are talking about human lives. The lives of precious citizens. I just want the President to show empathy. Nigerians are very impatient. Now they are saying instead of showing more interest in the Kankara Boys, he is busy visiting cows in his farm.”

“Don’t be cheeky.”

“It is not me oh. It is what people are saying.”

“Watch your mouth. The President is a farmer. He has every right to visit his farm.”

“This is the problem with having a conversation with you. I am saying the President should take charge and show empathy, you are twisting the conversation and trying to defend the President. Look, I am a citizen. I have the right to tell the President what I expect from him. If you are afraid to say the truth, I am not. Put yourself in the shoes of the parents of the victims of Chibok, Dapchi, Buni Yadi and now Kankara. Is it easy?”

“Still, we have to respect the fact that every President has his own style”

“What style? Is it part of Presidential style for government agents to tear-gas and humiliate the mothers of the boys of Kankara Government Science Secondary School who took to the streets on Sunday to plead with government to help rescue their children. They were rudely dispersed.”

“The last time I checked, the Nigeria Police had warned against any form of protest in any part of the country.”

“You mean women whose children have been abducted, some of them may have up to three children in that school, have no right to wail and call for help? What is wrong with you, though?”

“I am trying to let you see how people in government look at some of these issues. But you are bent on dictating what you think. And who told you the people who dispersed the protesting mothers were policemen? They could be hoodlums who have been very active these days.”

“Yes, like the hoodlums who attacked peaceful anti-SARS protesters. Hired hoodlums, tear-gassing the nation.”

“Can you prove that they were hired? By whom? Where? How?”

“Yes, by government. The same government that will not hire hoodlums or mercenaries to go and fight Boko Haram is busy hiring hoodlums to fight innocent, peace-loving citizens.”

“You can’t prove that.”

“I am a citizen. I can say what I like. The office of the citizen is the most important office in the land.”

“The people you call hired hoodlums, are they not citizens also? Beware of self-delusion.”

“So, those thugs who disrupted a meeting of the Coalition of Northern Groups, scattered the whole place and chased out the members, you call those ones citizens too? The Coalition of Northern Groups was holding a peaceful meeting in Abuja yesterday: a meeting to discuss the security situation in the North, in the light of recent events.”

“Oh, you know their agenda. You are planning with them to heckle and embarrass the President of Nigeria. They want to go and picket the President’s country home.”

“I wasn’t at the meeting. But I saw photographs of how their meeting was disrupted. People cannot meet freely again? Is it that bad? I won’t be surprised if one of these days, hoodlums begin to attack media houses. What am I even saying? During the #EndSARS protests, some media houses were attacked. There is an attempt to silence the people’s voices.”

“It depends on how you see it. Everything in life is a matter of perspective. Government is fighting fake news. Stop looking at photo-shopped photos!”

“Certain perspectives are just not right, like some of the things you have been saying. Is it a good thing that children cannot feel safe in their schools anymore?”

“I never said anything like that. I do not support any assault on the integrity of the country’s education system. I am just worried that after the abduction of the Chibok girls in 2014, Nigeria in collaboration with the UN Global Education Initiative launched a programme to protect schools from armed attacks, address the educational needs of children in Internally Displaced Persons camps (IDPs), and support education. The programme started in pilot states in the North. In 2018, Nigeria ratified the UN Safe Schools Declaration. But today, Nigerian schools remain unsafe.”

“May be in the North. In the South, the schools are fairly okay”

“You don’t get it. Students are being killed, or recruited as frontline soldiers by terrorists, or turned into orphans, displaced, disoriented in parts of the North, but are the schools in the South safer? What is safe about schools where teachers are poorly paid or not paid at all, owed months of salary arrears and treated like dregs of the society? What is safe about a university system that has been shut down for more than eight months, with every activity in a suspended state, simply because government and university teachers can not agree on so many issues? We may be talking about security and the need for action and empathy, but we should also worry about the future of our children, and our own future as well.”

“Our own future is here already. Isn’t that what the EndSARS protest is all about? The children whose tomorrow adults like to talk about have issued a verdict: the older generation played with that tomorrow and messed it up.”

“When they too get older, they will see that life is a Mobius Strip”.

“What is that?

“Never mind”

“I hope you are keeping safe sha. I hear COVID-19 is back.”

“It never went anywhere. Really bad. You can’t cough or sneeze anymore these days, without people putting a crown on it.”

“There is even a new strain of the virus in circulation, a deadly strain, according to scientists. Infections are spreading”

“It is better to keep safe, and avoid a really dirty December.”

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