Viewpoint : Kankara To Kagara: Lessons Not Learnt – By Bulama Bukarti

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The abduction last week of 42 people, including 27 schoolchildren and three teachers, from their school dormitory in Kagara, Niger State, is extremely concerning. But it cannot be considered surprising, even to casual observers outside Nigeria. This explains how little international attention the incident has received. For terrorists to march into a school and walk away with the whole student body may be unthinkable in other places, but it is almost a normal way of life in the supposed ‘giant of Africa’. It is the result of many years of sending criminals a message that they can get away with their crimes.

Many Nigerians hoped the December abduction of 344 schoolchildren in Buhari’s own home-state – when he was in residence, no less – would be the breaking-point for leaders in the region. It is now sadly clear that that wasn’t the case. After securing the release of the Kankara boys, politicians followed up by passionately disputing Boko Haram’s claim of involvement in the kidnapping. The violent extremist group released an exclusive video of the children, the kidnappers said on camera that they were associated with Boko Haram and the victims said they were taken by “Shekau’s boys”. Yet local and Abuja politicians insisted that there is no relationship between the “bandits” and the terrorist group.

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At the beginning, the politicians’ exoneration of Boko Haram was confusing, but soon everything started to make sense. They insisted on that narrative because they wanted to continue to downplay Boko Haram, but also because they planned to hold no one accountable. The latter was in all likelihood part of the terms of the release deal. Thus, none of the Kankara culprits was punished or even particularly strongly condemned. In fact, we now know that they were paid N30 million to release the children. The whole episode passed without even the usual empty promises to secure schools, possibly because our leaders knew no one would take them seriously. And the country was so swallowed in the euphoria of the release of the boys that no questions were asked nor was any serious reflection on how to prevent a repeat.

The clearest testimony of this failure to learn lessons is ease with which an identical incident occurred last week. The effortlessness with which the Kagara kidnappers took their victims into the forest is simply jaw-dropping. They didn’t need to scale any fence or break any doors because the school had none. They did not need to use violence, nor overcome any physical resistance, because there were no security operatives at the gate. A school with 1,000 boys located near a forest where terrorists and criminals are known to be lurking was left completely exposed! I couldn’t agree more with Mustapha Bulama’s cartoon published by this paper in which a culprit was portrayed saying they took the children from a bush, not a school.

Many public boarding schools in Nigeria are bushes on which a few dilapidated buildings are standing. When I was a secondary student 20 years ago, our dormitories didn’t have doors, our windows were broken, and the roofs were not worth the name. We had no functioning toilets and our fencing was so patchy that it did little more than identify the boundary. Two years ago, I visited the site of my school again, and was sickened to see that none of this had changed. It only got worse. This compels one to wonder: what does government’s “Safe School Initiative” announced after Chibok and repeated after every school disaster mean? But the answer is obvious. It means nothing. It is an empty political promise made by individuals whose moral compass is completely awry.

While those in charge of our affairs didn’t learn from Kankara, the criminals did. They have learnt that there are no consequences to crime, but rather that it pays handsomely. Just make it outrageous enough and come from a particular tribe or section – politicians will pay and defend you. They have also learnt to kidnap a more manageable number of students: in this case 42 rather than Kankara’s 340. That’s why, after a week, our security agents still have no idea where the victims are.

As distraught parents struggle to come to terms with the horror that has befallen them, a senior member of the Buhari administration displayed yet again the insensitivity that has now become a major hallmark of this government. The minister of defence called Nigerians “cowards” for running from the ruthless criminals whose horror he mischaracterised as “minor, minor, minor things”. Ironically, the minister spewed his garbage on a visit to console grieving families and reassure Nigerians. He wants barehanded Nigerians to face sophisticated criminals who have defied soldiers whom our government claims are well armed. Is the minister expecting Nigerians to use sticks and machetes to repel criminals brandishing AK47s, RPGs and even anti-aircraft weapons? This is the stuff of escapist fantasy films.

As if the behaviour after Kankara was not revealed for its stupidity, several government officials and security agents are repeating the same formula. This means no one will be held accountable or even be condemned. The Niger State Governor keeps insisting publicly that he will not pay money but is engaging in negotiations. On our past experience, this public brag to not pay a ransom can probably be discounted.

There is no question that terrorists and criminals have declared a war on our future. There are also no questions that more schools will be affected if we continue the way we are going. There are already an estimated 10 million children out of school and every attack swells that number. Meanwhile, children who attended the schools that have been attacked will be severely traumatised – and who can learn in an atmosphere of fear and apprehension. The children of the ordinary Nigerians that go to these schools will continue to fall behind the children of the politicians who fail us. But the bigger problem is that the more children we leave out of school or behind today, the more candidates for banditry and terrorism we are bequeathing to tomorrow.

 

  • Credit : DAILY TRUST
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