8th October, 2019
By Babafemi Ojudu
I have read both the accounts of the former British Prime Minister, David Cameron and that of our former president Dr Goodluck Jonathan on what transpired in the early days of the kidnap of the Chibok girls.
For those not following this story and the accusation and counter-accusations that have followed, let me state it basically as it is so that you can put my intervention in the right perspective.
Cameron has just published his story. In it, he stated that his government offered to assist in rescuing the girls after locating them through military and intelligence efforts. Dr Jonathan, he said in the book, didn’t show sufficient interest or was outrightly unimpressed.
Jonathan then fired a salvo accusing Cameron of lying. He said he made overtures to the British authorities but they were not willing to help. His problem with Cameron and some other leaders of the western world, he added, was that he refused to support the gay practice and actually went ahead to sign a bill making the practice illegal. We may not know exactly what happened but the truth lies somewhere in between.
Now let me add my little voice to this by providing a piece of information hoping that it will help the course of history while the debate, or do I call it argument rages.
I was a Senator of the Federal Republic when this incident happened. It was troubling for many of us. Motions were moved on the floor of the house to prompt the government to act decisively and protests held all over the world showing outrage and demanding the release of the girls.
The signals from the Jonathan Goodluck Government was not resolute, certainly not one from a leader who strongly believed a sacrilege and injustice had been committed.
From him, his wife and other officials then, it could be seen that the matter was treated with doubts and politicized. It was consigned to the realm of “well this is politics”. That it was somehow a conspiracy of “Northern interests” that disliked the President and nothing more. We all still remember the popular video of Patience Jonathan, that embarrassing “principal, principal“ ribaldry.
It was generally thought in government circle that the kidnap of the innocent girls was a political ploy by the opposition to rubbish the integrity of government and make it look bad to Nigerians and the international community.
One afternoon in the Senate chambers, I sat then in my “axis of trouble” watching the comic the place has become to me, and then I saw Senator David Mark’s hand beckoning at me to come and have a tête-à-tête with him at his pedestal where he presided over the affairs of the chamber.
I could not believe myself. For all of the four years I served there he treated me like an outsider, almost as an enemy. This for me was not in any way surprising. I have been in opposition to his politics then and before, especially to the “constituency” David Mark represented, the militocrats. Well, that is a story for another day.
I got up, went to him and he said: “Distinguished, this Chibok Girl’s matter is becoming worrisome. I have secured an appointment with the President to see a few of us tomorrow. I am selecting 10 of you to join me so that we could let him know how worried we are”. “Why me Mr President”, I demanded to know. “ I want you because I know you will tell him your mind. Most of these people will go in there genuflecting, he replied. Hmmm… it was a matter of “omo buruku lojo tie”(everyone is useful).
That night, ten of us Senators went to The Villa. We met him at the First Lady’s meeting room. His service chiefs, the National Security Adviser (NSA), Inspector General of Police (IGP), Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) were also there. Pius Anyim, the then SGF.
President Jonathan made us believe all through the meeting that the Chibok story was not real. It was staged. That it was politics. He tried very hard to convince us. This was his mindset and he made no apologies about it.
The NSA Sambo Dasuki, in his contribution, queried the number of the girls allegedly kidnapped and said all his investigations had led to the fact that all the girls taken were not up to sixteen. “How many Hilux pick up vans will Boko Haram members require to carry the many girls”, he asked for effect. The situation, he said, was blown out of proportion. And that generally was the reasoning among the government officials then. I could, therefore, imagine what would have been their reaction when and if a foreign government offered to help in the rescue effort.
We moved on to discuss Boko Haram. Again Jonathan gave the impression it was an opposition device to rubbish his government. Some raised the issue about the allegation that Boko Haram received supplies by helicopter. He also dismissed that, claiming it was a lie. “Why have those who saw them not been able to camera them? All they do is camera my SGF sleeping at public functions”. We laughed.
I was scandalized. I then interjected and said, “Mr President, I just returned from a visit to US and I met some American officials who said your government had not been cooperating in offering helping hands to combat the insurgents.”
Truly that was what the officials said. A state department official who briefed some of us who visited after the debate between PDP/ APC organized by CSIS in Washington DC in April 2014 was emphatic that the government of Nigeria was not cooperating.
The official, a lady, told us the American government had the intelligence that the Nigerian army captured some safe houses used by the insurgents. “ We have requested for samples of the guns and ammunition recovered from the safe houses for analyses to enable us know the source of the guns, but your Government is not forthcoming”.
This, President Jonathan, at the meeting, also waved aside.
We left, all of us disappointed; PDP or APC Senators alike, and this we all voiced out in the bus that took us out of The Villa before we dispersed that night.
Such was the fate of Nigeria when we dithered when it mattered the most. There was once a country, where the President fiddled. This is history, and we cannot just watch silently while it is being manipulated. Lessons learned.
– Senator Babafemi Ojudu is Special Adviser on Political Matters at the Presidency