The Truth and Nothing But The Truth by Onyebuchi Ezekwesili

what are we asking for? The truth, nothing but the truth!

If there is any currency that is in short supply in the governance of our country at the moment, it is truth and invariably, trust. Trust that is founded on truth is what ordinary citizens can repose in their government and leaders. The questions therefore are: Why did our government deliberately mislead the entire country and the whole world with that cheery but phantom news of ceasefire and the release of our Chibok girls? And since then, have their parents who once again were let down, been contacted and offered emotional counseling as a number of them had been hospitalized for hypertension? Does the government realize the extent of the embarrassment that Nigerians now feel before the whole world and what damage they have done to their already eroded social capital? What point was the presidential campaign aide, lavishly reported in the media, making by audaciously telling Nigerians to “move on” because “the President would not wait endlessly for the return of more than 200 school girls abducted mid-April in Chibok?” Move on? Hopefully this campaign team will get to learn that many around the world are not moving on from the travails of the Chibok girls whose only “crime” was that they turned up in school to acquire education. While I do not believe that the president, as a father himself, would ever want to “move on” until he discharges his obligation to our #ChibokGirls, one considers the current jarring silence about their rescue not one bit golden. Citizens’ right to know should compel a speedy and truthful update on the status of efforts to rescue our girls.

However, there are other pertinent questions: What is really going on in Mubi, Gombe, Potiskum, Yola and all our territories in the North East? What went wrong with the intelligence arm of our security architecture? Since truth begets truth, our federal government needs to know that more citizens are today traumatized by the daily killings and maiming as well as the abductions of our people and the annexation by the insurgents of some of our national territorial space.

We are puzzled by the many things which do not add up in our country today and we demand for the TRUTH regarding our counter insurgency strategy. On the loss of territories, a recent analysis puts the land area under Boko Haram control as equivalent to the size of three of our 36 states. How can that be? What exactly is being done to reclaim those territories beyond assurances? On the bombing that killed over 40 school children on the spot and rendered several others injured, what exactly are the authorities doing beyond empty lamentations that go on in parri passu with political jamboree?

It is indeed noteworthy that Nigerians now lament the elite and governance failures that have robbed our nation of the glory days of our relatively strong military and superb intelligence capabilities. Yet it is only systemic corruption that could render an institution prostrate and unwittingly empower a band of renegades to become some sort of “Goliath army” that now daily terrorizes us in our own land. That also explains the perennial failure of government to deliver basic services to the larger number.

There is no sobering symbol of this failure than the governance crisis that has reduced Nigeria to a country which cannot at this time safeguard the future of her children who risk being killed whenever they turn up in school within the North-east zone. I recall that between 2006 and 2007, available data revealed how far behind the rest of Nigeria the North-east was on school enrollment, transition and completion; and so we designed and implemented a number of common sense policies and funding interventions to help improve their performance.

Even at that time, the situation was more terrible for girls. Using our inclusion, gender and equity pillar, we pointed out to parents and their school age children the evidence they could easily relate to around them which reveal the tremendous social and economic mobility that access to education has offered people all over the world. Throughout history, education has been, and remains even now, the best form of equality of opportunity that every society can offer its citizens. Therefore, removing obstacles in the way of those thirsty for knowledge is easily the most important role of government in equalizing opportunity.

If a country really wishes to close all gaps that manifest in inequalities among different groups and segments, it places education at the center of development. Unfortunately, when our children show up in schools in Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and now Gombe States to obtain knowledge, they face the risk of being killed, injured or abducted. Have members of our political elite of all hues and colour given sufficient thoughts to the fact that our failure to secure our children amounts to asking them to either forget about education or surrender themselves to be killed or abducted?  We need an answer for this question and the Truth, nothing but the Truth.

In February 2014, insurgents struck at the Federal Government College, Buni Yadi and killed 59 school boys; nothing happened. Two months later, perhaps seeing how unconcerned our power elite were about their fellow citizens; the insurgents scaled up their operation by abducting 276 girls from their secondary school in Chibok, Borno State. That number is almost five times the number of boys they had earlier killed without consequence in Buni Yadi and although 57 of the girls managed to courageously escape, there are still 219 Chibok girls yet to be accounted for.

However, the Chibok Girls abduction became a major turning point. This time around, some of our citizens decided that “enough is enough” and that they would act together to compel those with the constitutional responsibility to act on behalf of the girls in distress to do so. Nearly 200 days after, we continue to hold our daily solidarity gatherings at the Unity Fountain. That the assemblage is made up of people from all walks of life, ethnicity, religion; political, economic and social divide is very telling of citizens’ resolve.  Today, these Nigerians are eager to unravel the truth behind the failures that have cost us several thousands of lives only in 2014 alone and that keep our ChibokGirls still captive on this Day 213 of their abduction.

In February this year, I put the issues clearly before the members of our political class and what I said back then still resonates today: “Terrorists became emboldened by the absence of our political class across the entire spectrum of political leadership who decided to “play their normal politics” with the blood of the poor. The blood soaked land is convulsing…Is it therefore not unconscionable that in the over nearly three years of rising trend of terrorist attacks against whole communities in the central and north eastern states of Nigeria where our kith and kin have regularly been slaughtered in cold blood; the milk of empathy has not yet flowed from our Elders in the Land in the entire political spectrum to suspend ‘transactional politicking’ and build a united front against this newest common enemy?”

“Is it not unconscionable that despite the massive public resources committed to security spending, the government has failed to inspire confidence in majority of our people who are practically left to their own devices? In shock, Nigerians have wondered whether our political class which carries on with politicking to ‘capture or retain power’ is comfortable to govern communities of the dead, the maimed and the psychologically traumatised. Is it not time for all our political leaders to pay that utmost sacrifice of leadership- lay down their personal gain for the good of the people they wish to lead?”

Like James Garfield once said, “the truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable”. So, we shall never stop asking for the truth from our government; the truth, nothing but the truth. We shall ask until our #ChibokGirls are brought back home and alive…We shall ask until all of North East zone is reclaimed and peace is restored to our land…We shall ask until the professional integrity of our hitherto globally-respected military is restored. We shall ask until every Nigerian feels safe and secure again in our land.

For those who ask about what we demand as we stand daily for our 219 daughters, the answer is simple: The Truth, nothing but the Truth! #BringBackOurGirlsNowAndAlive! The offices of the citizens are now activated.

Ezekwesili, former Minister of Education, belongs to the BBOG, standing for the Chibok girls.

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