Yesterday March 26, 2018 one of the biggest historical ironies of all time took place at Aso Rock, Abuja. His Excellency President Muhammadu Buhari hosted the family members of Martin Luther King Jr. the World’s greatest champion of freedom, justice and equality ever known.
The timing and the optics were hilarious at best, but deeply ominous. While Dr. Mrs. Naomi Barbara King was posing with the Nigerian President and turning her cheek for a presidential kiss, in far away North Eastern Nigeria, a defiant fourteen year school girl child, Leah Sharibu, was left in the hands of her captors, the dreaded behemoth of evil called Boko Haram: vicious blustering, gloating and imperious terrorists.
Her schoolmates, her school and her government abandoned Leah. Alone in the hands of her captors, Leah did not flinch nor beg for mercy but defiantly refused to convert to Islam from her Christian faith. Her God alone is with her now as she faces death, threats of death, slavery, or other horrendous possibilities of mutilation, defilement, and transgression.
Each second is life and death to this child while the nation gleefully celebrates the return of her Muslim mates and the government congratulates itself.
The shame of the nation is that we are too blind and too deaf and dumb to perceive that a star is born, a new World icon of no less significance than Martin Luther King Jr. Rosa Parks, and Malala Yousafzai, whose actions and conduct changed the World. The Christians who are clamoring for the speedy release of Leah have sadly missed the point. She is now also a symbol of defiance of the moderate Muslims too who are against extremism. Leah is now a World icon. The whole World should rise up and demand for her release.
But whether she is released today, or tomorrow, whether she is killed, defiled and married off as a sex slave, her singular action of defiance has put her in the World’s Hall of fame as a champion of life and freedom for all those who suffer oppression. Her refusal to passively accept the life imposed on her by her captors, and to opt to live the one she desires should make her an icon for all girls, women, youth and the downtrodden.
She is a symbol of the women’s liberation struggle against a patriarchal society that dehumanizes women. She is a gauntlet against neo-feudalism and the Somalization of Nigeria.
Leah has challenged all of us who are silent in the face of egregious evil around us. She is a challenge to the mates who could have refused to leave until Leah was also released. She is a challenge to those who see her as a nuisance, and expected her to have verbally abandoned and compromised her faith and returned home . She is a challenge to her government which could have negotiated for her too and demanded that the Boko Haram should return all or no deal.
Nigeria committed a moral indiscretion and error to celebrate the release of the other girls to the exclusion of Leah. Leah is a reproach to the Dapchi parents who were celebrating and thanking the terrorists and the government that gives them amnesty and negotiates favorable terms for them. She is a challenge to people who preach peaceful co-existence but their actions speak otherwise.
The Dapchi girl’s saga has exposed the sinister side of government propaganda. One thing is clear. The war against Boko Haram is far from won. If anything the Dapchi saga has shown the terrorist gaining ground by using soft power. Their invincibility is seen when the Dapchi residents are seen celebrating the militants for returning their children. The release of the girls is still shrouded in convoluted mystery and a portfolio of narratives that don’t add up. Are we going to win the war against terror by killing all Boko Haram terrorists? This is not possible!
Should we give them amnesty, and absolve them in the Nigerian army? God forbid!
We could crush Boko Haram within the period of 3 months that this administration had boastfully promised if we aimed at destroying their strategic assets.
But where political will is absent the citizens imagination runs riot and they begin to think that perhaps the war on terror is in reality the setting up of a government ATM machine to pull out large sums of money for politics by other means. That Boko Haram festers and the herdsmen killers thrive is a reproach on us all!
Nigerians have also become aware of incompetence that was carefully hidden, silently tolerated, but which is now painfully visible. This incompetence evokes nothing but spittle.
Finally, the nation is shamed when we no longer admit that right and wrong exist.
The true test of the Nigerian civilization is not the size of Lagos or the flyovers in Abuja. The true test of our civilization is the kind of men and women we turn out. We are fakely cruel and fakely callous.
Our nation has devolved to this docility in the face of the clash between barbarity and humanity. But amidst all this rottenness we have become the manure where Leah Sharibu has turned out to be a shining star and an icon for the new greater Nigeria. She is the icon for the movement for the restoration of morality, decency, integrity and freedom to all Nigerians.
I salute the new face of change: Leah Sharibu!
(Prof. Iyorwuese Hagher, former Nigeria’s Ambassador to Mexico, writes from Leadership Institute Jos).