“War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength” – George Orwell, 1984
It is easy to empathize with those who find it hard to believe that over 200 girls were taken from GSS Chibok on April 14, 2014; after all, in war, the first casualty is Truth.
The doubt cannot be laid entirely at the feet of politicization. The doubt does not arise strictly as a result of Kema Chikwe’s request for lists and pictures or Dame Jonathan’s robust interrogation of the matter. Neither does it rest solely on the ample shoulders of Asari Dokubo and his scraggly, sympathy evoking crew of anti #BringBackOurGirls protesters.
The doubts arise from the messiness that is Nigeria which stains the way we think and everything that we try to do. However, situating the story firmly in the inescapable context of Nigeria provides clarity. First, the numbers. The fact that it is difficult to determine if 234 or 276 were initially abducted and how many escaped is not peculiar – we have a strange relationship with numbers in Nigeria. We do not know how much money we make from oil or how much we lose from corruption, our census is contentious and for every situation involving dead bodies, there are at least two varying tallies. The truth is, for many, the Chibok story initially got lost within the media focus on the gore of the first Nyaya bombing. GSS Chibok served as a centre for a WAEC examination bringing in girls from different schools – which along with an alleged burnt administration block, explains the inability of the Principal to confirm the numbers immediately.
The second mystery is no mystery at all. People wonder ‘how so many girls could be taken?’ Eyewitness accounts say the terrorists came in 4 trucks and several motorcycles, camouflaged to look like the Nigerian military which explains freedom of movement and the capacity to abduct 200 girls.
The third contributor to the doubt is the lack of in-depth media coverage. ‘Where are the parents?’ doubters asked. ‘If your child was missing would you be quiet?’ Until the world’s attention was drawn to Chibok with a blend of online and physical campaigns on April 30, we had no opportunity to hear directly from the parents and the community.
Closely linked to this are the fourth and fifth issues i.e., low expectations of Nigerians for government care and intervention, and the fact that the abduction of women and girls has been going on for months, some say years without any acknowledgement by the state and federal governments. Expecting nothing since nothing had happened previously compounded with media inattention, explains what seems like the silence of the parents.
At the heart of all the issues enumerated above, is our deep mistrust of government and what the local media tells us and what is increasingly becoming a national culture of shoddiness in everything we do. We cannot assume that the corruption that pervades our interactions with each other and government institutions will spare our media and our military.
However, as difficult as it seems, we must not allow our hard earned distrust for government to colour our interactions with each other. We must continue to ask questions and seek rational answers which do not insult or patronize us, all of which is impossible without the shadow of doubt. But doubt does not have to result in the loss of our humanity. At this trying time of our country’s history, our empathy for each other as humans and kindred citizens is extremely powerful, as we have all witnessed with the #BringBackOurGirls campaign and we must protect and use it wisely.