Last Wednesday, the BringBackOurGirls campaigners visited President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa in Abuja. After watching the report on national television of how the team was personally received by President Buhari, what immediately went through my mind was the saying that everything that has a plus has its minus and vice versa.
I remembered vividly the attempt by the campaigners to pay a similar visit to President Goodluck Jonathan on May 14, 2014 and how two Nigerian groups; female ministers and security operatives, blocked them from seeing the then president. How come the campaigners were not stopped this time around? Could the saving grace be the absence of ministers that we have all been clamouring for?
This question is relevant because of the tendency of people in government in Nigeria to, at all times, pose as though they love the President more than the public that voted him into power. Hence, the then four female ministers thought it was their place or were sent to counsel the campaigners thereby standing between them and Jonathan.
In a reaction titled, “Wanted in Nigeria: A new approach to street protests”, the ministers forgot that none of them would have become a minister if she was abducted as a young girl and was not rescued.
The point was also made then that none of them would have been able to counsel any protester if any of the abducted girls was her daughter just as none of them would have been satisfied to see a minister instead of the President if she was a mother to any of the abducted girls. So, do we say thank God no intruding ministers now? Are we in any way suggesting that there is no need for ministers?
Of course not, after all, the wise drafters of our Constitution had already underscored the importance of ministers to a government by providing for the position in Section 147 of our highest law. That is not all; the same Constitution also assigned weighty issues part of which is the determination of the continued stay in office of an ailing President to ministers.
What this suggests is that government appointees have a duty not just to the President but the society at large. Accordingly, we expect our next set of ministers to be ready to serve the nation. Neither them nor other appointees especially security operatives are used to forcefully pushing off people from interacting with their President should not turn our President to a prisoner in office as they did to Jonathan by preventing him from being the people’s President.
It will be recalled that during Jonathan’s administration, the President perhaps for security reasons, failed to visit the Chibok community notwithstanding the high degree of international condemnation of the abduction of their girls. Rather than focus on what mattered most – the release of the Chibok girls, sycophants sought to distract the nation from the issue by getting government to provide funds for rebuilding the schools destroyed as a result of insurgency in the community.
Of course, the people were wise enough to reject such tokenism. Worse still, funds meant for the logistics of getting some Chibok citizens to Abuja and back were subjected to misapplication. Again, for security reasons, every Independence anniversary was not only ‘low- keyed’, but moved from its traditional location – Eagle Square to the President’s bedroom where he celebrated “safely” with only his party bigwigs.
What joy did such an imprisoned president enjoy? Against this backdrop, the continued pressure being brought on the issue of the abducted girls by the ‘Bring Back our girls’ campaign team ought to be seen by every Nigerian for what it is – a worthy cause. The nation owes the team a debt of gratitude for its selfless work. The women should never rest on their oars until the girls are rescued. Incidentally, that is not likely to happen to such a group that is made up of women of impeccable integrity who cannot be blackmailed.
In earnest, gone are the days of cheap blackmail when government officials accused anyone who drew attention to lapses in public affairs as agents of the opposition. For the BringBackOurGirls’ campaign team, it is too late in the day to be dissuaded by such distraction. First, their concern is a matter of common interest to all Nigerians and second, they already have positive international recognition bearing in mind the encomiums they have so far got from the Secretary General of the United Nations.
Luckily, Buhari can be said to be on the same page as the campaigners in view of the warm reception accorded the team last week and the undiluted assurances of the President that this government would face the subject squarely. If for nothing else, at least this government empathises with its citizens who are victims of insurgency. Only the week before, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo visited internally displaced persons in parts of Borno and Adamawa States to get firsthand information on the condition of the victims and the IDPs for action by the government.
As for officials who often stand between the government and the people on the grounds of security, it is important to make the point again that the protection of any government official particularly the President which leads to a breach of any constitutionally guaranteed freedom can only make such a government unpopular. Nigerians must be allowed to associate freely and their freedom of movement must always be guaranteed because we are in a democracy.
Thus, while the majority and quite often too, the powerful insist on having their way, they are never to forget to allow the minority to have its say. Indeed, the aggrieved must be allowed to ventilate their grievances without the government scheming to criminalize dissent. Most importantly, since our Constitution provides that the welfare and security of the citizenry is the primary purpose of government, efforts must be made to guarantee that rather than harassing those who draw attention to it.