On Monday, a peaceful and orderly group of Nigerians, comprising Bring Back Our Girls advocates and some parents of the 200 Chibok girls, assembled at the Unity Fountain, Abuja. They set out for Aso Rock thereafter. Their aim was to reach the Nigerian presidency with their presence and to prick the conscience of the Nigerian state with the frustration, anguish and pain of their two years old campaign. They fell short of that destination and dream.
Before the protesters could inch close to a shouting distance of the Villa, they ran into the impenetrably solid wall of partition between the Nigerian citizen and the Nigerian leadership.
On Thursday, the protesters repeated the drill. They gathered at their fixed point of departure and marched towards Aso Rock. Their tenacity saw no new reward. They met the selfsame blockade they couldn’t break through three days back.
Now, the media reported the above incidents a little differently. All the reports chorused that the BBOG vanguard was stopped on their way to the Villa by a detachment of policemen. And that’s factually correct. The placard-carrying Nigerians in red were, indeed, blocked by arms-bearing men in black.
But here’s a corrective to the account of the truncation of the marches: The protesters did not really run into a cordon of policemen. They ran into the fourth wall of Aso Rock, the thickest invisible wall in Nigeria.
In the world of theater, a fourth wall is a virtual barrier between the space of the actors and the room of the audience. This imaginary wall runs along the edge of the stage. Its essence is separation; to demarcate the putative accommodations of the cast and the spectators in such a way that there is an ample interspace between the two groups and an unmistakable distinction between domains of the characters and the non-characters.
The fourth wall is a boundary that neither of both parties can cross. It forbids contact and interaction between actors and non-actors. It clarifies and amplifies the existence of a professional long distance relationship. And it is mutual respect for the span of estrangement that makes for order. An order whose nature hinges on the performance of the cast and the passivity of the spectators.
In barring BBOG and parents of the girls from moving too close for comfort twice in one week, Aso Rock was protecting the sanctity of its fourth wall, affirming the territoriality of the powers that be and stressing that the Nigerian seat of power does not entertain the trespass of commoners…even if the commoners presume to have a right to access Nigeria’s president and a valid reason to remind him of a longstanding grievance the Nigerian state has been remiss to resolve.
During the Monday outing, the police informed the group that they would not be permitted to proceed in the direction of Aso Rock because they lacked ”security clearance”. The protesters didn’t turn back at the rebuff. They sat on the access road to the Villa and waited for three hours, hoping that some authority figure would emerge to, at least, acknowledge them. They had a letter to deliver to President Buhari or Vice President Osibanjo.
All of that was wasted time and expectation. No Buhari or Osibanjo aide or any Nigerian official came out to address them. Nobody was delegated to engage them in the name of the government of their country. They were absolutely ignored.
There was a fourth wall. The Buhari presidency made expressly clear that it would not condescend to cross it to relate with the protesters. And the people got the message.
To be sure, the snobbish fourth wall of Aso Rock predates Buhari. Its history goes all the way back to the conceptualization of Aso Rock itself. The edifice that now houses the Nigerian presidency was designed to be a mystery inaccessible to the everyday Nigerian. It was built to be a secret that doesn’t lend itself to casual Mungo Park discovery. And decades after its erection, Nigerians still know less of its architecture than they do the looks of the offices of heads of government of other countries halfway across the world!
But asking the Nigerian government to reveal the structure of Aso Rock is too big a request to make for a start. The government would have to first define the location of the office of the president of Nigeria. Where is Aso Rock sited? What is its address?
The office and residence of the President of the United States is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC. The office and residence of the British prime minister is 10 Downing Street, London. The office and residence of the president of Nigeria has no address. It is a neverland.
And it was deliberately situated in a literal nowhere so that it would be a neighborhood by itself. It was constructed to exist as a heaven. A space defined, not by its contiguity with another place, but by its aloneness, its alienation, its self ostracism.
The hiding of Aso Rock from Nigerians was meant to perpetuate spatial and relational unfamiliarity between the Nigerian leadership and the Nigerian people. The namelessness of its bearing serves as an advertisement of Aso Rock as the unapproachable hideaway of power. And its subsistence for many years as an anonymous environment is proof positive of the institutionalization of governance by disconnect in Nigeria!
The treatment meted out to BBOG by the Buhari administration is similar to the condescension with which the Jonathan administration dealt with them. Jonathan and his allies ridiculed the campaigners for making a cause out of the captivity of the girls. They attacked the reputation of BBOG leaders with television ads. They pilloried and shamed the humanitarians, calling them entrepreneurial scavengers. They were ‘politicizing’ the kidnap of the girls for profit. They were opposition mercenaries.
Jonathan’s near-paranoid hostility to BBOG and his apathy for the girls cost him a lot of goodwill. He had taken the ludicrous position that the kidnap was a fairy tale invented by his political adversaries to discredit him. So, in the spirit of spite, he elected to invest zero interest in the supposed ruse. That cost us the opportunity to rescue the girls within the early hours and days of their capture.
The scandalous unconcern outraged a good number of Nigerians. And Candidate Buhari and his party, the APC, cashed in on the situation. They cast Jonathan as a heartless leader and an inhumane person. They promised to prioritize the rescue of the girls. Buhari touted his experience as a general and head of state. He promised to bring back the girls in the quickest possible time. Give me your votes and I will give you back your girls!
When the BBOG protest was turned back at the junction that leads to the Villa, buyer’s remorse hit parents of the girls and members of Chibok community. One year after they had bought into Buhari’s pitch, they were yet to be reunited with their daughters. And worse, they were being disdainfully dismissed and humiliated as happened in the era of the man they voted out of office.
Just like Jonathan, Buhari now views them as a nuisance since he has separated them from their votes. He sees them as an irritation and embarrassment. And if he wasn’t constrained by democratic strictures, he would order that the streets of Abuja be rid of the pests!
Like Jonathan, Buhari would rather that the BBOG people find some business instead of making the protest their preoccupation. He would have them wipe the abduction off their memory. If he could bare his mind, he would tell them to murmur wordlessly. They shouldn’t make him the villain. After all, he didn’t create the mess: he inherited it!
Only one of the abducted girls has returned since Buhari assumed office. And the ‘rescue’ of Amina Alli Nkeki was neither effected by Nigerian security officials nor tangentially associated with a purposeful state-sponsored redemption mission. The civilian JTF, a local vigilante, found her by chance.
Last year December, Buhari claimed that Nigeria had no credible intelligence on who to negotiate with for the release of the girls. Between that time and now, the identities of Nigerians with genuine and verifiable relationships with the Boko Haram leadership have been established. And they have declared that their link to Boko Haram is known by the top brass of the Nigerian military. Yet, Buhari is still invoking the excuse of lack of a plausible lead to this day.
Amina said 6 of the Chibok girls had died before her escape. No one knows if that’s all the loss that has happened till now. The young girls are under a regime of rape and deprivation. And they enjoy no decent medical care in the forest where they live.
18 mothers of the Chibok girls have died since the date of their abduction. Their death was caused, at least, in part, by heartbreak. Nobody can size the torment that stole their souls. Only a parent living the reality of their experience can know the full measure of the agony of a mother that encounters her two-years-gone-missing teenage girl only on ‘proof of life’ videos made by adult male lunatics!
Yet, the Nigerian government doesn’t feel any sense of obligation towards the parents of the Chibok girls. There is no official platform that caters to their trauma or their need to know what the state might be doing to secure the release of their kids. There is no system or method for communicating with them or relating with them.
Aso Rock thinks those parents are not worth state attention. They are nobodies. They are folks Nigeria owes nothing. You can update them –at your convenience! –on your ignorance about the whereabouts of their daughters on national TV!
And when parental love compels them to reach Aso Rock because the immobile mountain would not reach them, you stop them miles before they can sight your gate; as if they were vagabond tourists.
You tell them you are not disposed to granting them the favor of access. You ask them to keep to their side of the fourth wall. You tell them to go home and pray and wait… while you expect ‘credible intelligence’ to fall down like manna from heaven!
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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