The metamorphosis of some Lagos school boys into a new batch of Chibok Girls is well underway.
As with the atmospherics of Chibok three years ago, a criminal industrial complex and a hardhearted guardian state are gambling with the lives of innocent Nigerian children.
This heart-wrenching replay of history began on 25th May when some armed men invaded Lagos State Model College, Igbo Nla, Epe and abducted six students: Peter Jonah, Isiaq Rahmon, Adebayo George, Judah Agbausi, Pelumi Philips and Farouq Yusuf.
The boys have been missing ever since, held hostage in an unknown location. The arms of rescue have yet to reach them in spite of the assurances of the Nigerian Police. Their captivity has now hit the Biblical milestone of forty days and forty nights.
As you would expect, the news of the disappearance of the kids took away the peace of mind of their parents. They were transformed, in an instant, from everyday people to the devastated, distraught and desperate shadow of themselves.
Agonizing and organizing simultaneously, they staged a protest at the office of the governor of Lagos State two weeks after the abduction in order to keep the issue on the front burner.
These parents have also attempted to raise the sum of 40 million naira set as price of ransom by the kidnappers. But the humble folks were able to come up with only 10 million naira. That was the widow’s mite they realized after disposing their cars and landed properties.
The soulless kidnappers, who would steal your child and add offer to sell him back to you at their own determined price, are adamant that the students would not be released until the stipulated ransom was paid in full.
Lagos State government, the owner of the public school where the kids were abducted from, is in a position to toss off the balance and end this nightmare.
But Governor Akinwunmi Ambode is unwilling to help consummate the release. Ambode insists that the state government does not negotiate with kidnappers. He would rather maintain doctrinaire faithfulness to that principle than bend over backwards and cut short the nightmare of the kidnapped kids.
There is no way to sugarcoat the brazenly atrocious decision. This is legalism at the expense of reason. And it is safe to hazard that Ambode would never have considered it proper to abandon the kidnapped students if they were his own children.
The kidnap of a child is not mere separation from mother, a forced deportation from the love of the family, a rushed excursion from home to the wild.
The kidnap of a child is murder. It is the execution of innocence. It is the rape of a tender, virgin soul by human wickedness.
The hostage experience is terrible even for the most stoic adult. However, a normal adult can bear up well under that condition. A full-fledged man who is self-aware, mature, and mentally independent can make sense of his condition, embrace his fate and adjust his mood.
A child is not equipped to endure kidnap. A normal child is clingy, needy, and intimately bonded to his closest circle of love. His nascent mind cannot appreciate the cosmic disorder that makes the heinous crime of hostage taking one of the facts of life. He cannot understand why mummy’s pet wound up as the caged property of an unfeeling captor. He can only try to cry himself free.
The students don’t deserve a month-long suffering as babes in the wood. They shouldn’t spend a weird holiday with misanthropic savages. The kids deserve urgent redemption, not some dogmatic excuse for allowing their thralldom.
Those kids should not be left at the mercy of the kidnappers as if they committed an offense punishable by ostracism. It wasn’t their fault that they were kidnapped. They just happened to be victims of some of the terrible nihilists that share this existential space with us.
There is no justification for disowning the kids. No justification whatsoever.
The sabbath was made for man: man was not made for the sabbath. The lives of those kids are more sacred than any man-made convention. By the same token, the emergency of their safe release should trump any subsisting protocol.
The kidnappers consider the students a bargaining chip. They are keeping them because they want to make money. Ambode would not negotiate with the loathsome kidnappers. He wants to keep taxpayers’ money and lose the students. The impasse suggests that the kidnappers and Ambode have just about the same level of respect for human value.
Chibok happened because President Goodluck Jonathan waffled in the early days when the school girls’ abduction by Boko Haram was more easily addressable. His passivity granted the terrorists ample time to take the girls deep into the heart of Sambisa forest and marry off a couple of them to some insane terrorists. Three years after, all the girls are yet to be accounted for and half a dozen of their parents have died of heartbreak.
It beggars belief that the Buhari/Osibanjo government is treating the Epe students kidnap with Jonathan-grade levity. The Osibanjo acting presidency is looking askance instead of prevailing on Ambode to resolve this metastasizing saga. Osibanjo can’t see Epe evolving into Chibok.
Ambode is obviously maintaining his hardline stance in order to communicate that kidnapping school kids is not an open sesame to government treasury. Of course, national governments have the policy of not indulging hostage takers. However, responsible governments are quick to resort to reliable back channels when they have to deal with a matter of live and death that leaves them with no other choice than to negotiate.
In this very delicate case, six human lives are at stake, the kidnappers have the whip hand and the Nigerian state security agents are clueless about the whereabouts of the boys.
And you can’t guess how soon they will receive a useful tip. It took us a decade to hunt down Evans, ‘the kidnap kingpin’.
The shameful reality is that Nigerian security system is behind the age. We lack the intelligence apparatus that the law enforcement of other countries use to track and arrest criminals in the shortest possible time. The kidnappers can run and hide here. That’s the reason Ambode must negotiate fast.
The delay of the students’ rescue is increasingly jeopardizing their life and health. Every day those kids spend in that hideaway, they are exposed to physical, mental and sexual abuse. This waiting game is so dangerous that the kids may be wasted the day the kidnappers get high on weed or go apoplectic.
Knowing the asperity of the hostage takers, it is wishful thinking to presume they would someday tire of holding the kids and release them unconditionally. The kidnappers are fortune hunters. They will not set the boys free if the ransom is not delivered. Hostage taking is not their pastime: it’s their ‘occupation’.
It’s incredible Ambode is not anxious to resolve this situation. What it would cost him to rescue the students is a relatively small expense compared to the fortune Lagos State squanders in the name of his godfather’s pension.
I cannot for the life of me fathom why Ambode is taking eternity to act so the kidnapped Epe students can be reunited with their families. It took him less than 24 hours to sack the priest who neglected to anoint his wife, Bolanle, first in a Sunday service!
How did Ambode sleep these forty nights with these kidnapped Epe students on his conscience?
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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