There’s a popular tale about an emperor who insists he is wearing lavish robes – and his followers pretend he is – until a child exclaims, “the emperor has no clothes!”
That child’s unapologetic sense of truth is the kind needed for Nigeria, a country that is regularly called a “giant,” yet lost 276 Chibok schoolgirls to Boko Haram terrorists on Apr. 14, 2014, exactly one year ago today.
The brutal truth that Nigerian leaders need to hear is that Nigeria is no giant: not with the stain of its abducted schoolgirls on its conscience, and not with a recent need for less “giant” countries like Niger and Chad to help it fight its Islamist insurgency.And, while the people of Nigeria have voted out the president who failed to recover the schoolgirls, Goodluck Jonathan, they must still hold him to this truth.
They must demand, until his very last day in office on May 29, that he recover the captured girls after years of ignoring Boko Haram, leaving the group to destroy the northeastern region of the country and displace one million citizens.
Of course, Jonathan is likely happy to transfer the biggest headache of his presidency, Boko Haram, to President-elect Muhammadu Buhari, so chances are slim that he will suddenly develop the leadership and strategic instinct needed to find the girls. However, we must not let a day pass that the girls are forgotten because of a lame duck.
If the people of Nigeria trivialize the extent to which a corrupt team like Jonathan’s can lose innocent schoolgirls and then campaign nonchalantly for his re-election afterward, they would be dishonoring the girls.
If they pretend that the loss of 276 girls is not symptomatic of a deeper political fracture within Nigeria, they would be dishonoring the girls.
Our praise for Jonathan’s civil transfer of power to Buhari should be cautious, mindful that terrorists still roam the north and have effectively captured some of its regions. Now would also be a good time for Nigerians to stop celebrating such commonplace democratic practices as “smooth transfer of power” and start expecting them as the norm.
In short, to honor our schoolgirls, it’s time to stop hailing mediocrity and start demanding more.
We do not know whether the retired general Buhari, who once ruled Nigeria briefly under strict dictatorship, will realize the goal of the global hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, or defeat Boko Haram as he promised while campaigning. (He said Tuesday, in an effort to be transparent, that he “cannot promise” to find the girls.)
We do not know whether thefts from Nigeria’s oil revenues will continue under Buhari’s new administration as they did under Jonathan’s – to the tune of $20 billion in just 19 months. We only know that, in order to fight for the return of victims in Nigeria, we must insist on certain truths.
Truth: Nigeria has a $6 billion military budget, and Nigerians must keep Buhari to his word that he will use it for military strength, not allow himself or his cronies to profit. The poor training of Nigeria’s military has allowed Boko Haram to seize children and towns at will – slowly at first, then rampantly, as the devastating loss of the Chibok girls showed.
Truth: Nigeria must treasure its human life. When Nigerians emigrate, they’re at the top of every list of achievement – Nigerians are among the highest-earning ethnic groups in America and they dominate the Ivy League. This idea that Nigerians thrive so dramatically outside of Nigeria should worry its leaders and inspire them to end the brain drain, keep everyone safe in school, and empower the populace. The country should not be losing even one girl to terrorists, let alone 276.
Truth: Buhari repeated in his campaign for the presidency that “if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria.” He’s right. Corruption is precisely why Boko Haram exists: The government is too busy looting oil money to care what happens up north and to whom.
Boko Haram began, ironically, as a confined, educational effort – however misogynistic, anti-Western and extreme – and would never have grown legs in northern Nigeria if the government had a simple means of monitoring the north and hearing the cries of its people.
Instead, a group of jobless, hopeless “kids,” as the Chadian president calls Boko Haram, have grown cancerous, pledging allegiance to ISIS and making Nigeria an unpleasant international headline.
To avoid becoming another useless president, Buhari need only ensure one headline: “Chibok Girls Recovered.” The next should read: “Corruption Stopped, Incomes Quadrupled, and Electricity Constant Under Buhari.”
For the sake of the schoolgirls and for the good of Nigeria, we hope such basic expectations of governance do not become not too much of a fairytale.
China Okasi is an opinion journalist, forthcoming author, and television commentator.