Thursday, July 17, 2014

How Chibok Parents Disappointed Nigeria's President and PR Firm

President Jonathan snubbed
The decision by parents of the kidnapped Chibok girls to snub a long-anticipated meeting with President Jonathan will probably go down as a costly embarrassment to the Nigerian Presidency and its recently recruited PR firm. Their rejection of the Tuesday meet-up in Abuja was unexpected, and has struck a blow to the president’s ongoing charm offensive.


The meeting was a staged event organized by Levick, the Washington-based PR firm, and President Goodluck Jonathan was set to formally meet and be photographed with the families of the students abducted by Boko Haram in mid-April. 
17 Chibok residents were expected to meet with the president, including five of the students who had managed to escape. However, the Borno State families, in a surprising last minute move, reportedly called it off.

Immediately the snub became news, the president and the parents began a blame game which has led many keen watchers to believe that the boko haram insurgency was fast creeping into the country's politics.

Jonathan said in a statement that the parents had been manipulated by the activist group Bring Back Our Girls, whose hashtag went viral in May, bringing global attention to an issue to which the president had given scant public attention.  
“Political forces within the Nigerian chapter of Bring Back Our Girls have decided to take this opportunity to play politics with the situation and the grief of the parents and the girls,” Jonathan said. “They should be ashamed of their actions.”


“I want to be clear, this government stands with complete solidarity with the girls and their parents. We are doing everything in our power to bring back our girls. Despite the shameful and disgusting games being played by the Nigerian chapter of Bring Back Our Girls, as a father of girls, I stand ready to meet with the parents of our abducted children and the truly brave girls that have escaped this nightmare through the grace of God.”
The “visit” was supposed to be a public relations opportunity for President Jonathan. That summit with 12 parents of the abducted Chibok students in the Nigerian capital would have been invaluable to him politically.
On the other hand, Chibok community leaders told journalists that if Jonathan truly wants to make amends for his disappointing response to the abductions, he should visit the town or, at the very least, bring all the victims to Nigeria’s capital.
On the other hand, 
 “It is embarrassing that the president had to wait for Malala to come all the way to Nigeria to convince him to meet with us three months after the attack,” said Dauda Iliya, a member of the Chibok panel of elders.
Iliya said the community deserve a visit by the president, adding that if Jonathan cannot go to the remote north-eastern town for security reasons, he can bring all the 219 mothers to meet with him.
“This meeting should not be selective,” he said.
 “If our governor (Kashim Shettima of Borno State) was able to come and go back safely, why can’t the president, with all his helicopters,” added Ayuba Chibok, whose nieces are among the hostages
Jonathan after backing out of Chibok visit
In May, President Jonathan had backed out of a scheduled meeting with the parents of the kidnapped Chibok students while visiting Borno State.
Military forces traveling with the president cited security concerns that prevented Jonathan from visiting Chibok back then. Some Chibok residents who spoke with the press afterwards said they felt ‘snubbed’ by the president’s bailout on the visit. 
Yet all sides here seem to agree that as the Islamist insurgency creeps further into politics, the only winners are the insurgents, whose reach appears to be expanding. 
According to Human Rights Watch, Boko Haram extremists killed 2,053 persons in the first six months of 2014.
“Boko Haram is effectively waging war on the people of northeastern Nigeria at a staggering human cost,” said Corrine Dufka,  West Africa director for HRW. "Atrocities committed as part of a widespread attack on civilians are crimes against humanity, for which those responsible need to be held to account.”
This week Boko Haram released a new video claiming responsibility for bombings last month in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, and in a shopping mall in Abuja. Lagos is located on the opposite side of the country from the group's northeast strongholds, where Jonathan declared a state of emergency a year ago. 

'Bring back our army'

In the video, Abubakar Shekau, the ostensible leader of a group known to be extremely diffuse, stands in front of tanks and a dozen heavily armed men, and dances and sings with abandon. He mocks the Bring Back Our Girls group, and threatens a Muslim cleric who preaches tolerance.  “Bring back our girls?” he says, grinning.  “Aww-oo. Bring back our army. Bring back our army.”
In Abuja, the president accused the Bring Back Our Girls group of manipulating the victims of Boko Haram and of “psychological terrorism.” Doyin Okupe, an aide to the president, said yesterday the group had been hijacked by politicians trying to stop Jonathan standing for reelection next year. 
“The entire saga is a major scam that has been put together, carefully choreographed,” he said.  “The whole idea is to hang on him a burden that cannot easily be shaken off so that people of Nigeria and the world will prevail on him not to contest.”

Daily rallies

In Nigeria, Bring Back Our Girls is best known for daily rallies demanding the girls’ rescue. Activists say they had nothing to do with the families’ decision, calling the president’s statement “baseless news.”
Outside the grounds of the Hilton Hotel in Abuja, where the Chibok families are staying, the group's rally yesterday was smaller than normal. Some 20 people stood in the rain, chanting and making speeches. Members of the group say the president's attacks on them were solely to divert the public from the plight of the missing girls. 
“They [the government] trample on us like we are insects that are not visible,” said activist Mia Muna. “And we are taking it.  This is not fair, to us… and to the parents and to the children.”
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