As has become symptomatic of President Goodluck Jonathan, he is incapable of putting his best foot forward. Whenever he attempts this simple task, he ends up stumbling and embarrassing himself. Such was the case when he finally decided to meet, albeit reluctantly, with parents of the missing Chibok schoolgirls recently at the Presidential Villa. The meeting which he agreed to after over three months of the girls’ abduction was at the prodding of the young Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, who had visited him as part of activities marking her birthday which incidentally coincided with the 100th day of the girls’ captivity.
The first scheduled meeting between the President and the Chibok girls’ parents ended in a fiasco as the parents and members of the Chibok community in Abuja invited to meet with Jonathan failed to show up. As expected, the Presidency pounced on the #BringBackOurGirls campaigners as being responsible for the botched meeting. It accused them of working with the opposition to ensure the meeting did not hold. The Presidency said Jonathan was deeply concerned about the plight of the girls and their parents and did not wish to play politics with the matter. It, however, failed to explain why it took that long for him to schedule the meeting prior to Malala’s visit with the attendant international spotlight she brought along which the President was eager to bask in.
The President eventually met with the parents alongside some of the girls who escaped from their captors. However, the President’s visitors and indeed most Nigerians who expected to hear refreshing news about the efforts being made to rescue the girls were left disappointed. As some of them later told the press, they did not hear anything new from their commander in Chief with regards to how soon they will be reunited with their daughters. Neither were they given any soothing information regarding their condition. As it turned out, they came out of that meeting as clueless and confused about their wards’ fate as they were when they went in.
The Presidency in its characteristic blundering manner made matters worse by attempting to single out some of the parents for monetary reward while others were left empty handed. The public relations disaster came to light when some aggrieved members of the Chibok community who were left out blew the whistle that a senior special adviser to the President had come to their hotel about midnight on the day of the visit and handed out various sums of money to some of the parents. It emerged that some were given N100,000 while others got N200,000 and a few others got nothing at all. At first, the Presidency denied that money was handed out but was to retract the barefaced lie when some of the beneficiaries admitted they did receive money from the government.
We fail to see what the President intended to achieve by belatedly agreeing to meet with the parents. His action late in the day would not make up for his refusal to meet with them in the wake of the abductions or even visit them in Chibok as Nigerians had called upon him to do. We are dismayed that he failed to see that his refusal to meet with them much earlier inadvertently meant he was playing politics with the issue. He should have risen above any such tendencies and acted as the president of all regardless of party affiliations. The President and his handlers have not helped matters by insisting that those calling on him to act decisively to rescue the girls are members of the opposition. It is clearly this mindset that has robbed him of the will to rescue the girls and bring an end to the insurgency that has lasted far too long.
As the nation prepares for elections in few months to come, the issue of the abducted girls and the wider insurgency will continue to dog the Jonathan presidency and he should know by now that no amount of spin can whitewash them. He must address these issues and more before he contemplates going round seeking another mandate.