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Published On: Fri, Jun 6th, 2014

Harsh tag reality: My journey to Borno

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Borno state Gov. Kashim Shettima, speaks to the Associated Press during an interview at the Government house in Maiduguri, Nigeria, Wednesday, Sept, 28. 2011. Security forces arrested a top commander of a radical Muslim sect who ordered killings in the northeastern city where the group's mosque once stood, bringing a new calm to the restive region, a governor said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)#BringBackOurGirls remind me of the Malaysian Airlines syndrome. Of families who will not give up in the face of harsh reality. Some still believe their loved ones will come back. Whilst we focus on the girls that Boko Haram is holding hostage, the army cannot act for fear of hurting them and many other hostages, and bringing international condemnation. Yet every night Boko Haram insurgents burn more villages and kill more people, yet the hostages tie up the hands of the military. Sometimes we have to take ruthless decisions in war.

The harsh truth is that we have to make a harsh choice, and tag along with the harsh reality.

Harsh truth. Tag along. Reality. This is our Harsh Tag Reality: between finding the 200 girls of Chibok and saving the villages of Borno we may have to face a choice, or linger on in limbo. I pray we have have both but the realities here indicate we may have to face one, the more important one. It is really a bit like gangrene. You either have to cut off the gangrenous limb or lose your entire life. If we can find the 200 girls and all the other girls abducted before and after, fantastic. But let us focus on the real issue here, Borno! How do we save Borno and prevent more killings and abductions.

There is another argument that this critic used. The Chibok girls are a symbol of our resolve. It is almost like we are more interested in the colourful demonstrations of the hashtag group, the superstars in Hollywood who have moved on from the hashtag fad, and in the letters of the Senate Women in America, than in the reality in Borno. They claim it made President Obama sit up and notice and put 80 American troops in Chad to find the Chibok girls with drones. The ridiculousness of this proposal is too painful to contemplate. The truth is that despite the meetings in France with the francophone countries, we are on our own for the meantime. Please understand this: President Obama was playing to the gallery and just wanted to be seen to be doing something. He is not being nasty. He is not being deceptive. He is clearly very tired. President Obama is suffering from American Intervention Fatigue.

When I asked the question, “Why the Chibok Girls?” those focused on the success of the hashtag did not understand the deeper implications of that question. Racism.Think of what happened in Rwanda, Mali, Central African Republic. It is until thousands die and governments are toppled that America and the West notice disaster in Africa. Why did it take the dramatic capture of 200 girls in the middle of the night to wake up the feminist liberation movement, that was more concerned about the rape of the girls than the dying of thousands in Borno. Please do not get me wrong. Raping the girls and selling them into slavery is a terrible thing, but like in Jos, or Biafra, when you are burying hundreds of dead in a trench, one more dead body means nothing to you. Death and pain is relative to your degree of suffering. 200 Abducted girls rings terrible in Lagos, Abuja, London and Washington, but 200 abducted girls mean nothing in Borno. They are more concerned with 200 burnt out villages. You get?

The people that will save Borno and hundreds of abducted girls and burnt out villages are the Nigerian Army, the junior JTF and the hunters who have volunteered to do so. The Nigerian Army and our soldiers from the South probably lack the motivation, but the hunters and junior JTF need to be trained and armed properly if we are to save Nigeria. Their motivation to save their homes, like our motivation in Biafra to save our lives from massacre, is strong enough to match the religious zealotry of Boko Haram.

One thing that gets me about Maiduguri is the pleasantness of the people. It reminds me of our lives in Biafra. Surrounded by death at every turn, we found time to laugh, to love and to be kind to strangers and refugees. Maiduguri is filled with refugees and displaced persons, but you do not see them. Many are with helpful relatives. The resolve of the people of Maiduguri, their kindness and goodwill are awe inspiring. Most do not know anything about hashtags and I do not think they are waiting for demonstrations to save them through America. They will save themselves and with that save Nigeria. We need to focus not just on the girls but on Borno. If we must have hahtags, then #BringBackBorno is a more relevant hashtag to the dignity of these people than 200 girls who may or may never come back.

The butterflies are still buzzing in my belly as I write this piece wondering how I will cross no man’s land back to Damaturu and the less terrifying bombs of Abuja, or even better, the green meadows of England. Every noise is magnified in the night. I am listening out for bombs and bullets. None yet. Fear dissipates. I smile with understanding. Perhaps it is better to blog about #BringBackBorno from a safe distance. But before I go, I must leave something important for these wonderful people. I must persuade the Governor to put a proper Security corridor with escorts on that Damaturu Road so that single vehicles do not travel alone. It is their only lifeline and will do much to increase the commerce and traffic to Maiduguri. It reminds me of Biafra’s Uli Airport, the only route for bringing food to the starving millions of Biafra. If that is all I can do to help, it will be far better than ranting on the internet and making much ado about nothing. Hashtag Fatigue has become Harsh Tag reality!

Agha Egwu has just returned from a trip to Maiduguri.


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