Considering the scale of the global outrage which greeted the abduction of nearly 300 girls in a high school in Chibok on April 14 this year, even the most diehard cynics would have concluded that this one Nigerian tragedy would meet with swift remediation. Nearly everyone who mattered was interested. The First Lady of the United States held a #BringBackOurGirls# placard inside the White House. The First Lady of Nigeria held a televised event during which, to great decibel, she invoked God the Omnipresent. Global media, both print and electronic, took passionate interest and championed the cause of the abducted girls for days, then weeks….
A month into the incident, with the puzzlingly tolerable report that US drones would be employed to locate and/or rescue the girls, it seemed quite plausible that the agony of the hundred helpless mothers was coming to an end, on a note of positive relief.
Hope rising as the dawn
Now, that hope, that spirit of optimism, has turned to naught. The world has moved on. Malala has gone to Abuja to give the Nigerian president an uplifting audience, or receive same. The president has met with the mothers of the girls. Money has reportedly been shared. Only public relations experts keeping jobs and with a fee for their efforts still say that the girls have been, or will be, located. Even this newspaper, The news has become history, like the wrecking of the Korean ship and the death of the famous novelist Gabriel García Màrquez, both of which occurred within days of the tragedy at Chibok.
The world has moved on
It is both saddening and surprising. Yet the second emotion is hardly justified, with regard to international and local responses.
On the global level, occurrences on the scale of the Chibok abductions are routine, and they lose or gain importance in proportion to their political value. As an affront on the sanctity of innocent lives, the abduction of the girls also fed into the pattern of the fragility of girl-education, and most of the initial response to the tragic incident unfolded within this pattern.
But global media are also adepts at what the writer and activist Arundhati Roy has termed ‘Crisis-as-Spectacle’. This means that the media and their jaded consumers see any crisis as theater to be enjoyed on the basis of how spectacular or sensational it is. Days pass, and so does the incident, to be replaced by another with fresher entertainment value. As a way of opposing this attitude to problems of tragic proportions, Roy enjoins activists to not think of their activism as holiday events, as things to do during free time.
The local, Nigerian response is no surprise, either
No one who truly cares about how Nigeria operates should be surprised that things have taken the present turn. The surprise should be that the girls are eventually rescued, even with American assistance. The country has a talent for making the most morally rewarding end unachievable, even with little effort. Nigeria is just wired that way. To be more precise, given how it operates, Nigeria is unable to achieve even the most morally rewarding ends, especially in politics. If the manner of governing the country puts one in the mind of one thing, it will be “The Song of Great Capitulation,” from Bertolt Brecht’s classic play, Mother Courage and Her Children. The song is homage to the acceptance of failure before the effort.
Of course, it is appropriate to heap the blame for the state of things on the government of Goodluck Jonathan. Chibok, perhaps the most scandalous of the many scandalous Boko Haram affronts, happened when the president was watching, and he was caught in his accustomed posture, that is, flat-footed and hand-on-the-chin.
The painful truth is that Jonathan can do no better than this. He not only does not have it in himself to rise to any occasion; he also happens to be in charge in a place and at a time when the rationale for governance is not what it is made out to be. Additionally, he presides over a country with an ingrained culture of everyday, non-spectacular violence.
How will we bring back the girls when none of the great political murders of the last fifteen years has been solved?
How will Chibok not happen, Boko Haram or not, when the National Assembly practically legalized pedophilia in 2013 through the so-called constitutional provision on citizenship renunciation?
Who speaks against the casual and random acts of killing visited on Nigerian citizens under the guise of battling terrorism?
Many more than 300 Nigerian citizens, including schoolgirls, have died violently since Chibok.
Professor Akin Adesokan of the University of Indiana in the United States, writes a monthly column for Premium Times.