Sambisa Forest and Lessons from the Air

Sambisa Forest and Lessons from the Air

By: Philip Agbese

The Federal Government, through the Ministry of Information, finally did what it should have done a long time ago. It this week took the convener of Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) group and former Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili, co-Convener Aisha Yesufu, spokesman for the Chibok community, Manasseh Allen and Ibrahim Usman on an Air Force mission in search of the Chibok girls.
Taking a delegation on a trip to see things for themselves is a masterstroke that clarified many things but only that in this instance the ministry transacted with the wrong group. One can forgive the offer to BBOG after its serial harassment and blackmail of government officials. It is however self-serving on the part of the group to accept the offer since its presence on that tour was uncalled for and unnecessary because BBOG is not representing anybody’s interest other than its members.
The visit should have been for key stakeholders particularly the parents of the girls and other elder statesmen and women not a group of career activists on joyride. That people who took it upon themselves to constitute nuisance had the right of first refusal for the tour has set a very dangerous precedent as blackmail and harassment of government would henceforth be considered as the new normal.

The aftermath of the exercise has shown that it was a wasted venture where BBOG racketeers are concerned. Similar to excursions, the tour should have by now helped the group’s members transit from theoretical perception of things to fully appreciate that the real deal is not what it is depicted as in Hollywood blockbusters where the protagonists kill off the antagonists in the last ten minutes of the flick and set hostages free. On the contrary, searching for the missing girls is a tedious exercise considering technological and human limitations that are amplified by other realities in the theatre of war.
Ezekwesili, who is BBOG, would however not have anyone or anything obstruct her attention craving lifestyle. Accepting the invitation to that tour was not without drama, she first set conditions and got her fifteen hours in the media limelight. By the time the guided tour was over, like someone requiring a fix every other time, she craved even more media attention and rushed to grab it before Nigerians lose interest in her and discuss the reality of the scale of logistics needed to search for the girls.
As if for us to finally comprehend the quality of reasoning that powered the government she served in the past, Ezekwesili reduced the efforts to find the stolen girls to trivia of geography. “Dreaded Sambisa is massive. Sixty thousand square kilometers. Eighteen times the size of Lagos State! All of Lagos is 3,345 square km,” she tweeted from her verified account on Twitter.
The BBOG Convener further wrote, ““The famous Camp Zero in Sambisa? Well, it turns out that capturing Camp Zero is NOT equal to capturing Sambisa. It is just a spot in there.” Series of other tweets later, she indicated she and her group would be back to the trenches. “We came. We learned. Now we return. To stand! To demand!! #BringBackOurGirlsNowAndAlive!” She declared.
Apparently, if the tour was meant to make members of BBOG see reason and allow the military do their work  it did not achieve that. Thankfully that was never announced as the intention since the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed clearly stated that the trip was to give first hand information that will allow for better understanding of efforts being made to find the remaining Chibok Girls.
Before either sides, government and BBOG, formally make their assessment of the trip some lessons are already apparent. First, is that Ezekwesili as the convener of BBOG has proven beyond measure through her comments on Twitter that there is a strong element of malice in the way she and some members of the group are carrying out their campaign. Whether this malice is purposeful or accidental is left to be seen but one now has an impression of a group that is hellbent on harassing government.
Secondly, even as confirmed by the former minister, a lot of the assertions earlier made by the campaigners was driven by ignorance. Placard carrying members of BBOG had been misinformed by their leaders and handlers to think that the entire northeast was the size of 100 football field and Sambisa Forest was the size of a housing estate.
Now that they have realized the enormity of the landmass involved one would expect they will quietly ruminate over what needed to be done but Ezekwesili, not wanting to lose her moment in the spotlight has turned around to say capturing Camp Zero is not the same as capturing Sambisa Forest. Had the Boko Haram terrorists been allowed to continue at the pace they were going before the inception of this administration would their capture of Abuja, the nation’s capital, not be as good as capturing the entire country?
The trip has shown Ezekwesili that military operations, even from the relative safety of being airborne is not the same as attending World Bank sponsored business dinners. She cannot use her large following to perpetuate the lie that she is now an expert in military tactics and operations. She must be humble enough to admit that a one day emotional sortie flight  is not enough to confirm anyone a pilot or military strategists and such should not come up with inciting or inflammatory comments in the aftermath of this mission.
Even where she does decides to throw decorum to the wind the average person on her group should have by now seen that this woman is overrated. She possibly  thought the trip comes with estacode and travel allowance and that she is disappointed is glaring to see. It is natural for her to totally lose it when she discovered governance has changed and there is no more frittering money away as was the case in the past, including under her watch.
If she cannot stomach the reality that much is being done to rescue these girls she can go start another support group, create a bucket list or spend more time at the salon to chat with other women or simply find other avenues to feed her idleness without whipping up negative sentiments at a time the nation is in need of healing.
The same way the Air Force sortie allowed a better view of Sambisa Forest from the skies it has allowed one to have a better view of the convener and the group formed. It is about something else, not the abducted girls.

Agbese is worldwide President of Stand Up 4 Nigeria{SUN} and contributed this piece from Abuja.