Now that the president has met with the Chibok community, is he satisfied? Has his political paranoia been assuaged? Does he now believe the news of the abduction? Does the sad sight of despairing parents trigger some remorse for his late response? Has he drunk enough from the cup of their sorrow? Does he retract the negative statements made by his representatives in the last 100 days? Has the president learnt anything?
Probably, the president didn’t have the meeting to learn anything from the community. Probably he didn’t ask the parents what he could do to alleviate their pain. Most likely, he didn’t commend the ordinary Nigerians who kept the Chibok tragedy fresh in the local and international news. In fact, if the press statements of the event, and the pictures released by Reuben Abati are any indication, the meeting was called by the president as an opportunity, as the Christian idiom says, to fulfil all righteousness.
Look at the pictures.
If you can take your admiring gaze away from the starchy shine of the president’s attire, you will note that this was an unusual photo session. The faces in the pictures are a stark difference from the happy crowd and enthusiastic handshakes that characterize typical scenarios of presidential interaction.
Just look at the pictures.
The audience is sombre, still in shock. Some manage to look hopeful as they face the president; after all, they have been told, this is the man who can change everything for them. In one picture some women are crying. In another, a girl covers her face, presumably teary over the fate of her colleagues—or maybe just embarrassed at the shameful nature of the ceremony in which she was an involuntary participant.
For this event is a shameful one, whether or not we acknowledge the indecency of victims of a national tragedy being permitted to meet their ostensibly democratic leader. These are grieving men and women—and children too—and they have been compelled, despite their mood, to dress in their best and go see the president. And pictures are taken of them as they march past to see the leader. Not sympathetic pictures by bystanders—but professional photos taken by a paid staff.
And then these pictures are uploaded to the internet and tweeted to the world by a journalist-turned-hatchet man.
Pictures of a grieving people.
But hope is a powerful thing. And so the community went to Abuja with hope: never mind the insane display that has been made of their tragedy; never mind that Abuja is not Chibok; never mind the overwhelming opulence they are confronted with; never mind the soldiers, cameras and powerful officials that surround them; never mind their discomfort. Yes, they managed to dress fine, act sane and pose for the cameras. They stand still and act sane—in the hope that some definite and positive action would be taken to return their missing girls.
It takes a hard-hearted photographer to take these pictures without a lump in the throat. It takes a cynical journalist-turned-adviser to post these pictures and not hang himself afterwards. It takes a disbelieving president to meet with these parents and not lose composure. And why would the president lose composure? After all, his handlers chalk all policy criticism to opposition politics or mere disgruntlement, and so, they also have come to regard all policy decisions as an opportunity for counter politics, forgetting that humans—Nigerians—are affected by the outcome of their bloody games.
For no, we still have no guarantee that the president is convinced of the seriousness of the situation. A meeting is not an achievement; especially as the Presidency believes that, when it comes to Boko Haram, the evidence of presence is not the presence of evidence.
If Jonathan believes the truth of the abduction, he would immediately apologise to the parents and to Nigerians for the reactive tardiness, strip down to his work clothes, and preside over a 24 hour situation room to rescue the girls.
Instead, the president gave a lecture and the usual promises. Like royalty addressing the commoners, he graciously interacted with the community in the splendour of Abuja. And he took pictures with them over a red carpet.
Red carpet for a grieving community.
“Meet with the Chibok folks, you say? Well, we have met them. Now, smile for the cameras, everybody. Stand here, you stand there. Everyone say cheese!”
And so it is easy to conclude: the president isn’t that much concerned with the missing girls. The president is more interested in being seen to be gracious. This meeting was not a sympathetic gesture by the Presidency—this meeting was, as admitted by the Presidency, at the instance of Malala, and its outcome is a promissory speech and a photo-op session.
To these members of the Presidency, the people of Chibok are not humans to be dignified, but votes to be counted and PR opportunities to be exploited. First they were dismissed as charlatans, next they were displayed as supplicants. These parents had to be seen to be believed.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed” the biblical Jesus told a hard-nosed Thomas. But we can forgive the quest for empirical evidence by the president, we can forgive his public relations exploitation, we can forgive his aspersions on the activists who kept vigil for the girls—all is forgivable if a positive result is achieved.
But when will a positive result be achieved? For how many more days will this community continue to wait for its girls? No answers.
And so the president has seen the community, and Reuben Abati has tweeted the pictures. Is the president satisfied? Has his political paranoia been assuaged? Does he now believe the news of the abduction? Does the sad sight of despairing parents trigger some remorse for his late response? Has he drunk enough from the cup of their sorrow? Does he retract the negative statements made by his representatives in the last 100 days?
Has the president learnt anything?
Ayo Sogunro is the author of The Wonderful Life of Senator Boniface and other Sorry Tales. A lawyer by profession, he also indulges in socio-legal philosophy on this blog. Interact with him on Twitter via @ayosogunro.