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At meeting with Chibok parents, Pres. Buhari and Mama Taraba fail the empathy test

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At meeting with Chibok parents, Pres. Buhari and Mama Taraba fail the empathy test

Minister of women affairs, Aisha Jummai Alhassan, lost a lot of goodwill on Thursday at her first major interface with the Nigerian public since joining the federal cabinet. Alhassan, popularly known as Mama Taraba, earned rock-star status after coming close to becoming the governor of her home state of Taraba in last year’s governorship election. However, as front-man on behalf of the federal government today when the Bring Back Our Girls campaigners and parents of the Chibok girls visited the presidential villa, Alhassan’s performance left much to be desired. In a way, her combative posture set the tone for what turned out to be a day the administration would hope does not come back to haunt them.

In her interaction with the visitors, Alhassan sounded “irritated and annoyed every time she had to speak”, as one participant put it. “Madam Minister you have been very unfair,“ said Obiageli Ezekwesili, a former World Bank vice president and one of the leaders of the BBOG movement, after Alhassan had gone on a lengthy and visibly angry outburst against the visiting group. “I do not understand how you can be chiding parents and advocacy on a day like this.”

Alhassan had told them that they were not being fair to the administration which was doing its best, considering the fact that the girls were abducted before they came into power. She told them that if not for the importance of the Chibok girls, they would have been met at the entrance and not allowed inside.

That was just one of several tension soaked moments during today’s meeting which started with the campaigners waiting for a long time before the buses promised by the villa, which were supposed to convey them from the Unity Fountain to the villa arrived. One of the Chibok parents fainted during the wait.

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The BBOG movement is demanding results from the government on the rescue effort of the administration. The meeting was a follow up to the one they had with Buhari in July 2015, a few weeks after he‎ was sworn in as president. The situation was different this time though. Despite the two weeks advance information, they were told on arrival at the villa that the president would not see them. Instead, a delegation led by Alhassan met them. Others on the team included minister of Defence, Mansur Mohammed Dan Ali, Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Gabriel Olonisakin, Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen Tukur Buratai and the National Security Adviser, Maj.-Gen Babagana Monguno (rtd).

The group however insisted that they would only be satisfied if they met with Buhari who was meeting at the time with the Beninoise president, Boni Yaya. After about an hour of waiting, and with the great effort of the NSA, Monguno, the president finally agreed to come and address them. Reporters were asked to leave the venue and recording devices were turned off.

Sounding very much like his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, President Buhari made it clear that he felt the group was not being fair to his government. “The unfortunate incident happened before this government came into being,” he said at a point. “God knows I have done my best and I will continue to do my best.” Buhari did not take photos with the group, he did not try to console the grieving parents, and after about 40 minutes in which he spoke angrily in English and Hausa, he thanked them for “coming to see me” and left the hall.

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The reaction of the campaigners to the president’s intervention showed disappointment as it brought back memories of the treatment they received when they tried to see former President Goodluck Jonathan during the last administration.

“The president missed an opportunity to connect with the mothers and fathers of the Chibok girls today,” said Obiageli Ezekwesili in a review session after the Aso Rock visit. On her part, the director of Enough is Enough Nigeria (EiE), Yemi Adamolekun, said, “The whole process right from the beginning was wrong, the signal the administration is sending out now is wrong.”

Oby Ezekwesili

In a confusing statement after the meeting, one of the president’s spokesmen, Garba Shehu, said that “President Muhammadu Buhari has approved an investigation into the theft of the 219 girls from Government Secondary in Chibok, Borno State. The panel to investigate the incident which happened in April 2014 is soon to be named by the National Security Adviser, NSA, General Babagana Munguno.

“The investigation will seek to, among other things, unravel the remote and immediate circumstances leading the kidnap of the girls by Boko Haram terrorists as well the other events, actions and inactions that followed the incident.”

An announcement of such a committee, 650 days after the kidnap, when similar committees had been set up in the past bore the hallmarks of a presidency desperate to show that it remains committed to action, but missing a crucial opportunity to show care and empathy in person.

The BBOG campaigners however vowed to remain hopeful, promising that they would not give up on the Chibok girls.

Chibok parents

Chibok parents

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