We, the #BringBackOurGirls movement, engaged President Buhari on Wednesday, 8th July. It was 450 days since the abduction of our Chibok girls, and 435 days since we’ve been advocating daily. This came more than a year after we first tried to engage, directly, with the immediate past President. Anyway, that’s past.
Some things stood out for me in this engagement:
1. EMPATHY: The cost of lack of empathy is high; its gains, unquantifiable! Yes, our girls are not yet back; but the criticality of the engagement with the President bothers on his ability to instill HOPE, while the pains linger. Having listened to us for over 40 minutes, including the affected parents and the Chibok community, all the President said was not up to 10 minutes; but, his words, body language, and general demeanour sufficiently doused our heartaches and tension.
2. LISTENING: The President didn’t come with a prepared speech. All through our presentations, he had a sheet of paper on which he took notes. His eventual response was based on what he understood from listening to us. This was instrumental to his ability to move from one emotive expression to the other – humour, dissatisfaction, sympathy, compassion, depth, gratitude, and conscientiousness. He picked his words and would rather say ‘not impressive’ rather than a stronger word in describing how his predecessor handled this matter. Bottomline, he displayed leadership without compromising.
3. DEFENSIVENESS: The President did not attempt to defend the abduction(s) and the continuous killings, even though he inherited the problem. That he had his VP seated beside him, exchanging comments, showed the importance he placed on our engagement. He had seemingly legitimate excuse for his inability to #BringBackOurGirls, yet. He could have rode on the fact that he just assumed office; but he admitted government’s unimpressive failure so far. He took responsibility! In fact, none of the Service Chiefs that were seated spoke. If they had, they would have tried to defend how ‘hard’ they have been working to rescue our girls and curbing insurgency. They could have reminded us how our men are also dying on the frontline. Truth is, any presentation by the Service Chiefs would have robbed off as being defensive even if the motive was different. It would have set us against ‘them’ in altercations and unpalatable responses. Really, there was no need for all that; not with our agitation and frustration, having waited for over 450 days. The President actually told us that they listen, welcome, and appreciate our criticisms, especially the negative ones. That, my friend, was wise!
4. COMPARISON: The past administration, in comparing us with other countries, told us, in their prepared speech/response to questions they were yet to hear, that we should go to the Terrorists like citizens of other countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, and the US) do. They went as far as doing a video and aired it severally to pass that unpatriotic message. Well, President Buhari also did his comparison but in a different context. He told us that it is “unfortunate” that Nigeria is now being compared to other troubled countries like Afghanistan and Iraq. He further reminded us how our military have won battles in different regions. “How has the might fallen;” he concluded, exclamatorily and emotively.
5. ASSURANCE: Expectedly, President Buhari didn’t have immediate answers to our 13-point list of demands as well as that of the Parents and the Chibok people; but one thing he commendably did: he assured us that his administration would do its utmost best in rescuing our girls and curbing insurgency. He subtly cited some steps they are taking and asked for patience. We left the Villa, not with our girls, but with a renewed hope that our government would pull its weight in attending to what the citizens brought forward.
While this engagement was important in the sense that the President is the most critical stakeholder in this quest, with high power and high influence, it is noteworthy that this is just one hurdle crossed. Our primary demand still remain unfulfilled – #BringBackOurGirls! Until this is done, we’d not go to sleep. We’d keep engaging and re-engaging – at specific timelines, with clear expectations and performance metrics, until we achieve our ultimate goal.
Conclusively, the outcome of this engagement can be likened to being placed on anaesthesia for the purpose of an ‘operation.’ If the anesthesia wears out before the ‘operation’ ìis completed, reality sets in and the pains, grief, and agitation continues. We hope that won’t be the case.
While we work, we hope! While we hope, we pray!