Nigeria’s share of unspeakable, humiliating horrors wears a gender face although ethno-regional representation of the entire crisis has drowned the gender perspective. But the more chilling signifiers of the season of atrocities are still the Chibok Girls tragedy, Leah Sharibu and now Lillian Gyang, all women.
Of course, many women have undergone the most severe privations in the hands of Boko Haram. True as that is, it is an accepted practice imposed by space and time to focus on signifiers of every contradiction as far as emancipation is concerned. That is the sense in which Leah and now Lillian have become the unheard screams for emancipation from their strange hosts by the Federal Government of Nigeria in which the protection of EVERY citizen is vested. In this process, the symbolism of the ‘Federal Government of Nigeria’ is what is at stake, making it the most important factor and actor in securing Leah and Lillian!
In the case of Leah Sharibu, the question of what the prize on her head might be vis-à-vis Federal Government’s inability to ‘pay’ is no longer escapable. She is no longer that simple, innocent individual but has become a tragic heroine symbolizing attributes narrated differently but, in all cases, a big question mark on the stateness of the Nigerian State.
In the contested national space called Nigeria, Leah is bound to be narrated differently. The Christians are, understandably, bound to see her differently from the manner essentialist feminists would do just as the broader humanity remains horrified by that tragedy from the perspective of global ethics.
But the greatest loser of what Leah’s captivity is the Nigerian State. It is the loser in the image of a state overwhelmed by insurgents that Leah’s travails speak to.
Leah’s captivity is a communicative act as all terrorist atrocities are. Terrorists have perfected the tactic of using marginals to embarrass state competence. To overcome such image, even militarily or technologically capable states such as the United States of America end up negotiating with terrorists. It is a process in which something must give in all such circumstances. The Federal Government of Nigeria has spoken through the president as well as the Information Minister about doing everything to get Leah out. What could be those things that they have done that could still not get Leah out?
Could the problem be about paying a ransom? Might Boko Haram have asked for a forbidden amount which the Federal Government finds unreasonable paying? But what might such an amount be in the circumstance? If the fear is that such a sum would reinforce Boko Haram’s war making capacity, Boko Haram has already annulled that fear since they have reified themselves in spite of such money.
Only people involved in managing the psychology of terrorists and the dynamism of terrorism may have the sort of conclusive details about the Leah Sharibu tragedy but even an outsider can infer some untidiness in the handling of the case because there does not seem to be sufficient attention to how her continued captivity is subtly wrecking the Nigerian State itself. There can be no stopping interpretations and misinterpretations of why she is still in captivity, each site of such suspicion being a minus for state legitimacy and a good story for those who might have come to their own conclusion why the government has not freed her.
The question thus bears repeating as to how big might the prize on Leah’s head be that the Federal Government cannot or has not paid? Things cannot go on like this, with another girl, Lillian Gyang added to Leah.