It was the inimitable Nelson Mandela, who said that “there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” Nothing shows the darkness that has gripped the soul of Nigeria and its people like the unfolding story of Ese Oruru, the teenager allegedly abducted from Bayelsa State by a young man who claims to be have been her boyfriend.
This story, which renders like some action movie from Hollywood, testifies to the multi layered descent of our country into shameless insouciance, into an appalling state in which no one but we and the people, or the things, that concern us matter. Sadly, this selfish ‘me, I and mine” tendency is invariably the cause of most of the ills that holds our country back.
Although Miss Oruru’s story should be pretty familiar by now, having been published in the last edition of Sunday PUNCH, I will attempt a quick recap to put this intervention in perspective.
On August 12, 2015, Mrs. Rose Oruru, a food vendor in Opolo, Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, came back to her shop to find out that her 13 year-old daughter was missing. After hours of trying to trace the daughter, she got a hint that a long-standing customer of hers named Yinusa, also known as Yellow; may have abducted the girl and taken her to Kano to convert her to Islam to enable him to marry her.
Yinusa, apparently a native of Kano, was a commercial tricycle operator until that day when he, by the account of his kinsmen, sold his vehicle, ostensibly to ease his journey to Kano State. Two days later, the distressed mother set out for Kano in the company of one Rabiu who allegedly took her to the chief of a village in the Tufa area of the state.
The chief, angry at Rabiu’s audacity for leading the distraught woman to him flatly told Mrs. Oruru that her daughter had converted to Islam and could not be said to belong to her again! To add steel to his claim, the chief was said to have invoked the name of the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi, saying to them that the girl was now in his custody.
To cut the story short, between August 2015 and now, this woman and her family have travelled between Bayelsa and Kano States on a number of occasions without even having as much as a one minute physical access to their daughter.
In the course of these trips, there was abundant evidence that the matter had been brought to the attention of the Emir of Kano and his council, the Assistant Inspector General of Police Zone1, Commissioners of Police in Kano and Bayelsa States, among many others, but the girl remained in the custody of her abductors until the Sunday PUNCH article lifted the veil off the conspiracy.
Sometime earlier this week, Sansui’s palace issued a statement in which it denied ever having the girl in custody. Sanusi also said that he had instructed the Kano State Shariah Commission to liaise with the AIG Zone 1 to assist in taking her back to her parents. But the question to ask the Emir, whose statement seems more of an attempt to guard his reputation than alleviate the plight of the abused girl and her parents, is would his response have been the same if this was his daughter?
That is if we discountenance the information that a police source offered Sunday PUNCH to the effect that: “The Emir said that since she voluntarily said she wanted to be a Muslim and had converted to Islam, her parents should not force her and that even though she is a minor, she should be allowed to practice whatever she wanted to practice. It was the girl that followed the man; she was not taken by force….”
If we take no cognizance of the foregoing because it came from a lowly police officer who could not afford to be named, what about this information volunteered by the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase, on Monday evening: “The Emir decided that he was going to mediate. But, because of his trip to Mecca with the President; that was what caused the delay. Now that he is back, we are going to sort it out as quickly as possible.” The Emir clearly invested more interest on this matter than he is willing to concede, but that is by the way.
The real agonising tragedy is the denigration of the office of the chief law enforcer of the land by no other person than its occupier! That Arase, a lawyer, would share the above sentiment with a newsman shows that he sees nothing wrong in subjugating the authority expressly provided his office by the 1999 constitution to the monarch. It reveals the extent to which institutions in Nigeria are pliable to the pleasure of the high and mighty.
But the degradation of the police goes further. Why would the police in a country bound by laws including, in this case, the criminal or penal code(depending on where the case is being tried) and the Child Rights Law adopted by many states allow this sort of matter get to its highest echelon before the culprits are prosecuted? Nothing tells more of the hopeless state of national institutions.
In a society where institutions perform without prompting, where loyalty is to the state and not cluster interests, the intelligence and police authorities would have handled this issue without drawing national attention or whipping ethnic and religious sentiments capable of further weakening the structure of the society.
A police force, which arrests and detains citizens on civil matters; which is prone to being illegally employed to enforce contracts, suddenly becomes toothless, requiring the support, endorsement or approval of the powerful emirate before obeying the law breaks the hearts of the people who sustain it. So, in the unlikely event that the Emir is found on the wrong side of the law, how does a fawning agency respond?
The most trepidant of all, nevertheless, is the duplicity inherent in our collective sense of catharsis when stories like that of Miss Oruru hit the news when we are privy to similar incidents on a daily basis and do nothing about them. Millions of Nigerian children are out on the streets, denied of care in the present or potential for the future, but state governments who now issue preachments look on. This is why even Yinusa would have been a water fetcher, tricycle rider and God knows what else in his short 18 years.
Girls are forced into marriages, raped and exposed to a variety of inhuman conditions on a daily basis in this country. Yet, we look the other way until our child or relative is involved. An account actually suggested that Ese Oruru was not the first girl to be abducted in the area. But for the courage of the parents, we would never realise that girls get the Chibok girls’ treatment in other parts of the country. How do we sleep when those who signify our future are so abused and forced into premature adulthood? Wouldn’t a society that gives its children no education and no protection, ultimately breed brigands and at best, misguided adolescents and adults?
This case, even if it appears so, is not the Romeo-and-Juliet type that some want to make of it; it is laden with the manipulation of an impressionable mind by all means, including the tease of affluence which she hitherto could not experience. For instance, one is forced to query where the Sport Utility Vehicle, in which she was sighted in Kano, came from when her abductor was a mere commercial tricycle operator in Bayelsa State.
Ese Oruru’s travails tell of the failure of the state and federal governments to protect citizens, it is an eloquent narration of the pervasive roles of poverty and ignorance in our search for national identity. It tells of our impenitence as a people and shows that this nation is not working for a future in which the bulk of its children can be global citizens. It demonstrates the urgent need to find our souls again.
By Niran Adedokun
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