The visit of the parents of the abducted Chibok secondary school girls to the Presidential Villa on Thursday to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari may have come and gone, but the issues arising from it yet remain. And one of the issues which, for me, must not be swept under the carpet, is the unbecoming conduct of the Minister of Women Affairs, Hajia Aisha Alhassan, while receiving the highly-traumatised parents.
The Chibok parents, 136 of them, with members of the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) Movement led by former Education Minister, Oby Ezekwezili, according to media reports, had converged on the banquet hall of the Presidential villa, seeking answers to the whereabouts of the 219 missing schoolgirls kidnapped by members of the Boko Haram sect from Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, in April 2014.
On arrival at the conference hall of the State House, Garba Shehu, presidential spokesman, had informed the parents that the President was at a meeting and would not be able to meet them. President Buhari, at the time, was meeting with the visiting President of the Republic of Benin, Mr. Boni Yayi.
However, the group insisted on seeing the President, who had earlier promised them, back on July 8, during his first meeting with the parents, to rescue their abducted children. As the parents sat, patiently waiting for Buhari, a delegation of government officials comprising Alhassan; the Minister of Defence, Brig. General Munsur Dan Ali (rtd); Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Gen. Abayomi Olonishakin; and National Security Adviser (NSA), Major General Babagana Mungono (rtd), among others, came to meet them.
The male officials in the delegation tried their best to brief the parents about the government’s efforts in rescuing the girls while also trying to console them since they are also fathers and can imagine the pains involved in losing precious children.
However, when Alhassan took the microphone to speak, what did she say? Rather than offer words of comfort and succour to the saddened and clearly dejected parents, she chided them and members of the BBOG movement for not giving the government prior notice of their coming. As if this was not bad enough, she also failed to empathise with the parents in any serious way despite the pains they were going through almost two years after their daughters got missing!
Were it not for the no-nonsense Madam Ezekwezili who replied on behalf of the group that the minister had clearly not been fair to the parents since the visit was triggered by the words of the President who promised to rescue their daughters, Alhassan might have spoken more harsh words.
Looking at the incident critically, I believe what the parents simply wanted from the encounter was a sincere update of the progress being made by the government to rescue their girls, and perhaps some more words of succour directly from the President, the father of the nation. I’m sure they never expected they would be chided, ridiculed or further traumatised like Alhassan did to them.
As a mother herself, everyone in the hall would have reasonably expected the Women Affairs Minister, who is even a grandmother, to offer the parents soothing words of comfort and encouragement. Alas, this was not to be. The fact that the Chibok parents and other community members had even funded their own trip from Borno State, or were experiencing trauma, obviously meant nothing to the Minister. She failed the parents of the kidnapped Chibok girls.
While President Buhari later explained to the parents in unequivocal terms that he did not have any information on the whereabouts of the missing girls but added that he remained fully committed to his pledge to do all within his powers to rescue the girls, there is no doubt that the Minister of Women Affairs needs to undergo urgent tutorials on people relations and public affairs management if she won’t further embarrass herself and the Buhari administration.
Overall, I think officials like Alhassan need to be reminded, in case they have forgotten, that they are public servants who are paid with taxpayers money and are servants of the people, and not their masters. Her conduct was clearly uncalled for. The least she can do is tender an unreserved apology to the traumatised Chibok parents as they wait on the APC government to rescue their daughters after more than 640 days since they were kidnapped in April 2014.