I have a pet theory about activism and activists. I have come to realize that key to activism is a tunnel vision, or better, what some will call a laser-beam focus. The advantages of such limiting outlooks are clear. It delineates goals and objectives. It tunes out noise and distractions. When your goals and objectives are manageable, narrow, they are more achievable. The narrow way is more rewarding. Ask Jesus.
But the problem with a narrow outlook on issues is evident. (You know those narrow shortcuts you think you’re the only one who knows but everyone is already there?) Some of the distractions are necessary, because they put issues into proper cultural, historical or social context. An awareness of these contexts can help develop better strategies in confronting issues. Sometimes, this means taking the long view. But activist’s shelf-life is short; better to maximize time out in the sun. The self-preservation apparent in a narrow outlook soon flips into narcissism. The cause soon becomes the activist, and not the issue. To be a successful activist, you require relevance. The pursuit of relevance is the root of all evil. The activist flips into a self-absorbed monster, harmful to everything but themselves.
Aaron McGruder’s The Boondocks is one of my favourite shows ever, because of course, Huey Freeman has great hair. Inevitably, its critique of America the Multicultural Society led it to the subject of activism and activists. Step forward Reverend Rollo Goodlove, the self-absorbed activist of blackness who worms his way into every and any issue with the slightest whiff – and it’s no matter if this whiff is imaginary – of racism, all for the profit of the self. Parody revels in drawing caricatures. But fiction, even those largely based on reality, couldn’t even begin to imagine the oddity of truth. Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson may as well be caricatures of the cartoon Reverend Goodlove.
I have always been slightly distrustful of BBOG, the Wave of Sentimentalism, the Hijacking, the Cultural Phenomenon of Untoward Selfies, the wave of Hollywood celebrities with their smiling faces incongruous with the pain of the message held in their star-spangled hands. I have always been distrustful of manufactured empathy with its shoddy workmanship, its loose seams and limp feet. BBOG the Yearning is legitimate of course. It is the pain of parents, of loss, of a sudden truncation, of undesired, unimagined ends and unwanted new beginnings. Close to 300 young girls, the oldest of them perhaps 18, were snatched from the NorthEastern outpost of Chibok by verminous Boko Haram snakes. A good number have managed to escape, but the larger number remain in captivity. In April, two years will have passed since their capture.
While the response of the Jonathan government was undermined by initial disbelief, inertia, and the bejewelled, bedazzling theatrics of Patience “da Shepoppotamus” Jonathan, Buhari in his media chat was forthright: Nigerian intelligence had failed; it knows nothing of the girls’ whereabouts. Because the Chibok girls became a central issue in the elections, Buhari and his party made promises we won’t forget in a hurry.
At his inauguration, where diplomatic pragmatism would have sufficed, he reiterated his determination to bring back the missing girls, a mistake. Perhaps he felt Jonathan could bring them back but wouldn’t. But now that he has control of the instruments of state, the unqualified promise must look silly and ill thought out, the product of a political imagination still befuddled by champagne.
Reality has set in and the frank, welcome admission of helplessness is the first step in doubling back from the promise. Action on the issue of the Chibok girls is now couched in the broadest terms: We have reorganized the military. We have changed service chiefs, and ordered the new guys to deal decisively with Boko Haram insurgency. Despite the economy, we found money to buy our soldiers weapons. Boko Haram’s ability to take territory has been attenuated.
Listen sir, what have you done to bring back the girls since you assumed office?
As things stand, the Chibok girls do not look like they are coming back. Nobody knows where they are. Too much time has passed. Too many girls were taken. Boko Haram, or Wilayat Gharb Ifriqqiyah, is too dastardly to keep the girls lying around somewhere, where one day the might of the Nigerian military will swoop in. Tactically, it is imprudent. Every time a young female suicide bomber detonates herself, we wonder, sometimes aloud, if she isn’t… and then we perish the thought. We’ve heard Shekau gloat, and heard tales, that the girls were shared out among commanders, some sold into sexual slavery. Boko Haram is man, violent man, unhinged, uninhibited man, man to whom woman is as disposable as a goat. Buhari has said any political solution to the Boko Haram scourge must include the Chibok girls as a precondition. I can’t pretend to know what goes on in the mind of Boko Haram top guns, but I suspect the offer will not be taken, because the girls weren’t taken as a bargaining chip.
The girls have been packaged into some manner of overarching poster for the other inhumanities perpetrated by Boko Haram. There were girls taken before then, boys taken or fried crisp in their sleep, to incomparable outcry. There have been girls taken after then, girls rescued, to muted fanfare. What is it about the Chibok girls that proves so enduring?
The BBOG campaigners must be aware of these facts, but the tunnel vision must be sated. The doggedness of the campaign is admirable, but the utopianism of it is now all sound and fury, signifying nothing but a narcissistic posturing for relevance, as the events of the past few days are coming to show. If BBOG must remain relevant for the right reasons, it must acknowledge the noise it has tuned out, and adapt.
There may be some truth to saying BBOG will remain relevant so long as the girls aren’t brought back. How relevant is up for question. And how long before it becomes a voice drowned out in the wind, full-throated, hysterical, desperate, but too distant to be heard? Already, the irritation has begun to set in. A rebrand is staring back at me from within this crystal ball, otherwise Valhalla.