RESCUE OF JESICCA IN TEXAS & NIGERIA’S KANKARA-KAGARA DISASTER:
How Much Does Human Life Worth Now?
By ‘Tunji Ajayi
I found the sizzling story of Jessica McClure Morale apropos in my earlier feature entitled: “The Scourge of Daily Kidnapping: Homily to the ‘Homo Mortis” (Ohio Wesleyan University Press, August 22, 2019). The 18-month old kid, playing off the sight of her aunt had slid into a 22 feet, viz 6.7 meter-deep abandoned dry well, with 20 cm diameter concrete casing; at her aunt’s backyard. A true life story later cast in an episodic film, and a popular TV series entitled “Everybody’s Baby: The Rescue of Jessica McClure” provides an admixture of admiration and disbelief.
The frightening news rocked all of Texas in the United States of America and later spread across the world in 1987; leading to the immediate assemblage and full deployment of many rescue workers, paramedics, drilling experts, contractors, first aid personnel etc to the scene; all in a unanimous spirited bid to rescue an 18 month-old baby trapped deep down in the 22 feet abandoned well. The rescue workers made up of professionals in diverse areas, in a cacophony of vehicle sirens were seen feverishly scrambling at the scene to lend varying expertise to ensure the immediate rescue and avoid the baby’s death. On that memorable 14th day of October 1987, the government and the rescue workers had one single ambition: Jessica McClure’s life must be saved by all means! Nothing less! Indeed, as the gloomy event unfolded, the nerve-rattling rescue efforts caught the attention of the then President Ronald Reagan who also galvanized needed efforts and moral supports needed for the rescue mission.
Minutes tickling into hours; Jessica’s rescue appeared a mission impossible; a forlorn hope. Onlookers were losing hope of Jessica’s survival. The well was a staggering 22 feet deep! The abandoned well casing was cast of 20 cm diameter solid rock, viz 8 inches, apparently providing no space to move into the deep well. The victim; an 18 month-old baby who could barely respond rightly from her entrapped position to any directive from the rescue workers encircling the ill-fated well. Rescuers paced up and down cudgeling up their brains on the next line of action each time a collective effort failed to yield the needed result. The scene was gradually becoming chaotic as more and more rescue workers in siren-blaring cars thronged to the scene to do the needful, while the erstwhile President Ronald Reagan watched from his exalted office in bated breath, giving motivational supports. He was emphatic: Baby Jessica’s life must not be lost!
Hours ticked to a whole day! No luck. And here comes the night-time when darkness enveloped the day! Alas every different joint attempts and efforts by scores of rescue workers were proving abortive. The CNN klieg lights and other media were at the scene for coverage, reeling out every step being taken at the scene to the curious American populace. The day ticked to dawn, and the dawn to the wee hours of the second day. Efforts were on at the rescue site, but no luck!
The daughter of a peasant, little baby Jessica’s life meant so much to the government of the US and the citizens. That one baby’s life must not be lost! Thus all human efforts, time and resources aimed at rescuing her were worth it. And so the rescue efforts continued till the second day. Jessica! ….Jessica!! . . . Jessica!!! - the husky pitiable, feverish voice kept hollering through the megaphone into the deep well apparently to assure the baby that all Americans were around to empathize and give her the needed assurance and hope, which often keeps depleting heart alive in the day of distress. Alas! One miracle happened!
Through the CNN microphone dropped deep down into the dry well to monitor and ascertain if the baby was still breathing; a feeble sound was heard. The entrapped Jessica was reportedly heard singing her Kindergarten school song: “Winnie the Pooh” Any lesson here? When you are provided with love in time of distress, your sagging spirit naturally buoys up. How does the government respond to the afflictions of the governed here? How much true care do they provide?
The 48th round-the-clock successive hour of rescue efforts came. Texas government did not give up hope as rescue workers were being motivated at every stage to try new methods each time an attempt failed. It was a day of horror and expectation! President Ronald Reagan, monitoring every effort was quoted as saying that on that day “. . . . Everybody in America became godmothers and godfathers of Jessica while this was going on.” Alas, an idea came to the rescuers shortly before the 60th hour of anguish struck! According to the report, “The rescue teams managed to drill a parallel well and then create a tunnel to where baby Jessica was trapped. Any lesson here? When there is a Will there is a Way out of every problem. Success is assured only for the determined and indomitable. When there is good and sane leadership, every follower is fully motivated to give off their best services. Indeed, a sane government will appreciate that no effort is ever too much to save the life of a citizen.
At the 58th hour of the 3rd day, Jessica McClure Morales was finally rescued from the throes of death, alive with minor bruises, while the government and Americans’ joy ricocheted to the four corners of their beloved country, and the news traveled worldwide like the menace of an intercontinental ballistic missile. The moral of Jessica McClure Morales’ story is clear. It is a good government that holds sacrosanct the lives of every citizen. This is the core responsibility and foundation of any government’s existence. Any government that cannot secure the lives and property of the citizens is an interloper. Regardless of providing even the best social infrastructure in the world, it doesn’t alter its useless status. Permit me to think that it has no business being on the saddle. The reason being that only the living and not the “homo-mortis” enjoy infrastructural provisions.
The episodic scene underscores deep respect for sanctity of human lives, which no man can create, but now being snuffed out in Nigeria with reckless abandon and utter impunity. The spate of killings through banditry, herders’ genocidal instincts and kidnappings, especially after the Chibok kidnap gory experience was enough to make the heart bleed. Indeed, the frequency, succession and similarity in patterns they are being unleashed is enough to make anyone feel ashamed on behalf of a government that has consistently failed to nip the scourge in the bud even in the era of communication and information technology, space technology CCTV cameras and drone world on which many nations have latched to reduce the level of criminality in their social space.
Not given to slackness and vacillation in protecting the lives of her own citizens, the United States of America in November 2020, promptly reacted to free one of her citizens who was reportedly kidnapped in his home in Niger Republic and held hostage on Nigeria’s land space. The swiftness with which the US Special forces mounted an operation in Nigeria to free her citizen was amazing. The US forces including her Navy SEALS were deployed to rescue Philip Walton, a 27-year old US citizen, who had been kidnapped on November 27, 2020. Aside from rescuing Walton, many of his captors were reportedly killed. Not a single US soldier was hurt. The situation attracted the attention of the erstwhile President Donald Trump who responded accordingly, adding excitedly that it was a: “Big win for our very elite US Special Forces today. Our country’s brave warriors rescued an American hostage in Nigeria. Our Nation salutes the courageous soldiers behind the daring nighttime rescue operation and celebrates the safe return of yet another American citizen.” That explains the sanctity of life of every single American citizen, and the extent the US government can go to protect her own citizens, regardless of where their security is being threatened.
In contrast with our Nigeria, not less than 769 students have been kidnapped in at least 5 schools in the northern part of Nigeria, especially after the sordid Chibok kidnap episode of April 14, 2014 when 276 female students of Government Girls Secondary School, Borno State were abducted by the Boko Haram. Indeed, since December 2020 the spate of kidnap of school boys and girls had increased. On February 19, 2018 about 110 school girls between the age of 11 and 19 years were abducted from the Government Girls’ Science & Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State.
Again on December 11, 2020 about 344 students were abducted from their hostel in Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State. The kidnappers were reported to have ransacked the whole premises for over one hour without any resistance by any government security agents and left with the students on motorcycles. Little drama was however added to the sordid event. While the Minister for Information & Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed denied that the act was perpetrated by the Boko Haram but by bandits, the Katsina State government said it was by the criminal gang. Whichever, it didn’t obliterate the fact that there was mass abduction of innocent students.
The orgy was not yet over. On February 17, 2021 the kidnappers’ dastardly act was meted on the Government Science College, Kagara, Niger State where about 27 students were abducted by the gun-toting Boko Haram insurgents, who dressed in army uniform woke the students up from their sleep around 3.00 a.m., while one pupil attempting to escape was shot dead! Three staff members including their 12 relatives were also whisked away into the bush. While the government, as usual kept commiserating with the parents of the victims and condemning the acts, it could neither provide enough security nor nip the kidnap scourge in the bud.
Barely three days after the Kagara incident, another mass abduction was reported on February 29, 2021 in Jangebe, Zamfara State during which about 317 students of the Government Girls (Science and Technical College) Junior Secondary School were abducted. The usual commiseration and condemnation of the act came again from the presidency. But this time, perhaps to spice up government utterance, a warning was issued by the President. According to him, “This government will not succumb to blackmail by the bandits.” In spite of the bravado, the scourge continued.
On March 11, 2021, Nigerians woke up again to hear about the forceful entry of gun-toting kidnappers into the premises of the Federal College of Forestry Mechanization, Afaka, Kaduna where they abducted 39 students from their hostels. The perimeter fence was reportedly broken to gain entry. The worrisome aspect of this abduction was that it took place few meters away from the premises of the Nigerian Defense Academy, NDA, which is also adjacent to the Kaduna Airport where abduction of staff had also been reported. Thus explaining the dare-devilry of the kidnappers who; like their Boko Haram counterparts who often move into army facilities and barracks to cause havoc, even in the day light, the kidnappers too had no respect anymore for government security outfits. Generals in the army had been ambushed many times!
While the government and presidential spokespersons keep denying the obvious fact that Nigeria is under siege of the kidnappers, bandits and herdsmen, who unleash mayhem on Nigerians on a daily basis, we either hear expletives from them as they boast endlessly that Boko Haram insurgency had been decimated, or that it is not the Federal Government’s duty to fight banditry but that it is the state governments’ responsibility. Most often, the presidential spokespersons often argue the number of students kidnapped. For example, in the case of the Kankara abduction the presidential spokesman on Media and Publicity Mr. Garba Shehu once argued from day till dawn that only 10 students were kidnapped only to be discovered that as many as 344 students were actually abducted as seen when they were eventually released. Indeed, on this blood-letting scourge the Amnesty International once reported that over 1,126 villagers had been killed, just in the first six months of year 2020 due to farmer-herders skirmishes in the north only, adding that “failure to bring killers to justice fuels impunity.”
The abduction and killing orgy continues almost on daily basis unabated while the government remains helpless. Yet again on April 20, 2021 about 23 students including a staff of Greenfield University located in Kasarmi Chikun Local Government, Kaduna-Abuja Expressway were abducted in the premises. After a demand for 800 million naira ransom, the parents were reported to have pleaded passionately with the kidnappers and paid a whopping 55 million naira. However, this did not stop the kidnappers from killing 5 of the students on the excuse that the full payment was being delayed, adding that the 55 million naira earlier paid had been spent on the feeding of the students abducted and in their custody. They however were now demanding 100 million naira, after throwing the bodies of the slain students on the street, to release the remaining 17 students to avoid being killed also. They showed their temerity. The ransom must also include 10 brand new Honda Motorcycles! Yet, this government doesn’t believe this is a failed state!
The Cock used to have honour. He was so impregnable and being dreaded by the Fox due to the glittering red cockscomb (ogbe) on his head, often mistaken for blazing fire by the ravenous Fox. The fear was so much until one day when the Cock allayed the Fox’s fears, adding that the dreaded cockscomb was a mere meat-like divine adornment, and does no harm to anyone. Moving closer to the Fox, he beckoned the sly Fox to touch his hitherto dreaded cockscomb and discovered surprisingly that his hand was not scorched! Thus, since then the Cock lost his invincibility and honour before the Fox and became vulnerable to be preyed on by the ravenous Fox till this day.
Any lesson here? The government, rather than hold kidnapping in strict abhorrence, arrest perpetrators of the criminal acts and apply stiff punishment to stem the tide before it festered was rather engaging in subterfuge and romancing with the kidnappers through empty threats and media sloganeering. The government and certain individuals were reportedly going back and forth negotiating and dialoguing with kidnappers in their den without noticeable efforts to burst their known hideouts. Yet again, some Abia State University students were being reportedly kidnapped as this piece was being concluded. The submission that a government which cannot provide adequate security for the citizens exposes its existence to question cannot be a conjecture. But the question remains: How much does human life worth now in Nigeria? Permit me to say, albeit painfully, that it is now worth nothing. Thus, other nations are watching us in derision.
But let the leaders that vacillate when decisive actions are paramount learn from Marcus Tullius Cicero, the Roman statesman: “The greatest incitement to crime is the hope of escaping punishment. For laws are dumb in the midst of arms. But the good of the people is the highest law.” Verbum Satis Sapienti. .
*Tunji Ajayi, a creative writer, author, biographer and audiovisual documentary producer writes from LC-Studio Communications, Nigeria (+2348033203115; +2348162124412) >facebook.com/tunji.ajayi.946< (email@example.com)