The groundswell of public outrage over the abduction of scores of students enrolled in Dembi Dolo University in the Oromia regional state has reached fever pitch. The crime must not be thought of from the perspective of the location, where it took place or the ethnicity and gender of the victims alone. As an act constituting an egregious violation of the sanctity of human life it ought to elicit empathy and be roundly condemned by the government and all Ethiopians alike. Each and every citizen need to stand in unison for the respect of human dignity, the right to life and security of person. The expression of indignation over the abduction of the students over fifty days ago while they were fleeing violence in the university should be motivated by purely humanitarian concerns, not political grandstanding. What has aggravated the public more though is the conspicuous silence of the government in informing the public of the identity of the abductees and the abductors, the conditions the victims are in and the steps it is taking to secure the student’s immediate release. The government’s woeful lack of transparency and reluctance to provide timely information to the mass media has forced the public to resort to unfounded lies and speculations swirling on social media for any bit of news. This has not only dented its credibility, but also provoked widespread unease in the general public.
The ordeal that the families and loved ones of the abducted students are undergoing is unimaginable. Why haven’t the twenty one students the government had over a month ago said were released been reunited with their parents? And how are those still in still in captivity faring? On the other hand, in a statement it issued this week the Institution of the Ombudsman noted that the information disclosed by the pertinent government agencies in regards to the abduction was inconsistent adding they were quick to shift the blame onto somebody else. It further said the government’s inability to furnish proof that the students allegedly rescued have indeed been set free has elicited skepticism and that this has eroded the public’s confidence in it. Parents and other concerned citizens who are at wit’s end are calling on the government to speak up and bring the abducted students home. Turning a deaf ear to the avalanche of desperate pleas for help is a callous disregard of the state’s duty to protect the safety and security of its citizens.
What have the Dembi Dolo University senate, administration and student union been doing to bring the crisis to a swift resolution? How about the law enforcement and security organs at the municipal, regional and federal levels? The students’ suffering should be of the utmost concern to the local community. Despite welcoming its student body with much fanfare at the start of the academic year and vowing to guarantee their safety until classes wrap up, the university has by and large preferred to keep mum about the abducted students as have the federal government and the ministry regulating state-owned universities. The silence, as the saying goes, is deafening. Although patience and skill are required to get to the bottom of the abduction of a large number of students in an area where armed groups rove with relative freedom, it’s indefensible to starve the public of up-to-date information, albeit without going into details, and issue contradictory statements which only serve to evoke suspicion.
Members of the Houses of Peoples’ Representatives and regional councils are also guilty of inaction over the entire affair. Have the forgotten that they have the power to compel the government to provide explanations or launch an inquiry on their own? Do they think that the abduction is a simple matter that does not require their attention or as some officials have it that it is a hoax? Were they stifled by elements seeking to whitewash the incident? Given they are governed by the will of the people and their conscience as representatives of the Ethiopian people they ought to have leaned on the government to break its silence. It’s unacceptable that they seemingly lack both the conviction and the desire to wield their power so that the abducted students’ long nightmare is brought to an end and the public is kept abreast of developments through the media. Though the issue directly concerns the representatives elected from the constituency where the abduction took place, the reticence of the other lawmakers is equally troubling. Such apparent disinclination to demonstrate compassion is a blot on their conscience and record.
An utterly abhorrent and unheard of act for Ethiopians the abduction of university students has incensed many. Dissatisfied with official pronouncements to the effect that the government has accorded due attention to the abduction, the public is expressing its anger and calling for the students’ prompt release. Failure to uphold the rule of law is liable to embolden criminal gangs to abduct children, women, the elderly and other vulnerable sections of the public with impunity. Enforcing the rule of law is not of paramount importance to avert the prevalence of lawlessness alone; it’s also vital to ensuring that transparency and accountability inform the conduct of government affairs. This can be ascertained insofar as the government discharges its duty to disclose information of public interest duly and at the appropriate time. If it is found wanting in providing credible information as expeditiously as possible, the public is bound to turn its back on it. The people of Ethiopia are fuming over the government’s inept handling of the abduction of the students of Dembi Dolo University. It’s high time that the government to break its deafening silence and treat the public with the respect it deserves.