By Sam Eyoboka
EVANGELIST Matthew Owojaiye, penultimate week, released a list of 180 girls among those taken away by Boko Haram from the Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State on April 14.
The radical preacher was in Lagos where he spoke to journalists on the controversy that trailed the list of the 180 students, and how he came about it when the Federal Government is asking the affected parents to assist security operatives with the pictures of their missing children.
In the interview, Owojaiye urged Nigerians not to politicise the issue, because the story is true. “You can imagine if your daughter disappeared for more than one week, no trace, and some people were even thinking the story was made up”, he said, adding that there were more girls in captivity but he was only able to get the names of the ones from Chibok.
So the 180 are from Chibok local government area
Yes. They knew that Chibok local government area is 90 per cent Christians. Why didn’t they attack other girls’ schools? The people knew that the terrorists were coming, according to what we are hearing now.
Which people? The leadership of the school?
The locals; it’s in the papers that they knew some people were coming. They didn’t know it was the girls they were coming for. People cannot move in large numbers without people knowing. Are they goats? Can you carry more than 200 human beings away without the DPO of the town knowing? They could not send signals around?
Within 24 hours, government could surround and cut them off before the girls could be taken outside the country? We are treating the whole abduction issue with levity as if the girls are not important. It’s a tragedy.
How did you come about the names?
I’m a northerner. I attended Government College, Keffi. The late President Umaru Yar’Adua was two years my junior in Keffi. There’s no part of Nigeria I don’t know. So if they say my information is wrong, that’s where there will be questions. But I will not give the source of my information. As a former Chairman of Northern Christian Elders Forum, NOSCEF, I have a large network over the years from where I am able to gather information at all times.
When you got the names, why didn’t you take the list to relevant government authorities? Why did you decide to make the list public?
You don’t report such a thing to a police man because you don’t know whether he is a member of Boko Haram. If you don’t want anybody to kill your information, you bring it out. The kidnapped girls are your children. Whether they are Muslims or Christians, I’m a father, I’m an elder.
People are imputing religious motive to what you did. For example, in your statement, you said the town is dominated by 90% Christians, and they are asking, what if those girls were not Christians?
Well, we would still have screamed. But let me tell you, we are marginalized, we have been persecuted, we have been deliberately undeveloped; all Christian areas in the North. So we know what we are suffering. But when I was asking for compensation, did I say they should give Christians alone?
How much compensation did you ask for?
I asked for N50 million. There’s what we call punitive judgment. Did you expect me to ask for N5? If you ask for N50 million, at the end, they may say 10 or 20 million. But if you ask for N10 million, at the end, they give you N2 million, they will now say are you not the one that asked? Am I going to get one naira out of it?
People are just wondering why you asked for compensation considering the fact that the girls have not even been rescued…
To make the parents happy that somebody is fighting on their behalf. When a man is in trauma, you get confused, and you feel abandoned by everybody. When people rise up at your back, you feel some sort of relief. It’s for the parents, not for me.
Have you visited Chibok since the incident?
No, I will not, because they will recognise me.
What are you talking? Even our people can’t give information to anybody, because they will kill you. I can’t sneak in there and spend one day without them knowing. Do you know they kill any Muslims that talk against them? So when you are gathering information, you send people.
You gather information from your people that cannot be known. You don’t send a known person. You won’t get the information and you will die. That’s double tragedy.
So how are the locals in Chibok feeling about this attack?
They are happy that I shouted. They are sending me texts thanking me. They were feeling helpless, but when they saw the whole world making noise on their behalf, it gave them relief that they are not abandoned after all. Even America says they are going to help the Nigerian government. So there’s a feeling of great joy. But before, they felt abandoned.
What’s the guarantee that if they rescue these girls, other girls will not be abducted?
This is what we are saying. If you read my paper, it says we should move them temporarily to other parts that are safer. The students that were abducted should be taken abroad, but others in SS1 to SS2 should be moved because they are still vulnerable. It is impossible to deploy soldiers to all schools in the country.
How many soldiers do we have? So moving them away from dangerous areas should be the first step. Because now we are even hearing rumors that they want to take more. By the time they start kidnapping more, what I have said now will become clear.
People are questioning the authenticity of the entire episode. Some people in Abuja said maybe this was even stage managed from the word go….
That’s why I’m boiling. If your daughter is missing and somebody says it was stage managed, doesn’t it cause you more pain? While you are crying and can’t see your daughter, someone is saying stage manage!
Have you had cause to speak with some of the parents of the abducted girls?
My people reported back to me, so it is not a lie. You mean you can fool the whole world? What do we gain if we stage manage the issue? What do we gain if it’s a lie?
Since the publication of the list, how many people in government have reached out to you?
Because they know it’s true. Let me tell you; if these children were writing their SSCE, are you telling me that WAEC doesn’t have their names and photographs? The people in the North know me very well, all the people in government, and nobody has said it’s a lie. Those in Abuja cannot even tell me it’s a lie.
Even within the security circle, nobody has reached out to you to ask how you got the names?
They don’t need to, they know me before. I carry integrity. I preach on television every week and I’ve handled national issues, I’m an activist, fighting for the truth. The Muslims like me in the North, they say I preach the truth and rebuke whoever is wrong, be he Muslim or Christian.
Are you planning to relocate?
Why should I relocate? The people know I’m saying the truth. I walk on the streets, I can take motor cycle around, and I can go to the market and trek round. I’m not afraid. The people love me.
Now that you have the list of some of the girls, because we don’t even know the number of the girls that were captured, do you have any plan to go to government to present the list or negotiate?
No need to. I told you government already has the pictures. Didn’t WAEC collect information from the girls? Do you mean FG doesn’t have the list from WAEC with the pictures? If they don’t have it, then it’s a terrible thing.
The President in his recent media chat urged affected parents to help them with photographs……
Couldn’t he collect such pictures from WAEC? The truth is that the parents are afraid. If they speak, their lives would be in danger. In such a situation, let the government go to WAEC. The principal of the school, wouldn’t he have the pictures of the girls? If they burnt the school, did they burn the ones with WAEC too?
Are you angry that this whole situation has been politicized?
God will judge whoever is playing politics with it. A nation that doesn’t care for its youths, a nation that does not respect lives; if we do that, we are in trouble. So nobody should turn it to politics.