*Fact-finding Committee tackles abduction assignment
Mr Kingsley Osadolor, member/ spokesperson for the Presidential Fact-pfinding Committee on the Chibok abduction, speaks on the body’s job.
On May 2, the day after the second Nyanya bombing in the Federal CapitalTerritory, President Goodluck Jonathan summoned a top-level security meeting at the Presidential Villa. By then, the world was abuzz with a welter of conflicting information on the schoolgirls who were abducted in the night of April 14 at Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, where the students boarded to write their West African School Certificate Examinations.
The schoolgirls had not been found, and the trauma was aggravated by the fatalities of the Nyanya bombings and the lingering terror mostly in the North-East of the country.
One immediate fall-out of the high-level security meeting was the decision by the Federal Government to set up a multi-agency/stakeholder fact-finding committee on the mass kidnap of the Chibok schoolgirls. “In view of the inconsistent and contradictory information available to government on the Chibok abduction, the President has set up a Fact-Finding Committee comprising security agencies, civil society, international organisations, and other stakeholders,” Information Minister Labaran Maku told State House correspondents, while announcing the conclusions of the security meeting.
The Fact-finding Committee was inaugurated by Jonathan on Tuesday, May 6. Chaired by Brig.-General Ibrahim Sabo (rtd), one-time Director of Military Intelligence, nominees of the United Nations, ECOWAS, National Parent Teacher Association, and All Nigeria Conference of Principals of Secondary Schools, are members of the Committee. There are officers from the intelligence, security and defence services, as there are representatives of civil society organisations, National Council of Women’s Societies, the media, and Ministry officials. A member, who is a Visiting Professor at Harvard, flew into Abuja that morning for the formal take-off of the Committee.
The Committee’s terms of reference are: to liaise with the Borno State Government and establish the circumstances leading to the school remaining open for boarding students when other schools were closed; to liaise with relevant authorities and the parents of the missing girls to establish the actual number and identities of the girls abducted; to interface with the security services and the Borno State Government to ascertain how many of the missing girls have returned; to mobilise the surrounding communities and the general public on citizen support for a rescue strategy and operation; to articulate a framework for a multi-stakeholder action for the rescue of the missing girls; and to advise government on any matter incidental to the terms of reference. The Committee is not a substitute for the search and rescue efforts already mounted by the security and defence forces.
By declaring that the Fact-finding Committee was neither a judicial nor administrative panel of inquiry, President Jonathan effectively put paid to any potential litigation either to frustrate the work of the Committee, or its outcome, because there is a subsisting judicial decision (on the Oputa Panel) that such panels of inquiry are matters for state governments, not the Federal Government. Still, there was a potent ingredient for controversy on the day of the Committee’s inauguration at the President’s Meeting Room.
At the close of the brief ceremony, State House correspondents had asked me why the representatives of the Borno State Government, who were announced as members, were absent at the inauguration. The immediate suspicion by the reporters was that the Borno State Government had shunned the Presidential Fact-finding Committee, with its multifarious connotations and implications.
I urged the correspondents to be patient, because I was meeting most of the Committee members for the first time and could, therefore, not positively identify all of them. On the other hand, I said, the Committee was proceeding to hold its inaugural meeting within the precincts of the Presidential Villa, and the Borno State representatives might show up at the meeting; but that was not the case.
The Committee contacted the Secretary to the Borno State Government, Ambassador Baba Ahmed Jidda, who explained that he had been away, and had not apprehended the official communication from the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. The Secretary to the Borno State Government, however, promised to send the nominated representatives at the next plenary of the Fact-finding Committee, which was promptly communicated to the correspondents. As promised, the Borno representatives have since joined the Committee, and are participating enthusiastically. Indeed, two of the representatives have their roots in Chibok—-one, a retired Brig.-General; the other a member of the State House of Assembly, who informed Committee Members that some of his grandchildren were among the abducted schoolgirls.
Breaking out into clusters of workgroups, the Committee immediately began to gather and sift facts already in the public domain and within the knowledge of appropriate agencies. This was done with a view to ascertaining gaps, which would assist the Committee in the various stages of its assignment. As the take-off of the Committee coincided with the three-day World Economic Forum for Africa, formal interactive sessions planned with a number of government agencies were shelved, on account of the work-free days during which offices were closed.
The Fact-finding Committee has since held intensive interactive sessions and consultations with competent sources within the Federal Capital Territory.Among the sessions held were those with the Minister of Defence, Chief of Defence Staff and the Service Chiefs in charge of the Army, Navy, and Air Force; as well as the Inspector General of Police. The Committee also met with the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), and the Director General of the Department of State Services (DSS).
Besides the very illuminating briefs provided by the Service Chiefs, their whole-hearted endorsement of the work of the Fact-finding Committee disclosed an unqualified willingness to co-operate and a determination to overcome the current security challenges. Chief of the Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh thanked members of the Committee for taking on the assignment. “It will give us respite if you are able to get to the root of all that has happened,” he said.
According to Air Chief Marshal Badeh, “Everybody thinks this war is for the military alone; no. It is a war for all of us.” He stressed that, “soldiers don’t fight wars on their own. It’s a nation that goes to war.” He expressed the hope that with current efforts and support, “we shall win the war (on terror), and bring back our girls.” The Service Chiefs — Army, Navy, and Air Force — dispelled insinuations that had been rife over the abduction and terror in general. Such insinuations concern the armoury and fire power of the terrorists, the morale of Nigerian troops, as well as operational deployment of troops.
The military top brass explained their rules of engagement, and related issues of appropriate firepower in situations which terrorism presents within Nigerian territory where there is civilian population. In part, what emerged is that while the Nigerian Armed Forces are a disciplined institution, the terrorists are not, hence the latter use all manner of weapons in any circumstance. This, the armed forces are by law and Conventions not allowed to do. While thanking the Service Chiefs for the insight provided, the Fact-finding Committee Chairman, Gen. Sabo (rtd), frowned at the disparagement of the country’s armed forces, and commiserated with the Services on the personnel losses suffered in the fight against terrorism.
At another meeting with the Department of State Services (DSS), its Director General, Mr Ekoenyong Ita, gave a detailed brief on the Department’s anti-terrorism efforts, which he said had led to several arrests and the bust of terror threats and plots. He also spoke on the Chibok abduction. The Director General dispelled the notion of inadequate intelligence gathering as a factor hindering the fight against terror. “We have gone beyond the lack of intelligence. If we didn’t have intelligence, we would not get the Nyanya bombers,” he said.Urging Nigerians to be patient, Mr Ita gave assurance on the safe return of the abducted schoolgirls. “We will get these girls,” he said. “If we can get the people who bombed Nyanya, we will get the girls.”
In addition, the Director General of NIA, Ambassador Ayo Oke, briefed the Committee extensively on the measures taken so far by the Agency in the joint intelligence and security efforts to locate the whereabouts of the kidnapped schoolgirls and ensure their safe reunion with their respective families.According to Ambassador Oke, “We will not know peace until these girls are found,” adding that, “we must agree as a people that this is the time to end the menace of Boko Haram.” To him, “The incident (Chibok abduction) has awakened a new sense of humanity and collective pain to all Nigerians and friends of Nigeria.”
At the session with the Police, Inspector General Mohammed Abubakar explained the circumstances of the abduction and the immediate steps taken by the Police Force. He informed the Committee members of the on-going investigations and the pursuit of leads that might assist in securing freedom for the kidnapped schoolgirls. The Inspector General of Police also articulated perspectives on the mass abduction, which the Committee members acknowledged would greatly facilitate their work.
The Committee has also held extensive consultations with a number of foreign experts from the countries that have pledged support to the efforts by the Federal Government to secure the release of the abducted schoolgirls. As the Committee Chairman, Gen. Sabo (rtd), told the experts, the global response to the abduction was a reflection of our common humanity. This is all the more underscored by the step taken by the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, who has appointed a Special Representative on the Abduction of the Chibok Schoolgirls.
The Fact-finding Committee has met with the UN Special Representative, Ambassador Said Djinnit, an Algerian, who informed the Committee that,beyond the outrage and condemnation of the abduction, the UN Secretary General was interested in a support package to ensure the release of the schoolgirls, and to deal with the larger issues arising from the circumstances of the mass abduction. “We care about Nigeria,” the Special Representative said.
“We highly support the multi-dimensional approach of President Goodluck Jonathan in solving the problems in the North-East of the country.” Amb. Djinnit was delighted that the Federal Government co-opted the UN into the Fact-finding Committee through the membership of the Head of the UN Agencies in Nigeria. Crucially, the Special Representative pledged to assist the Committee with the UN wide-ranging expertise and experience in fact-finding missions.
Invariably, the question may arise as to the utility of these rounds of consultations and interactions. The straightforward answer to such a query is that the Committee is mindful of the circumstances that warranted its coming into being, namely, the confusion fostered by the conflicting information on the abduction. The Committee is, therefore, engaged in a forensic exercise that will enable it fulfill its mandate within the shortest possible time in what we all hope will be a happy ending to the abduction saga in which our young daughters are hapless victims.