By Emma Ovuakporie, Joseph Erunke, Johnbosco Agbakwuru & Ndahi Marama
ABUJA—The Federal Government, yesterday, made a passionate appeal to parents of 234 female students of a secondary school in Chibok, Borno State, who were abducted by Boko Haram terrorists, to give it more time for rescue operation even as four more girls were said to have escaped from the terrorists’ den.
The government appeal came on a day the Senate called for full scale military campaign against the insurgents, just as the House of Representatives summoned the Chief of Defence Staff and all the Service Chiefs to appear before it and explain how the abducted girls would be rescued.
Also, the senator representing Borno North, Ahmed Zanna claimed, yesterday, that he informed the military as the terrorists were moving the girls from one place to the other but the military failed to act on time.
Parents protest at National Assembly
Minister of Women Affairs, Hajia Zainab Maina, while addressing the parents of the abducted girls, who stormed the National Assembly to protest what they described as the insensitivity of the Federal Government to their plight since the abduction of the girls, said concerted efforts were being made by the security forces to secure their release.
The aggrieved parents in black attires and armed with various placards had early in the day staged a peaceful demonstration at the popular Eagle Square before moving to the National Assembly where they staged another peaceful demonstration, demanding the immediate intervention of President Goodluck Jonathan for the rescue of their daughters before any harm was done to any of them.
Speaking on behalf of the parents under the umbrella of Kibaku Area Development Association, KADA, Mrs Naomi Mutah lamented that it was “painful that our daughters were carried away into the wilderness over 15 days now like cows to be slaughtered. Since then, we have not heard any thing from the Federal Government.
“Where are the human rights groups in the country? Where is the Women Affairs Ministry?. Is there no government in the country? Are there no fathers and mothers in government again to deem it fit to see the parents of the abducted school girls and tell us what is actually happening?
“If our children are dead, where are their corpses? Let us see their corpses. For the past two weeks, nobody has come to us, we are dying in silence, where are members of the international community? We need their assistance.”
The women later presented a letter containing their grievances to the Minister of Women Affairs for onward transmission to President Jonathan which she promised to deliver to him before the close of work, yesterday, because of its importance.
FG pleads for time
The minister, however, denied the allegations that the Federal Government was not making efforts to rescue the students. She said: “As I speak, all the nation’s security forces are in the forest on the orders of President Jonathan to search for the children and bring them alive within days.
According to the minister, “the President is worried, the First Lady is worried too; we are all worried, we are not security agents, all the security forces have been fully mobilised by the President himself; he is on top of the matter, he has been holding series of meetings with the security chiefs and all the meetings centred on the security challenges we are facing which brought about this abduction”.
The minister, who expressed the optimism that all the efforts being made to locate the children would soon pay off, appealed to the parents of the students to be patient with the government on the matter and as well intensify efforts in prayers for their early release.
Four more girls escape from abductors
Meanwhile, four more girls were said to have escaped from captivity and found their way to Monguno area of Borno State, according to sources.
This now brings to 48 the number of girls who have escaped out of the 234 abducted. The source said, the girls were rescued by some good samaritans in a village near Monguno council area last Sunday before they were handed over to security operatives in Maiduguri, the state capital.
Monguno is about 134 kilometres from Maiduguri while Chibok is about 130 kilometres south of the state capital.
According to the source, “four abducted school girls who were smuggled out of Sambisa forest en route Monguno were in the last few days rescued by villagers. In fact, the girls, who looked traumatized and frustrated were sighted around the outskirts of Monguno. Only one of them managed to talk as she said, they were students writing their final year exams in Chibok but were kidnapped by unknown gunmen. She said that when four of them developed serious illnesses while conveying them to unknown destination, they were later abandoned by their captors in the bush, before being rescued by some villagers”.
The source revealed that, “already, four of the rescued students are under the custody of a female security personnel receiving treatment at an undisclosed hospital in Maiduguri. As soon as their condition gets better, they will be handed over to relevant authorities for onward delivery to their parents”.
When contacted on the development, the Caretaker Chairman of Chibok Local Government Area, Mr. Ba’ana Lawan said: “ Yes, I also heard that four of the abducted school girls have been rescued in Monguno before handing them over to the security operatives. I was told that they are currently receiving treatment at one of the hospitals in Maiduguri due to the condition they found themselves. I quickly rushed to the hospital to verify such an important information, but I was disappointed as I was not allowed to see or know the whereabouts of the girls by security men and the hospital authorities.
“As you may recall, the last time we received an information that four school girls were rescued and were under the custody of military operatives in Maiduguri, I visited the hospital where they were admitted and was given access to see them; but this time, I was not opportuned. So I cannot be in the position to confirm to you now, until I see the girls. Although, I was told by the security operatives to exercise patience, promising that they will call me in due course over the matter, so as soon as I am called upon, I will let you know the situation of things”, the Council boss said.
Mark urges full scale military campaign against insurgents
The Senate President, David Mark, also yesterday in Abuja, urged the Federal Government to declare full scale military operation against insurgents in the North East.
Mark made the call in an address to welcome senators back from Easter recess.
He said the heightened spate of terrorist attacks and killings carried out by insurgents in the North East amounted to a declaration of war against the country.
He noted that in view of the fact that the insurgents had rejected calls for dialogue, the government should embark on comprehensive military onslaught to stamp out the menace.
“There is no doubt that our nation is at war. The enemy has clearly and unequivocally served the nation notice of its vile intentions. It is obvious that we are dealing with insurgents and well-funded nihilists who are determined to violently trample upon the secularity of the Nigerian state and destroy the country.
“Therefore, a clear, unambiguous and decisive military response from the government, beyond the imposition of a state of emergency, is urgently required in this circumstance. The full might and strength of our security services must now be deployed to confront this scourge. And this must be done within the shortest possible time frame with minimal casualties,” he said.
Mark also urged the Federal Government to deploy all available resources to not only combat the forces of destruction, but also unmask and punish the sponsors of terrorist groups plundering the country.
He said the campaign would be realised when local communities and other sections of Nigerians give adequate support to the armed forces in their quest to contain the insurgency.
He added: “Our emphasis must, therefore, be on winning the hearts and minds of the communities in the immediate theatres of conflict.
“Government must do all it can to immediately identify the sponsors and the source of funds to the terrorists and the insurgents. In this connection, anybody who is implicated, no matter how highly placed, should not be treated as a sacred cow.”
Reps summon CDS, Service Chiefs
The House of Representatives on its part summoned the Chief of Defence Staff,CDS, Air Marshal Alex Badeh and all the Service Chiefs- Chief of Army Staff, COAS, Lt Gen Kenneth Minimah; Chief of Naval Staff, CNS, Rear Admiral Usman Jibrin; Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal Adesola Amosun- to explain how the 234 girls abducted by insurgents would be rescued.
This was sequel to a motion brought to the floor of the House under matters of national importance by Rep Peter Biye Gumtha, APC, representing Damboa/Gwoza/Chibok, Borno.
Gumtha in his motion had prayed the House to ask the service chiefs to explain how the girls could be rescued and the National Emergency Management Agency , NEMA to provide relief materials to victims of insurgency in Chibok.
He said: “During the night of April 14 and 16, Boko Haram terrorist invaded Chibok town in Borno State, destroyed houses, looted market stalls and abducted 273 SS3 girls at Government Girls Secondary School Chibok writing their Senior Secondary Certificate Examination, SSCE.
“But 43 of the kidnapped girls have escaped from the hands of their captors and 230 are still in captivity, two weeks after the incidence”.
At this juncture, Tambuwal called for a debate and all the lawmakers present wanted to contribute and two prayers were included in Gumtha’s motion.
Rep Nnenna Elenu-Ukeje, PDP, Abia prayed the House to seek international communities’ support to help combat the menace of terrorism.
She said: ”Today, we have Nigerians occupying positions in several world bodies, for instance Joy Ugwu is in the Security Council of the UN. “
Elendu-Ukeje said ”terrorism is not a local thing so seeking for support to solve the problem is most appropriate.”
In his submissions too, Bitruz Kaze, PDP, Plateau described the incident as quite unfortunate, with the image of the country at stake. He argued that there have already been poor statistics of girls enrolment in the North East zone of Nigeria, and that the current development would only worsen the situation.
It “ll be difficult to rescue all the girls —Sen. Zanna
Senator Ahmed Zanna, representing Borno North has said that it would be difficult for Nigeria to get back all the girls abducted by the insurgents, saying the girls have not only been split by their abductors but ferried across border islands to neighboring countries.
Zanna, who represents Borno North in the Upper Chamber, while claiming that he was privy to information about the movement of the insurgents when they were abducted, told security agents that contrary to their belief that the abducted girls were in Sambisa forest with their abductors, they have since been split and ferried through Lake Chad to neighboring countries among which he said were Chad, Niger and Cameroon.
The senator who blamed the military for failure to rescue the girls before the development given that they got all immediate information about the movement of the insurgents from him, said he was informed by some people closed to the insurgents that the girls, after being split, were given out in marriage to some insurgents.
He spoke during his contribution to a motion titled: Abduction of School Children in Chibok, Borno State, sponsored by the Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba.
“I have been constantly in touch with the security agencies, telling them the developments, the movement of the girls from one place to the other and then the splitting of the girls and eventually the marriage of these girls by the insurgents.
“What bothers me most is that whenever I informed them where these girls were, after two to three days, they will be moved from that place to another and still, I will go back and inform them that see, this is what is happening.
“I lost hope two days ago when I found out that some of them were moved to Chad and Cameroon. Actually, some of them move through the Mandara Mountain that is in Gwoza and some of them are just a stone throw from their barracks, even now as I am talking to you, some of them are in Kolofata, which is in Cameroon but about 15 kilometres or even less to the borders.
“One of the insurgents called somebody in Bama and said I just got married and said I am now settling in Kolofata and then three or four days ago, some Fulani men reported that they saw some girls being taken by boats into the island in Lake Chad and that some of them happened to be between Marte and Mungonu.
Insurgents moving out of Sambisa forest
“What is most disturbing is that hitherto, Sambisa was their base and is well known to the military and Nigerian security. After the abduction of those girls, they have started moving out of that Sambisa and even before then I have been discussing with the military and they said they were going to attack that place, about 15 or 20 days ago, I don’t know what delayed them. But eventually when they launched the attack, all the insurgents had already gone out of the place. So, I don’t know what is happening,” he said.
He insisted that it would not be possible to get the girls in their number, saying if at all they will be seen, it will be in trickle just as he said the military caused the degeneration of the ugly development.
“When we talk, they (the military) will say we are against them, we are exposing them, we have demoralizing their troops. These are the facts. So unless there is spirit of seriousness on the part of our military, we have no hope of getting those girls. Even if we are going to get them, we are going to get them in trickles, maybe getting two, three, four, and five. They are now scattered. So it is not possible for us to get 50, 60,100 in one particular position. This is the position as at today,” he said.
Senator Zanna said it was possible that some of the girls were still being held by their captors within some remote areas of the North East, given that there was information that some insurgents were settling in a remote area he called Chikungudua.
“Maybe, those ones might still be within Nigeria but that is the current and new base of the insurgents, they just took over that place less than a week and that village is called Chikungudua, the place is the constituency of Senator Maina Marji.
“But I informed the security agents about the situation and from that place, they can just go into the Lake and go to either Chad or Cameroon because it is very open, there are no weeds in the lake and so they can go to anywhere,” he added.
Zanna, while condemning the act, called on everybody to rally round government by providing necessary information that can lead to the curbing of insurgency in the country.
“I rise to adopt this motion passionately based on the ages of the girls that were involved and the human lives that have suffered as a result of this unfortunate development. Since the beginning of this saga, I kept mute on this issue as far as press releases and press interviews were concerned.”
He said the insurgents have taken over the island bordering the country and driven away all inhabitants of the area just as he said the boats being used by the local in the area have been seized including that belonging to the Nigerian National Petroleum Cooperation, NNPC which is meant for surveillance in the area.
“They have snatched all the boats around that area including the one for NNPC and so they are free to go anywhere without being chased by anybody. There are about 40 islands there and they have ejected most of the occupants and they have occupied the islands.”
Senator Zanna said there was a near Lake Chad where the insurgents always camp during raining season, saying with the coming of the rain now, they have started moving into the place.
“Even before the abduction, I even told them (military) about the shrubs in northern Borno where they stayed last year till after the rainy season. Since rainy season is approaching, I told them that these people will leave Sambisa and other areas and go to that shrub but it seems there is no much presence of military around that area up till.”