By Ndahi Marama & Emmanuel Elebeke
MAIDUGURI – Distraught and traumatized parents of the female students of Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State abducted one month ago by Boko Haram terrorists, yesterday, reacted to the video of some of the abducted girls released by Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau expressing doubts over the authenticity of the video. However, some claimed that the video gave them hope that their daughters were still alive.
Leader of the Boko Haram terrorists, Abubakar Shekau, yesterday, released a video showing over 130 girls he claimed were the abducted female students. Shekau, in the 17-minute video showing girls wearing black Hijabs and reciting Holy Q’uran, claimed that his sect has converted the abducted school girls into Islam and that they are willing to release those that have not been converted in exchange for their members detained in various prisons.
A parent of one of the abducted girls, Mallam Awana Babagana said with the release of the video the parents believe their daughters were still alive and called on the Federal Government to do everything possible to secure the safe release of their daughters.
He said: “I have seen the video but I couldn’t identify my daughter. I hope they are the ones, we will keep on praying until they are released.”
Doubts over video
Another parent who resides in Maiduguri but declined his identity for security reasons said he had the opportunity to watch the video, but said that he couldn’t identify any of his missing daughters even as he alleged that the footage showing Shekau as leader of the sect is questionable.
Also, another father of one of the kidnapped girls has said that he would rather let his child die than have her convert to Islam or be exchanged for Boko Haram prisoners. Speaking to the Telegraph of London, the man — who is not named to protect his child’s identity — said:
“I have not yet seen the video, but I am not really interested in what Boko Haram’s demands are,” he said.
“My daughter is a Christian, she will never change. I would rather she died as a Christian than convert to Islam.”
A prisoner exchange, he warned, would simply encourage more kidnappings.
“I don’t want a prisoner exchange either; our daughters are not prisoners, and they should not be exchanged for anyone,” he said.
“Let the government try to rescue them. If they have a prisoner exchange, that will look like the government is giving in to Boko Haram, and it will just encourage them to take more hostages. They will never stop.”
Another parent, Lawan Zannah told our correspondent on phone that his sisters called him to switch on his television set to view the video, showing the alleged school girls on BBC cable television but according to him, there was no light, as such he couldn’t watch the programme.
“I have not watched it, but I hope they are the ones. It gladdened my heart when I heard that they showed the video on BBC, that means they are still alive. I call on the Federal Government to do everything possible to secure their release. We also call on you and other Nigerians to join us in praying for the safe release of our daughters”, Zannah stated.
Commenting on the video, a Maiduguri resident Alhaji Hassan Ibrahim said that the video was not that of the school girls, as according to him, the video was showing that some of them were over 30 years of age, while the authenticity of the sect leader was even doubtful.
Borno Gov orders mass production of clips for identification by parents
Meanwhile, Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima has ordered that copies of the video should be mass-produced for identification by parents. A press statement signed by the governor’s Special Adviser on Communication, Isa Umar Gusau said:
“Shettima has directed transfer of the video into mobile storage devices under the care of some officials, including the chairman of Chibok Local Government area, who has been given an immediate task of showing the videos to parents, some of the freed students who know their abducted colleagues, teachers and management staff of Government Secondary School, Chibok, so that the girls in the video can be identified to ascertain if they are part of the abducted students or otherwise.
“He is, however, optimistic about the video. Already, some concerned individuals in Maiduguri and Abuja on the request of the Governor, are making efforts to contact parents and relations of some of the abducted girls, who might be within reach to get feedback regarding the video.
“Governor Shettima views the development as encouraging especially given the fact that some of the girls said they were not harmed. The Governor hopes that the girls did not speak under duress.
“While awaiting the confirmation, Governor Shettima calls on citizens of Borno State, most of whom commenced another round of fasting today, to seek divine help, in response to appeal by the Governor, to intensify prayers for the safe release of the schoolgirls who are very precious not only to Borno but to the entire world.
Girls recite Koran
The footage of the video showed about 130 girls in black and grey full-length hijabs sitting on scrubland near trees, reciting the first chapter of the Muslim holy book, the Koran, and holding their palms upwards in prayer.
Three of the girls were interviewed. Two of them said they were Christians and had converted, while one said she was a Muslim. Most of the girls in the group were seated. The girls appeared calm and one said that they had not been harmed.
There was no indication of when the video was taken, and at one point an armed man was seen in the video with a hand-held video camera.
In the video, Shekau appeared in front of a lime green canvas backdrop wearing combat fatigues and carrying an automatic weapon. Shekau did not appear in the same shot as the girls at any point in the video.
Speaking in Hausa and Arabic, he restated his claim of responsibility made in a video released last Monday and said the girls had converted to Islam.
“These girls, these girls you occupy yourselves with… we have indeed liberated them. We have indeed liberated them. Do you know we have liberated them? These girls have become Muslims,” he said.
The militant leader said that Boko Haram’s brothers in arms had been held in prison for up to five years and suggested that the girls would be released if the fighters were freed.
“We will never release them (the girls) until after you release our brethren. Here I mean those girls who have not submitted (converted to Islam),” he added.
FG rejects Boko Haram prisoner swap for hostage schoolgirls
Meanwhile, the Federal Government, yesterday, rejected conditions by Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau for the release of the schoolgirls.
Asked if the government would reject the suggestion by Shekau in a new video that the girls may be released once Nigeria frees all militant prisoners, Interior Minister Abba Moro told AFP: “Of course. The issue in question is not about Boko Haram… giving conditions,” he said.
A Nigerian military source told Reuters on yesterday, in Maiduguri that two foreign counter-terrorism units were already on the ground.
“They visited Chibok on Sunday for preliminary investigation with our troops and experts before fully kick-starting the rescue mission,” the source said.
Jonathan will attend a summit in Paris on Saturday to discuss security in the region.
“The objective is to deepen the cooperation and partnership between Nigeria and her neighbours,” Jonathan’s spokesman, Reuben Abati said.
Leaders from Chad, Benin, Cameroon and Niger are also due to attend with representatives from the European Union, Britain and the United States, likely to be at foreign minister level.
The mass abduction of schoolgirls has touched a chord around the world, and triggered a support campaign using the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.
Presidential fact-finding committee, foreign experts meet, assure on successful outing
Meantime, the Presidential Fact-finding Committee on the abduction of the schoolgirls yesterday, interacted with officials of some countries that have pledged support to efforts by the Nigerian Government to secure the release of the abducted schoolgirls.
According to a statement issued by a member/spokesperson for the committee, Kingsley Osadolor, the interaction, which lasted for hours, took place in Abuja and covered issues within the terms of reference of the Committee.
Welcoming the officials, Chairman of the Fact-finding Committee, Gen. Ibrahim Sabo (rtd), thanked them and their governments for obliging to back the Federal Government in its bid to free the abducted schoolgirls.
He said the global response to the abduction was a reflection of our common humanity.
In response, the officials expressed their enthusiasm in joining the search for, and freedom for the schoolgirls.
The Committee is scheduled to have further interactions with Defence and Security agencies, with a view to ascertaining the veracity of speculations making the rounds in the weeks since the April 14 abduction.
Also, representatives of Borno State Government, who were unavailable at the Committee’s inauguration last week by President Goodluck Jonathan, attended the Committee’s session yesterday, and promised to participate in all activities of the Committee.