ABUJA—FORTY-THREE days after more than 200 schoolgirls were abducted in Chibok, Borno State by insurgent sect, Boko Haram, the Military High Command, yesterday, had cheering news for the traumatised parents as it said it has located where the girls were being held hostage but would not use force to rescue them.
Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh disclosed this in Abuja even as UK media reported, yesterday, that but for the last minute change of mind by President Goodluck Jonathan, the abducted Chibok girls would have been freed.
Badeh, while addressing members of the Citizen Initiative for Security Awareness (CISA), an NGO on a solidarity campaign to the Defence Headquarters, said that the military will not use force in the rescue operation. He, however, assured that everything was being done to ensure their safe rescue.
His words: “We want our girls back, I can tell you our military can do it, but where they are held, do we go with force? Nobody should say Nigerian military does not know what it is doing. We can’t kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back. So we are working. The President has empowered us to do the work and no one should castigate the military.
We know where the girls are — CDS
“The good news for parents of the girls is that we know where they are but we cannot tell you. We cannot come and tell you the military’s secret. Just leave us alone to do our work. We are working to get the girls back”.
The CDS disclosed that the fight against insurgency was quite different from a full scale war, pointing out that “if we are fighting an external war, Boko Haram would have been begging us to withdraw.
He said: “Nigerian military had proved its worth in the civil war, Liberia and Sierra-Leone wars and in the process returned democracy to those countries”.
On operations in the North-East, the CDS said the challenge was that the military was fighting its fellow brothers. “We are not happy at all because we are killing our own and we are killing mostly youths. We cannot afford to eliminate our youths. Who are we going to handover Nigeria to? We can’t continue to kill them.”
While noting that the military in Nigeria is the strong arm of democracy, he said it (military) holds the constitution very dear, adding that the constitution is represented by the President.
“We are using our lives to defend this democracy. Democracy must thrive in Nigeria whether anybody likes it or not. People have finally realised that you don’t have another military than this one and it is either you support your military or you are looking for anarchy”, he said.
He noted that the war should not be fought by the military alone, but by all Nigerians, adding that Nigeria is at war and all hands must be on deck.
Badeh also confirmed that the military was recovering arms and ammunition that are alien to the Armed forces “which shows that people from outside were supporting the insurgents”.
Expressing the belief that it was Al-Qaeda in West Africa, the CDS said: “I know people from outside Nigeria are in this war, they are fighting us, they want to destabilise us. But this is our country and some people in this country are standing with the forces of darkness; we must salvage our country, we must bring sanity back into our nation”.
Coordinator of the group, Chidi Omeje said the group represents the ordinary Nigerians on the streets who understand that no nation can stand on its own without a strong military.
He stated that the group was spurred into action because of the myriads of media attacks championed by mischievous politicians and some interest groups that have ulterior motives.
“We are not politicians or religious bigots and we appreciate our military and we know they are doing their best. We are trying to tell the leadership of the Nigerian military that ordinary Nigerians are behind them, and appreciate them”.
Jonathan’s call stopped last minute deal to free girls —Report
Meanwhile, but for a last minute change of mind by President Jonathan, the abducted Chibok girls would have been freed, UK media reported yesterday.
A deal for the release of some of the abducted schoolgirls in Nigeria was close to being secured when the Federal Government called it off, BBC and Daily Mail said.
Some of the girls were allegedly set to be freed in exchange for imprisoned Islamist militants.
The papers reported that officials held talks with the group to secure the release of the schoolgirls.
An intermediary met Boko Haram leaders earlier this month and visited the location where the girls were being held, the reports said.
The deal was to set some of the girls free in exchange for the release of 100 Boko Haram members from detention, according to BBC.
But the government cancelled the planned agreement shortly before the swap was due to take place.
Though reasons for the withdrawal are unclear, The Mail on Sunday said: “A Nigerian journalist trusted by both the government and extremists from Boko Haram acted as go-between, risking his life on a one-man mission to enter the gunmen’s lair and broker an agreement, according to security sources.
“But last Saturday, at the eleventh hour, officials scrapped the exchange in a telephone call from a crisis summit in Paris where President Goodluck Jonathan met foreign ministers including those from Britain, the United States, France and Israel.
“It was agreed there that no deals should be struck with terrorists and that force should instead be used against them.
“The U-turn is said to have enraged Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau. Insiders believe that the cancellation of last Saturday’s plan and the ensuing stand-off now puts the girls’ lives in even greater danger.
“An intelligence source told The Mail on Sunday: ‘The next video we see from the terrorists could show the girls being killed one by one.’
“Sources in Abuja described how Shekau had agreed to bring the girls out of their forest camps in the remote North-East of the country in the early morning and take them to a safe location for the prisoner swap.”
The sources were quoted as saying: “They would have been dropped off in a village, one group at a time, and left there while their kidnappers disappeared. There was to be a signal to a mediator at another location to bring in the prisoners.”
Continuing, The Mail on Sunday said: “About 2,000 Boko Haram members are currently detained.
“One hundred non-combatant, low-level sympathisers were to be freed and the two groups brought together in a convoy of buses accompanied by a hand-picked go-between, respected Nigerian journalist Ahmad Salkida.
“The plan had been agreed in tortuous negotiations in response to worldwide outrage over a night-time raid on a school in the town of Chibok on April 14 when the girls were abducted from their dormitories.
“Mr Salkida was born in Borno State, where Boko Haram originated. He has known its leaders all his life and has unprecedented access.
“He has been arrested on several occasions accused of being a Boko Haram sympathiser, and he fled with his family to Dubai two years ago.
“But two weeks ago, he was summoned out of exile by President Jonathan’s aides. He initially feared he might face arrest, but was then given a letter of indemnity signed by the President when he flew to Nigeria.
“Sources said Mr Salkida was able to travel by taxi to the group’s forest camp to talk to Shekau two weeks ago. ‘His mission was secretive and dangerous,’ they said.
“He is probably the only civilian with access to Shekau. There is trust between them and Salkida had only one aim – to get the schoolgirls out.
“He reported afterwards that the group of girls he saw were alive and well, and being adequately fed and sheltered. They told him all they wanted was to go home.
“Salkida’s mission was complicated by the chaos surrounding government’s pronouncements about negotiations with the terrorist group.
“Shekau has released two shocking videos showing the girls dressed in hijabs and reciting verses from the Koran.”