By Uduma Kalu, with agency report
LAGOS—President Goodluck Jonathan has reportedly seen a new video released by Boko Haram, where the abducted school girls of Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, spoke about their ordeal in the hands of the insurgents for the first time and pleaded with him to secure their release.
The girls were reportedly ill and are in camps located in Chad, Niger and Cameroon, with one of them nursing a broken wrist.
The footage, not released publicly but seen by the London-based The Mail on Sunday was taken in a jungle clearing a month after their abduction.
More than 250 girls were taken in a raid on their school in Chibok on April 14 by Boko Haram terrorists.
However, Cameroon’s military reportedly killed about 40 Boko Haram militants in the country’s northwest last weekend, a government radio reported yesterday, a day after Nigeria labelled the Central African nation the weakest link in its fight against the extremist sect.
The clashes leading to the killing occurred in the town of Kouserri, which borders Nigeria and Chad.
Cameroon, a clog in the wheel
The Federal Government regards Cameroun as not cooperative as Niger and Chad in the fight against Boko Haram.
After a security summit in Paris two weeks ago, Cameroon said it deployed 1,000 troops to its border to help contain the increasingly deadly group.
A series of suspected Boko Haram attacks in four villages in Nigeria’s restive North-East killed several people, residents said Sunday, in the latest violence blamed on the Islamist insurgents.
The military was not immediately available to comment on the raids in Borno State, the hardest hit area during Boko Haram’s five-year extremist uprising, which has killed thousands.
All of the targeted villages are in the Gamboru Ngala district near the border with Cameroon, where Boko Haram killed hundreds in a gruesome attack earlier last month.
The video, according to The Mail of London, indicated that the girls looked healthy, as eight of them, dressed in their home-made school uniforms of pale blue gingham, pleaded for release while standing courageously in front of the camera.
They were reportedly clearly scared, upset and trying to be brave, with each walking in turn to a spot in front of a white sheet fixed to a crude frame between the trees.
According to The Mail, four of the girls can be heard clearly in Hausa language stating that they were taken by force and that they were hungry.
The video indicated that a tall girl, aged about 18, said tearfully that “My family will be so worried”, even as another spoke softly, saying ‘I never expected to suffer like this in my life.”
Similarly, a third girl was captured in the video as saying ‘they have taken us away by force’, while the fourth complained of not getting enough food.
Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, reportedly released the new video of the kidnapped girls praying after their conversion to Islam.
The video, taken by an intermediary on May 19, has been shown to President Goodluck Jonathan and was intended to serve as ‘proof of life’ for the girls and to encourage the President to accede to the terrorists’ demands.
Two earlier videos showed the girls seated on the ground, dressed in hijabs, reciting the Koran,with Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, declaring he would sell them into slavery, or marry them off to their kidnappers, if members of his sect were not released from prison.
The Mail said pressure from the international community and criticism of the President’s slow response to the kidnapping have led to a series of contradictory pronouncements from his government. Ministers have declared they will not negotiate with Boko Haram, or consider the release of prisoners, while official spokesmen have said ‘the window is always open for dialogue’.
At a Paris peace summit, several West African countries neighbouring Nigeria vowed to join in ‘outright war’ against the terrorists. Britain, France and America pledged their support and have sent teams of military experts and advisers to the region. Intelligence sources have told The Mail of several rescue attempts, one involving the release of suspected low-level Boko Haram members detained without charges or trial.
Two attempts were aborted at the last minute when the terrorists took fright while delivering a group of girls to a safe location.
Last week, Chief of Defence Staff, Alex Badeh said the government knew the location of the girls and claimed that police and military had been ‘following them’ since the abduction. He refused to divulge details, saying it would put the girls in further danger.
The Mail claimed that Badeh’s announcement may have been the result of government officials seeing the new, unpublished video and may have been able to persuade Boko Haram’s intermediary to provide details of the location. It is believed the hostages have been split into at least four groups.
The report said one Dr Stephen Davis, an Australian who has advised three Nigerian presidents on how to negotiate with the country’s militant groups, has spent the past month trying to help free the girls.
Most Chibok girls not held in Nigeria
‘The vast majority of the Chibok girls are not being held in Nigeria,’ he said.
‘They are in camps across the Nigerian border in Cameroon, Chad and Niger. I say the “vast majority” as I know a small group was confirmed to me to be in Nigeria last week when we sought to have them released.’
Saying the Federal Government has been engaged in negotiations with Boko Haram’s spiritual leader Abubakar Shekau in a bid to secure the girls’ release, the report quoted the Australian describing how fraught the negotiation process has been.
‘One of that small group of girls is ill and we had hoped we might convince the commander of the group holding her that she should be released so we could give her medical treatment,’ Dr Davis said.
‘There are other girls who are not well and we have come close to having them released but their captors fear a trap in which they will be captured in the handover process.
‘One girl has what I assume is a broken wrist as they demonstrate to me how she holds her hand. I have been told that others are sick and in need of medical attention.’
A military source said: ‘This has been a race against time from the minute they were captured. As soon as the girls left Nigerian soil, it was always going to be more difficult.
‘The government made no attempt at a rescue until a month after they were taken. Now the situation gets more serious by the day.
‘Any sort of attempt to get to them would have to be cleared by the governments of the other nations.’