By Emmanuel Aziken, Clifford Ndujihe & Ben Agande
ABUJA—ONE hundred days after the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State, by Boko Haram terrorists, President Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday, met with parents of the girls. At the closed-door meeting were 53 of the girls, who had earlier escaped from their abductors as well as representatives of Chibok community and other stakeholders.
The meeting which started at about 11 o’clock ended at about 2:15 pm. Also at the meeting were Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State; Governor Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State and the Senate President, David Mark.
An earlier attempt to hold the meeting did not materialize as representatives of the community declined to meet the President after meeting Pakistani girl-child education activist, Malala Yousafzai.
Speaking on the outcome of the Abuja meeting,Dr. Reuben Abati (Special Adviser to the President on Media & Publicity), said President Jonathan reassured the Chibok community that his Administration was doing everything humanly possible to rescue the girls and return them safely to their parents and appealed for their patience, understanding and cooperation.
Quoting the President, Abati said: “Anyone who gives you the impression that we are aloof and that we are not doing what we are supposed to do to get the girls out is not being truthful.
“Our commitment is not just to get the girls out, it is also to rout Boko Haram completely from Nigeria. But we are very, very mindful of the safety of the girls. We want to return them all alive to their parents. If they are killed in any rescue effort, then we have achieved nothing.”
The President said that although he was yet to visit Chibok in the aftermath of the abductions, his heart was constantly with the traumatized parents and people, and his desire was to visit them when their daughters have been freed and they can receive him with smiling faces of joy, rather than with tears of anguish.
“Our duty now is to take all relevant steps to recover our girls alive and our primary interest is getting them out as safely as possible. I will not want to say much, but we are doing everything humanly possible to get the girls out.
“This is not the time for talking much. This is the time for action. We will get to the time that we will tell stories. We will get to the time that we will celebrate and I assure you that, by God’s grace, that time will come soon,” President Jonathan told them.
Responding to appeals from the community leaders for more help in overcoming some of the challenges imposed on Chibok and neighbouring communities by the Boko Haram insurgency, the President said that the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and Federal Medical Agencies will intensify their efforts to provide them with additional relief and assistance.
He also assured them that Chibok and other communities in the three North-Eastern States most affected by the Boko Haram insurgency will be the first beneficiaries of the Victims’ Support Fund, the Presidential Initiative for the North-East, the Safe Schools Initiative and other developmental programmes which the Federal Government is evolving to address the damage, losses, setbacks, economic and social dislocations occasioned by the Boko Haram insurgency.
“We solicit your maximum cooperation. Let us work together. Evil can never overcome good. We will surely overcome Boko Haram,” he told them.
In his remarks at the meeting, Governor Shettima called for more sobriety, reflection and unity of purpose in the fight against terrorism in the country.
He pledged that his state will give President Jonathan the fullest possible support for his efforts to address the problems caused by terrorism and the Boko Haram insurgency.
A member of the parents’ delegation, Dr. Pogu Bitrus presented the Chibok community’s address to the President.
Other speakers at the meeting included a district head, Mr. Zannamadu Usman; a member of the Borno State House of Assembly, Aminu Foni Chibok; parents of the abducted girls and three of the girls who escaped from their captors, Godia Simon, Dorcas Musa and Joy Bishara.
National security chiefs, ministers and other senior government officials were also present at the meeting.
Global events to mark 100 days of abduction
Meanwhile, there will be rallies and demonstrations to mark the 100th day anniversary of the abduction of the girls across major cities of the world including Nigeria today.
While a sit-in would be held at the Abuja Fountain, a remembrance service would hold at the Wall of Missing Girls at Falomo Roundabout, Lagos at 4pm.
A statement issued by the #Bring Back Our Girls campaign, yesterday, said a candlelight vigil would be held at the Nigerian Consulate in New York this evening with events also holding in India, Pakistan, the United Kingdom and other major towns of the world.
The statement was issued on behalf of the group by Hadiza Usman, Oby Ezekwesili, Ms. Yemisi Ransome Kuti, Aisha Oyebode who is the first daughter of former Nigerian military ruler, Gen. Murtala Muhammed, among other organizers.
“Through our various meetings, our singular message has been to demand that the Federal Government performs its fundamental duty of ensuring the security and the welfare of its citizens. As we denounce the wave of terror and insecurity across the country, we continue to demand that the Federal Government deploy its resources to ensure that the missing girls are brought home, and the errors leading from three-weeks of delayed action are remedied,” the group said yesterday.
“Citizens who have insisted on standing with our girls and ensuring they are not forgotten are heartbroken that our daughters and sisters are about to spend 100 days with their evil captors.”
Noting the federal administration’s continuing insensitivity to the activities of their group, they said: “The continued pattern of intolerance to the activities of the #Bring Back Our Girls Campaign is at variance with our effort to promote healthy civic engagement by citizens to strengthen the resolve of government to rescue the girls.
“As days become weeks and months and our girls are separated from their parents and their community, our singular focus remains on their safe return in the shortest possible time.”
When will remaining Chibok school girls be rescued?
Apart from about 50 girls that reportedly escaped on their own, the rest have remained in captivity. And this is in spite of efforts of the governments at all levels, the security agencies and the international community.
The development provoked a number of questions, namely: Will the Chibok school girls ever be rescued? When will they be rescued? Will they be brought back alive? What can we do to fast track their rescue?
Although, there was a delay in the commencement of rescue efforts on account of claims and counter-claims about the circumstances, the actual number of students abducted as well as politicisation of the tragedy, nobody expected the girls to remain in captivity till now.
Reports that some of the girls, who were writing their 2014 West African Senior School Certificate examinations when they were kidnapped had been married off; impregnated; scattered in neighbouring countries of Chad, Cameroun and Niger Republic; and forced to change their religion raised a groundswell of anxiety in the polity.
Efforts to rescue the girls
Following the unceasing outcry, President Goodluck Jonathan on May 6, about three weeks after the abduction, inaugurated the Presidential Fact-finding Committee on the Abduction of the Chibok Schoolgirls.
The committee submitted its report on June 20. According to its findings, 119 female students escaped from the school during the attack; 276 female students were abducted; 57 female students escaped from the insurgents after the abduction while 219 female students remain unaccounted for.
Repeatedly, the Presidency and security agencies have assured that the girls would be rescued, saying they would use all the tools of national power – military, intelligence, police, economic and political – in the crusade but so far the desired result has remained elusive.
To rescue the girls, apart from fighting and winning the war against terrorism, the government has among others:
Procured sophisticated fighter helicopters with in-built night vision technology and new equipment to strengthen the capability of the military and security forces;
Captured some senior-level Boko Haram commanders and collaborators. Aminu Sadiq Ogwuche, one of the masterminds of the April 14 bombing of the Nyanya (Abuja) bus station that killed about 100 civilians, was arrested by Nigerian officials after securing his extradition from Sudan. Mohammed Zakari, a Boko Haram leader known as the “Chief Butcher” was captured during the Nigerian forces raid on Balmo Forest, during which they expelled Boko Haram insurgents from the area;
• Developed $100 milliion Safe Schools Initiative (SSI) programme of which $20 million has been realized so far to safeguard school children in states under emergency rule. The government received pledges of support from the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, the World Bank, the African Development Bank and other donors. The SSI measures include providing perimeter fences, housing for teachers, community policing and school guards, alarm systems, and communication equipment.
• Undertaken steps to address the socio-economic factors that feed the insurgency by implementing a community service programme that has recruited 11,500 young people to participate in public works projects. The YouWin programme supports young entrepreneurs with grants to start a business or expand existing ones;
• Launched a Presidential Committee on Victims Support tagged: “Nigeria Terrorism Victims Support Foundation” which is essentially targeting to raise $1 billion from a Public-Private Partnership funding. This Presidential Initiative will mobilise resources and administer appropriate support to victims of insurgency and Boko Haram terror activities across the country. The Committee is chaired by General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma (rtd);
Started developing a comprehensive economic empowerment plan for the region — the Presidential Initiative for the North East (PINE);
The President met the presidents of Chad, Cameroun, Niger Republic and Benin Republic in Paris leading to strong regional cooperation in the fight against cross-border crime and terrorism and the establishment of Regional Intelligence Unit for the purpose of information sharing and joint security operations in the area.
Established a multi-national Joint Task Force was established as a fall-out of the Lake Chad Basin Commission Partnership and got the commitment of ECOWAS and Africa Union to helping the country in her fight against terror: and
Nigerian police uncovered and prevented a bomb attack near a school in the north eastern city of Gombe.
Knocks on govt’s efforts
In spite of these efforts, some critics have described the government’s move as too feeble and indecisive. For instance, the inability of the armed forces to storm Sambisa Forest where the girls were being kept to confront the insurgents came under hammer. Another minus for the presidency was the refusal of the president to visit Chibok to see the parents of the abducted girls despite an avalanche of calls from many quarters to do so. Many observers were pained that while global efforts to bring back the girls are on, more children and women were being abducted by Boko Haram amid series of attacks and sacking of numerous towns especially in Borno, the epicentre of the insurgency.
About two months ago, the government backed out on a prisoner-swap offer that would have led to freeing the girls.
However, the government countered the criticisms saying that it is doing its best to win the war.
No to prisoner swap
Restating its position and willingness to dialogue with the sect, especially through the Turaki Committee, which went round the country especially the North East with a view to eliciting a discussion with members of the sect, the government said it would however not subject the release of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls to prisoner swap that entails release of Boko Haram kingpins.
On attacks that it is too slow, the government said it knows where the girls are and is making efforts to rescue them alive. “Having known where the girls are, the efforts of government are to ensure that the abducted Chibok schoolgirls remain within the borders of Nigeria, and that they are eventually rescued alive. And this goes with a lot of planning, evaluation and assessment of prevailing situation within the general mission area. This is in line with international best practices in respect of such operations. Therefore, we urge all citizens of the world, particularly the parents, members of the Chibok community and Nigerians to be patient and supportive of the effort of government. What is clear is the readiness and willingness of government to deploy assets and resources towards rescuing the children. The parents, the Chibok community are assured and they have no reason to doubt that government and Nigerians are with them in this ordeal,” a presidency official said.
Speaking on the issue during the inauguration of the Victims Support Fund Committee last week, President Jonathan, who is seeking $1billion loan to buy equipment to combat the insurgency scourge, said: “The reality today is that, we are confronted with individuals whose minds have been so twisted and tutored to believe they are doing God a service. Let me reiterate clearly that evil will never prevail over good. The blood that is being wasted everyday by those who take advantage of the vulnerability of our people to spread extremist doctrines and recruit them for murderous errands are enemies of humanity. We will never waste any effort in bringing the individuals responsible for crimes against humanity to justice.”
Declaring that the days of Boko Haram are numbered and our war against terrorism is gathering momentum, he called “on all Nigerians to stand together in support of our security agencies against terrorism.
They are working night and day under difficult circumstances. It is unfortunate that when our security personnel prevent 1000 attacks, it is the one attack that succeeds that makes headline news and tends to portray our security agencies as not doing enough. It is part of the realities we have to deal with. We owe Nigerians nothing but victory over terror. The life of every Nigerian is precious and we will continue to work round the clock to put an end to this insurgency.”