Damilola Oyedele and Adebiyi Adedapo
. 219 girls stage march to education ministry
. FG committed to their rescue, says Okonjo- Iweala
. Dasuki: Military to liberate Sambisa Forest before May 29
Tuesday, the world rose in unison to mark the first anniversary of the kidnapping of over 200 girls from Government Secondary School, Chibok in Borno State, by the terror group, Boko Haram, with Denmark, the United Kingdom, Ireland, the European Union, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, and even a Nigerian family in the North pole, showing solidarity with the families of the abducted schoolgirls and the #BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) group, which has kept their ordeal a burning global issue.
There were also solidarity rallies in the UK, France and other countries to push for the rescue of the Chibok Girls.
A year ago, Boko Haram insurgents invaded the school’s dormitory and kidnapped 276 girls, who were taking their West African School Certificate examination. Of the 276 abducted girls, 57 escaped captivity, but the whereabouts of 219 have remained unknown despite the pledge by a global coalition to help rescue the girls.
As a mark of remembrance and to maintain the pressure on the federal government to find the girls, 219 children who served as ambassadors of the BBOG group, representing the 219 kidnapped girls in captivity, yesterday marched to the Ministry of Education in Abuja.
However, the Minister of Education, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, and the Minister of State for Education, Prof. Viola Onwuliri, shunned the BBOG girls.
THISDAY gathered that BBOG had formally notified the ministry of its plan to bring the 219 children to meet with the ministers as part of activities to mark the anniversary of the abduction.
The secondary schoolgirls and some primary schoolgirls, drawn from different schools across the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), marched from the Unity Fountain to the Ministry of Education.
They bore placards bearing the names of each of the missing schoolgirls.
Chairman of the Human Rights Commission, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, walked with the BBOG leaders, alongside some human rights activists.
Former Minister of Education, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, who is one of prominent leaders of BBOG group, was conspicuously absent.
Officers of the Nigeria Police and Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) were dispatched on the route to ensure security and orderliness.
On getting to the education ministry, the ministers were absent when the girls arrived at 11.30 am yesterday, and it was obvious that there was no plan to receive them as the gate was locked to keep them out for over 25 minutes.
A visibly ruffled official of the ministry, who identified herself as Director of Planning, Mrs. Olutoun, later came out and tried to address the girls through the gates.
This drew the ire of Odinkalu who insisted that the gates could not be shut against the students, as they were Nigerian citizens.
The leader of the girls, Miss Maryam Ahmed, also insisted they would not speak from outside the gates.
As the gates were opened, the Director of human resources, Mr. Mohammed Bello, who also introduced himself as the acting Permanent Secretary, received the protesters.
Fielding questions from the girls, Bello assured them that the government was doing its best through the security agencies to ensure that the Chibok girls are rescued and returned safely to their parents.
“We are concerned with anything that has to do with girls’ education, we are with you and will give you all the necessary support to ensure that the girls are found…If you have seen what has been happening in the last three weeks, you will know that sooner than later, we will get the girls back,” he said.
Bello reminded them that almost all the schools in the North-east region had to be shut down at some point, while the government relocated students to safer areas.
Odinkalu, who said that he was there as a parent, urged Nigerians to keep hope alive for the missing girls, as there was no evidence that they were dead.
He however chided the officials of the education ministry for the shoddy manner in which the protesting students were received.
“This is an anniversary that no parent would wish for, not even for their enemies. When we came, we were locked out and people were afraid to see us.
“This is the Federal Republic of Nigeria and it is this country that unites us. The girls were abducted because they chose to write the exam in a certain part of the country.
“The only reason my child was not abducted was because he took the exam in another part of the country.
“Nigeria is changing, it is important for public officers to live up to their responsibilities. It is utterly offensive for public officers to lock us out of this building. We pay for this building.
“The next time we come here, receive us as Nigerians, receive these children as your children, because one day you would leave this office and you will reap what you have sown, the seed of irresponsibility.
“Never again should any child have to go through what these children are going through or what their parents are going through,” Odinkalu said.
According to Emman Shehu, a leader of the group, the school children marched to the ministry to demand the rescue of the girls before May 29.
“The school children took a letter to the Minister of Education, Ibrahim Shekarau, to demand the rescue of their sisters before May 29, but the permanent secretary received us and promised that something would be done about it,” he said.
#BBOG Wants UN to Rescue Girls
However, the BBOG group yesterday called on the leadership of the United Nations to, through its relevant agencies, ensure the immediate rescue of the Chibok girls and at the same time improve the security situation in Nigeria.
BBOG also dismissed allegations that its activities were been sponsored by a particular political party.
The group, in a statement jointly signed by Ezekwesili and Hadiza Bala-Usman, called on world leaders to reactivate the agitation for the rescue of the abducted girls.
According to the statement, “The UN should, through its relevant agencies, deploy relevant instruments in ensuring the prompt
rescue of our Chibok girls and other abductees, as well as improve the security situation in the country.
“Escalate and process the request of the Chibok nation for the help of independent private investigators.
“We also call on world leaders and other members of the international community to reactivate their support for the #BringBackOurGirls cause and push it back as a prioritised discourse because the only logical closure to this issue would be when our girls have been brought back and insurgency becomes a thing of the past.”
Speaking on the BBOG 219 ambassadors, the group said: “We have been demanding for the last one year but nothing is more remarkable than having peers of our missing schoolgirls carry out an exclusive activity for their cause.
“This is a generation that will grow with a well-developed sense of humanity, of standing for others, and also demanding accountability from their leaders.
“We also thank their parents and guardians for not only allowing but also encouraging them to participate. Your efforts in raising kind, caring and responsible girls shall never be in vain.”
The group also thanked President-elect Muhammadu Buhari for his kind and soothing words on the occasion of the first anniversary of the girls’ abduction.
It added, however, that his soothing words did not address their concerns, adding: “We demand that the safe return of our girls be the top agenda of the transition between the present and the incoming one.”
UK, Denmark, EU, Others Show Solidarity
As a mark of solidarity with the group, parents and relatives of the abducted girls, the Ambassador of Ireland to Nigeria Sean Hoy, and his Danish counterpart Pobbel Gottermenn, yesterday said their kidnapping was a terrible experience for any parent.
The diplomats, who met with leaders of the BBOG group and some Chibok parents, expressed solidarity with the people of Nigeria, especially, parents of the abducted girls.
Hoy, while responding to questions from journalists, disclosed that his country had contributed 1 million euros for Nigerian refugees who are stranded in Cameroun, and over 300,000 euros to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in camps within the country.
“I came here today to give my own solidarity to the campaign. I also have daughters of my own, so I can feel a little bit of the pain the people here are feeling. “I have spoken to the organisers and some of the people from Chibok; we are just here to give our support.
“I can’t say that government’s inability to rescue the girls means weakness, because none of us have been able to go to the North-east, so how can we come into the situation when we don’t know what it is, it is very difficult, but the most important thing is to bring them back safely.
“It may take a little longer, but that they all return is the most important thing,” he said.
Also, Gotternmenn, who refused to comment on whether government’s effort to rescue the girls was sufficient or not, said his country was supporting the cause of IDPs within and outside the country.
According to him, “I am not here to comment on what should have been done, I am here to show that I feel for these girls, and I feel for the people that have been abducted, men, women and children over the last few years.
“Denmark have been giving support to the internally displaced, we just paid about $2 million to organisations in Nigeria and outside of Nigeria to help IDPs from Nigeria.”
In the same vein, the United Kingdom reiterated its support for the anti-terror fight in Nigeria.
UK’s Minister for Africa, Mr. James Duddridge, in a statement issued yesterday to mark the first anniversary of the abduction of the Chibok girls, expressed readiness to work with the incoming administration to restore security in the North-east.
“We must not forget the brutal abduction of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok one year ago today. My thoughts are with the victims of this terrible crime, their families and the thousands of other men, women and children abducted by Boko Haram in North-east Nigeria. There can be no justification for these abductions,” he said.
“The UK is supporting Nigeria and its neighbours in efforts to end the conflict and find those abducted. And we will work closely with Nigeria’s new government to restore security and prosperity to areas blighted by conflict,” the statement added.
Similarly, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon expressed concern at repeated attacks by Boko Haram targeting schools, describing the atrocity as a grave violation of international humanitarian laws.
In a statement issued yesterday, Ki-Moon said going to school should not be an act of bravery, adding that children of North-eastern Nigeria and neighbouring countries must be allowed to live in peace and enjoy their right to a safe education.
He however noted that legitimate response to Boko Haram’s attacks must be fully consistent with international law and not create additional risks for the protection of children.
“On this day, I reaffirm my support to the governments and peoples of the region in the fight against Boko Haram. I stand in solidarity with the families of all abductees, especially children, their communities and society at large,” the statement read.
The European Union also, in a statement, expressed solidarity with the plight of the families of the abducted girls, and the BBOG campaign.
“All efforts must continue to be made to rescue and reunite the girls with their families, and bring the perpetrators of this terrible act to account.
“The EU remains ready to assist the Government of Nigeria, including the newly elected president and local authorities, as well as others in the region in their fight against Boko Haram and all forms of terrorism and criminality,” the EU said.
Sambisa to be Liberated before May 29
Also speaking on the anniversary of the girls’ abduction, the National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki, assured Nigerians yesterday that the federal government was making every effort to ensure that the girls along with every other Nigerian abducted by terrorists are rescued.
Speaking to PRNigeria, a media advisory for security agencies, Dasuki also promised that Sambisa Forest, the fortress of Boko Haram terrorists and one of their last remaining enclaves, would be stormed and liberated before the May 29 presidential hand-over date.
His statement confirmed THISDAY’s exclusive report monday that the military had set May 29 for the liberation of communities in the forest.
“Right now, all Boko Haram camps, except Sambisa Forest have been destroyed,” the NSA said.
According to him, the forest would have since been liberated but for the unfavourable weather condition prevailing in the area, as all needed reconnaissance activity and necessary deployment of troops had been made for the operation.
“Every movement of the terrorists is being monitored and every necessary detail is being taken care of to rid the country of the last bastion of terrorists’ infestation,” Dasuki said.
He insisted that government was concerned about the welfare of every single Nigerian including the girls, adding: “Aside the Chibok girls, other Nigerian girls, boys, men and women were abducted by the terrorists and all efforts are being made to rescue them all.”
While appealing for a little more time to complete the routing of the terrorists, Dasuki recalled that before elections were postponed in February, over 20 local governments were occupied by Boko Haram and that most Nigerians were pleasantly surprised that so much was achieved against the insurgency within six weeks.
While commending President Goodluck Jonathan for the successful conduct of the 2015 general election, the security adviser clarified that nobody pressured the president into conceding defeat in the presidential election.
“President Jonathan had already given his words to all the security and service chiefs before the election that he would abide by the decision of Nigerians.
“At the meeting, he also told them to perform their duties professionally during the polls.
“While we anticipated that he would congratulate his opponent if the result was announced in favour of the opposition candidate, he gratuitously without the prompting of anyone conceded defeat to the surprise of all.
“By that singular gesture, he had saved the security agencies and the nation of unnecessary tension and stress in maintaining law and order and curtailing the excesses of likely protesters,” he said.
While commending the fairness of the media in the coverage of the elections, he nevertheless urged it to be conscious of malicious reports being sponsored by vested interests.
He denied a reports that he was at any polling unit during the last governorship election and was never involved in any meeting with judicial officers to truncate any democratic process.
Jonathan Committed to Rescuing Girls
Also, the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said yesterday that government was still committed to ensuring the rescue of the abducted Chibok girls one year after their abduction.
Okonjo-Iweala made the pledge at a meeting with representatives of the Chibok community on the Safe Schools Initiative.
The minister was represented by Mrs Anasthesia Nwaobia, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance.
She said that the meeting was part of efforts to let the community know that the rescue of the girls, reconstruction of schools and making Chibok safe remained a top priority of the government.
“Today is a day that marks the first anniversary of the abduction of our brave girls in Chibok, they were callously taken away from us and family members with the aim of depriving them of having quality education.
“Their absence will create a vacuum in space but they are in our minds,” she said and expressed the hope that the girls would be rescued.
Commenting on the development on the Safe Schools Initiative, the minister said that the project and search for the girls would continue notwithstanding the change in government.
She said that the initiative was committed to ensuring that teachers and students were secure and properly educated in a conducive environment.
“A lot of work has been done in the remodelling of the school to ensure that it is properly reconstructed.
“We have completed the technical aspect of the work and the construction plan is ready, in a couple of weeks, we will move to site,” she said.
Mr. Tsambido Abana, Chairman, Chibok Area Development Association, said it was unfortunate that in 365 days, the girls had not been rescued.
He said that the community welcomed all government’s efforts to remodel and reconstruct the school, but noted that the rescue of the girls was more important to the community.
“We are saying that what we are seeing has fallen short of the expectations of the community. The abduction of the girls kept the community devastated.
“We really want to know what government is doing in this regard. We have been hearing so many stories, we don’t know which one to take.
“Yes, the reconstruction of the schools is good, but one has to be alive to go to school,” he said.
Also, Mr, Battah Ndirpaya, the national secretary of the association, said that there was no training and school available to out-of-school children in the IDP camps.
He said the community appreciated the efforts of the minister but added that more should be done to empower the community and build more schools.
On his part, Mr. Mike Omeri, Director General, National Orientation Agency (NOA), said that the plight of the community reflected the feelings of all Nigerians.
He said there was a deep national commitment aimed at finding the girls and restoring hope for the community.
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