Former Petroleum Minister, Dr. Shettima Ali Monguno
...Unconfirmed report claims former minister was released late last night
Don't politicise Baga tragedy, National Human Rights Commission warns
By Michael Olugbode , Tobi Soniyi and Adebiyi Adedapo
Elder statesman and former petroleum minister, Dr. Shettima Ali Monguno, was on Friday kidnapped by gunmen suspected to be members of the Islamic sect, Boko Haram, in Maiduguri, Borno State.
But there are unconfirmed reports that he may have been released late last night by his abductors.
The Nigerian educationist and one of the most respected living indigenes of the troubled state was abducted at the Mafoni ward of the troubled town, which has long been a stronghold of the fundamentalist group, shortly after the Juma'at prayer.
Report of the abduction emerged just as the Governing Council of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) appealed to politicians not to politicise the clashes between the military and members of Boko Haram in Baga, Borno State which resulted in many civilian casualties.
Eighty seven-year-old Monguno who resides at the serene and relatively safe Government Reserved Area beside the Government House, had gone to the central mosque to perform his obligatory Friday prayer.
An eyewitness, Malami Mansur, told journalists the incident occurred while he was about leaving the mosque in the densely-populated Mafoni for his residence.
Mansur said the abductors were four armed men. "They asked those who were with him to get out of the car, a Peugeot Station Wagon, and then took him away," he said.
Monguno's abduction is ironic given that he had been a staunch advocate of dialogue with Boko Haram. This was evident during President Goodluck Jonathan's visit to the state about two months ago when, along with some elders, he pushed for the withdrawal of soldiers from the state.
The police would however not confirm the incident and if any contact had been made with the abductors. The police commissioner in the state, Yuguda Abdullahi, was said to be out of the state.
But the JTF had only days ago issued a statement warning that its intelligence revealed that Boko Haram members were plotting to resort to kidnapping for ransom to fund their activities.
Borno State governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima said his government is working to ensure the octogenarian is released.
The former minister for petroleum was the first black to head the Organisation of Petroleum Exploiting Countries (OPEC).
Governor Shettima said he has been in contact with President Jonathan and security chiefs since he received the information. "Our security establishment is adequately informed. I was in contact with Mr. President, I have spoken with the NSA and I believe that all agencies of government, all stakeholders were very much touched by this criminal and ugly act," he told journalists during a visit to the residence of the elder statesman.
"We would work assiduously and tirelessly to secure his freedom," he said.
Rising from an emergency meeting held in Abuja yesterday, Chairman of the NHRC's Governing Council, Dr Chidi Odinkalu, appealed to politicians to exercise restraint and not further aggravate the situation.
He said when issues that involved Nigerians' lives were being discussed, politicians should refrain from politicising it. According to him, the safety and security of Nigerians is the responsibility of every government.
"We should not play politics with the lives of our people," he added.
At the emergency meeting, the council resolved to undertake an independent investigation into the Baga incident in order to determine the specific and general circumstances, actors and sequence of events that triggered the incident.
The council will also assess the state of humanitarian provision for communities affected by the ongoing security situation in Baga and in north-east Nigeria.
Odinkalu stated that the investigation would also identify measures that might be put in place to prevent a repeat of such incident.
He said that the council would consult with relevant agencies in the executive and legislative arms of government at the Federal, State and Local Government levels as well as the affected communities.
He said the council would conclude and report on its investigation not later then the first week of July.
Also, the federal government has again maintained it did not mastermind the April 16 military attack in Baga.
The Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, while absolving the government of blame in the Baga incident which has generated much outrage said some of the damage were carried out by the terror group, and not the military, but said there is need for more inquiry into the situation.
Maku spoke an event organised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to mark this year’s World Press Freedom Day.
The minister said the government was not happy with the loss of lives in Baga, adding that the situation was forced on the country by a terror group which operates among the citizens.
“It is very sad, definitely. The government has said that it will look into it, (and) if it established cases of abuses, definitely, there will be remedial actions,” he said.
Maku pointed out that President Jonathan had refused to use extreme force in tackling cases of terror in the country.
He added that the Baga operation was a joint operation by the army of the Republic of Cameroon, Niger Republic, Chad and Nigeria.
“It was an international force, it was not an action by the Nigerian Army. I am not saying that we are excusing the participation of Nigeria in it, I am telling you that Baga operation was an international force and we will study and know what happened in Baga,” he said.