President Goodluck Jonathan
• America may use drones as China, France offer to help
• Police offer N50m reward
• CAN accuses Borno governor of conspiracy
• Michelle Obama, Angelina Jolie, Malala join other celebrities to condemn kidnapping
By Jaiyeola Andrews, Damilola Oyedele, Yemi Akinsuyi and Paul Obi
Nigeria and United States have commenced talks aimed at ironing out modalities of what is expected to be an inter-agency collaboration to rescue the over 200 schoolgirls who were kidnapped from their school in Chibok, Borno State, over three weeks ago.
The meeting between the countries came on the back of more offers of assistance from China and France to the Nigerian government in its efforts to rescue the students.
To complement the international support, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) has also offered a cash reward of N50 million for credible information that could lead to finding and rescuing the girls.
However, despite the global outcry over the kidnapping and attempts to reunite the girls with their families, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) played the blame game yesterday, when it accused the Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, of conspiracy and colluding with his state Commissioner for Education and the Chibok school authorities to set the country on the path of deception.
Giving some insight into the meeting between the US and Nigeria, America’s ambassador to Nigeria, James Entwistle, while speaking to newsmen on the sidelines of a meeting of Northern States Governors and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator, Mr. Rajiv Shah in Abuja last night, said US experts and military personnel would arrive Nigeria soon.
“This afternoon, I was in discussions with some of your security officials to discuss the details of exactly what our team might look like,” he said.
Although Entwistle was hazy about the details of the ongoing discussions, he confirmed that there was a possibility of the use of drones in the planned rescue operation.
“Obviously, I cannot give all the details now but we are in the process of putting together a team. It will include people from several US agencies... Your security officials have told me what you need and I am hopeful that the team would be on the ground shortly,” he added.
The envoy noted that the team aside from providing assistance to get the abducted girls back, would also assist in improving the capacity of Nigeria's security forces to deal with Boko Haram.
“I am not sure of the details of the size of the team, but we hope to see them (US experts) on ground soon. How long they will stay, we will decide after they arrive,” he said.
The envoy added that the US had had a long-term security relationship with Nigeria, focused on Boko Haram. The relationship, he said, would continue after the girls are found and returned to their parents.
Also, speaking at the opening of the meeting with the USAID administrator, the Niger State Governor, Dr. Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, warned that the north could suffer a setback of up to 50 years in the education of its children especially girls, as a result of the abduction.
He lamented that the incident and others, where school children have been victims of violence, had happened in a region where parents have to be persuaded to send their children to school.
“We will be taking 50 years back if we do not do anything. We welcome the intervention of the American government... Security is not just about bullets and guns, but about the welfare of the people,” he said.
Shah said his agency was working in the northern states to eradicate polio and provide education particularly for young girls.
He however noted that while the agency works to improve the welfare of the people, security lies in the hands of the governors.
“At the end of the day, security lies in your hands. The US, at the highest level, is committed to providing assistance to identify and rescue these victims,” he said.
Present at the meeting were Governors Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Ramalan Yero (Kaduna), Idris Wada (Kogi) and Umaru Tanko Al-Makura (Nasarawa).
Others were the acting Governor of Taraba State, Garba Umar; the Deputy Governors of Benue and Kano States, Chief Steven Lawani and Alhaji Abdullahi Umar Ganduje respectively; and Zamfara State Secretary to the State Government.
The meeting, held at the residence of the USAID administrator, started at 8.30 pm. It was still ongoing at press time.
China, France Offer to Assist
However, the collaboration between Nigeria and the US may have to take into consideration other countries, which have offered to assist with the efforts to find and rescue the schoolgirls.
Making the commitment of China known yesterday in Abuja, President Goodluck Jonathan, at a press briefing, said the Asian economic powerhouse had promised to assist Nigeria in its fight against terror, especially in its efforts to rescue the schoolgirls.
Jonathan at the end of bilateral talks with the Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang, said both countries had agreed to cooperate in the areas of defence and security, as well as strengthening cooperation in counter-terrorism, anti-piracy and combating organised crime.
The premier, who is on an official visit to Nigeria from May 6 to 8, will also participant in the World Economic Forum on Africa (WEFA).
Also, in a statement by the president’s Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, the president’s spokesman said the premier promised that his country would make any useful information acquired by its satellites and intelligence services available to Nigeria’s security agencies.
“Mr. Keqiang assured the president that China will support Nigeria’s fight against terrorism in every possible way, including the training of military personnel for anti-insurgency operations,” Abati said.
Britain to Deploy Tracking Technology
Abati added that Jonathan yesterday also requested and received the commitment of the British Prime Minister David Cameron to deploy his country’s intelligence gathering resources in support of Nigeria’s security agencies currently engaged in the search and rescue operation.
Abati said the president spoke to Cameron on the phone yesterday, during which he got the commitment of the British government to deploy satellite imaging capabilities and other advanced tracking technologies in support of the ongoing effort at locating and rescuing the abducted girls.
The statement said: “The president thanked Mr. Cameron, the British Government and people for their concern over the fate of the abducted girls and their willingness to provide concrete assistance to save the girls from the terrorists who seized them from their school.
“He (Jonathan) told the prime minister that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would liaise with the British government through its High Commission in Nigeria to work out practical details of the promised support and collaboration against terrorism," he said.
Similarly, France stepped up the plate yesterday by offering Nigeria a “special team” to look for the girls kidnapped by Islamist militant group Boko Haram.
“A special team with all our resources in the region is at the disposal of Nigeria to help in the search and recovery of these young girls,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told parliament.
According to AFP, President Francois Hollande was due to hold phone talks with Jonathan last night, sources close to the French leader said.
France already has troops on the ground in Mali not far away, where they continue to engage in intelligence gathering to further weaken armed Islamists in the north after driving them out of the towns they had occupied for months.
“The president gave the defence minister and myself the order… to put our (intelligence) services at the disposal of Nigeria and neighbouring countries,” Fabius said.
Earlier yesterday, French government spokesman Stephane Le Foll denounced the kidnappings as “one of the most atrocious forms of terrorism because it involves kidnapping and trafficking children.”
Police Offer N50m Reward
The international offers of assistance notwithstanding, the Nigeria police yesterday announced a cash reward of N50 million to anyone who volunteers credible information that could lead to the location and rescue of the students.
The force, in a release signed by its spokesperson, Frank Mba, urged all patriotic citizens with such useful information to contact the following numbers: 09-2914649, 08081777309, 08055547536, 08032125050, 08034617591 and 08035969731.
While calling on the general public to be part of the solution to the present security challenge, the police high command also assured all citizens that any information given would be treated anonymously and with utmost confidentiality.
CAN Accuses Shettima of Conspiracy
However, a new twist to the abduction saga was introduced yesterday, when CAN pointedly accused the Borno State governor of conspiracy and colluding with his Commissioner for Education and the school authorities to cause confusion.
In a statement issued by the northern chapter of CAN, the body alleged that the abduction of the students by the Boko Haram sect was a premeditated plan orchestrated by the state government in continuation of its intimidation of Christians of northern Nigeria.
The statement, which was signed by its Secretary General, Prof. Daniel Babayi, and Public Relations Officer, Sunday Oibe, said: “Since the abduction of some female students in Chibok Local Government Area of Borno State, northern CAN has decided to be silent for some reasons. We decided that we will make statements when we have all the facts of the matter.”
CAN, however, alleged that the “smooth” abduction of the high number of pupils without any hindrance suggested some degree of conspiracy and culpability on the part of the state government, thus requiring it to provide some salient answers to the barbaric abduction of the innocent girls.
“It may interest Nigerians to know that we have fundamental questions which demand one million answers. Since the abduction of these girls over three weeks ago, has Borno State Governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, constituted any panel of investigation with a view to making its report public? Also, how did the 353 female students disappear from the school into the thin air?” the body demanded to know.
CAN also expressed concern over the state government’s decision to deliberately ignore several warnings by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) that Chibok was not secure for the conduct of examinations.
“Why did the Borno State Commissioner for Education, school principal, vice-principal and chief security officer, all Muslims, ignore the valid advice of WAEC on the security implication of writing exams in the school and the need to have a centre where the children’s lives would have been secure?
“How did Boko Haram carry over 200 students and their food stolen by these criminals from the school? Was it carried with a trailer? Why is it that since this issue came up, no single photograph of the abducted children has been made public by the school authorities?
“After all, they were preparing for exams and may have submitted their photographs. Where were the daughters of the principal, vice-principal and chief security officer when the abduction took place?” CAN asked.
CAN went further to express hope that this was not a political gimmick to carry out a political conspiracy against these daughters of Nigerians, future mothers of Nigeria and citizens who are leaders of tomorrow.
“These are the questions. We have done our investigations, we are begging the international community, we are begging the Federal Government of Nigeria and the press to ask these legitimate questions from the governor, Commissioner for Education, principal and CSO of the school, because Chibok is a predominantly Christian area.
“What we are after is the safety and future of these children, whether they are Christians or Muslims or our enemies doesn't matter. They are Nigerians, first and foremost,” it added.
Proffering a solution to the current nightmare, CAN said the governor and government of Borno State should and must, as a matter of urgency, stop playing politics with the lives of the children of other people, adding “They should produce those children without delay because they know their whereabouts.”
As a condition, the body demanded an explanation from the governor, Commissioner for Education, principal and CSO of the school on what they did and what they did not do that led to the ferrying away of the girls, who had gone to sit for their examination?
“How come that the parents of these children have not been able to come out to say anything? Are they saying that these children are orphans and do not have parents? We demand an explanation because from our investigations, the parents of these children are facing intimidation and threats from the government of Borno State.
“That is why they have not come out to speak. They are nursing their pains in silence,” CAN stated.
“We also reject a situation where they will turn our daughters to sex slaves of these criminals called Boko Haram. We have it on good authority that some of these children are being physically assaulted. Some of these children are being compelled to be wives of these criminals. If you want to marry somebody's daughter, you must seek the consent of her parents and not to ferry under-age children and perpetrate a lot of havoc on them.
“The abduction of these girls seems to be a resurrection of what the Christian communities in northern Nigeria have been suffering for centuries in the hands of the emirs and imams regarding the forcible conversion and abduction of Christian girls.
“The Borno State government should be reminded that the fundamental human rights of these people should be respected and protected,” it stressed, insisting that the governor should provide an immediate explanation on what has happened to the girls.
CAN added that there is a limit to which Christians can tolerate all these abnormalities, alleging, “We suspect a conspiracy among all of these characters, including the governor, Commissioner for Education, principal and CSO, since none of the daughters of the teachers and principal was abducted.”
It said there was more to the abduction than meets the eye, maintaining that this was its position on the tragic incident.
Celebrities Condemn Kidnapping
Meanwhile, the abduction of the schoolgirls continued to attract worldwide condemnation, with Hollywood celebrities and activists expressing shock and outrage.
Actress Angelina Jolie, at a news conference in Paris, France yesterady, said: “Sadly of course, there is real evil in this world, you watch the news and you see all the people and all the cruelty. And it’s cruelty like these girls that were kidnapped in Nigeria. Unthinkable cruelty and evil.”
In her second comment on the kidnapping, Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan because of her support for education for women, also said it was important that people should "not remain silent" on the issue as it could lead to such incidents happening "more and more".
In addition, US First Lady Michelle Obama, posted a tweet yesterday with a photograph of herself carrying the placard, “Bring Back our Girls. In the tweet she wrote: “Our hearts are with the schoolgirls.”
Other celebrities who spoke out yesterday against the abduction included R&B singer and multiple Grammy award winner, Mary J. Blige.