â€¢ Ojuogboh: Jonathan first initiated prisoner exchange, but it was scuttled
â€¢ BBOG, community concerned over secrecy surrounding girls
Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Olawale Ajimotokan, Paul Obi, Kasim Sumaina in Abuja and John Shiklam in Kaduna
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led by Senator Ahmed Makarfi on Monday came under fire for criticising the prisoner swap brokered by the Muhammadu Buhari administration and its international partners to secure the release of 82 Chibok girls who were kidnapped from their secondary school dormitory by Boko Haram terrorists three years ago.
This is just as the faction led by Senator Ali Modu Sheriff provided new insight into the attempt by the Goodluck Jonathan administration to secure the release of the kidnapped Chibok girls in May 2014 through a prisoner swap, disclosing, however, that it was scuttled by a top official of the Borno State government.
After the girlsâ€™ release on Friday night, Makarfi on Sunday had criticised the prisoner swap, saying the government was strengthening the terror group to continue its atrocities in the North-east.
The party also said the suspected terrorists had escaped justice by their release and â€œall the efforts made by the security agencies to bring them to book had come to nothingâ€, adding that the negotiations with the terrorists were in clear violation and indeed a direct assault on the generally accepted international principles never to negotiate with terrorists.
But the federal government in a statement on Monday by the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, fired a broadside at the PDP faction and accused it of politicising the girlsâ€™ release.
Mohammed described the opposition partyâ€™s reaction as â€œindecent, inhuman and ill-timedâ€ and accused the PDP of insensitivity for attempting to douse on the altar of politics the universal joy that has greeted the release of the girls abducted from their school on April 14, 2014.
He pointed to the U.S. and Israel as classic examples of countries that have employed prisoner swaps to secure the release of their soldiers captured by Taliban and Hamas fighters in Afghanistan and the Middle East.
â€œIf that includes swapping some Boko Haram elements for the girls, so what? Will the PDP rather have the girls stay in perpetual captivity, just to prove a ludicrous point?
â€œDidnâ€™t superpower the United States engage in negotiations with the Taliban that led to the exchange of five Taliban fighters for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in 2014?
â€œDidnâ€™t Israel release 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, in 2011?â€ Mohammed asked.
The minister went further to say that the process was consistent with the vow by Buhari, who in his inaugural address in 2015, said the administration could not claim to have defeated Boko Haram without rescuing the Chibok girls alive.
Muhammed added: â€œA lot of factors come into play when a nation has to decide whether or not to engage in prisoner-hostage swap. None, however, trounces the sanctity attached to human life and the consideration for the pains of the loved ones of those involved.â€
He kicked PDP in the chin, saying it exhibited disdain for human life, adding that the PDP-controlled federal government took what seemed an eternity before even acknowledging the abduction, thus losing critical time for the girlsâ€™ rescue.
â€œSince the PDP failed â€“ as it did in everything â€“ to rescue even one of the Chibok girls, the party should hold its peace while this administration continues to seek the release of all the abducted girls, using every means at its disposal, in addition to working assiduously to end all Boko Haram hostilities,â€ Mohammed said.
Also, a political group called League of Upcoming Political Parties (LUPP) condemned the statement by the PDP faction.
In a statement on Monday by its National Chairman, Dr. Musa Ahmadu, the group said the comment by the PDP faction at a time when the whole world was congratulating the federal government for leading the initiative that saved the lives of 82 innocent young girls was unfortunate.
According to him, the release of the girls had brought joy to their parents and rekindled hopes of the citizenry in the effectiveness of the federal government.
Ahmadu said: â€œThe statement by a faction of a fractured party can only be excused on the basis that the stress of its prolonged engagement to claim authenticity of the party has begun to affect the psyche of its leadership and raises the question whether the statement is not a subtle extension of the cold war between the Makarfi faction and Ali Modu Sheriff faction.
â€œHiding under the claim of an international best practice, the Makarfi faction said the negotiations that led to the release of the 82 girls violate international best practices of not negotiating with terrorists, but the faction tends to forget that even U.S. which is the lead figure in the fight against terrorism has never closed the path towards negotiations when its interest is at stake and has many times entered into negotiations with terrorist groups and exchanged prisoners with the underlying aim of securing the lives of hostages first before any other thing.
â€œThe Makarfi faction seems to have forgotten that at the end of every strategy or engagement, it is the result that matters and that best practices are not statutes but strategies, hence cannot be violated but replaced when the matter demands a different approach.â€
The group noted that the release of the girls, the largest number so far, rather than sadden the parents of those that are yet to return, has followed a similar pattern by reigniting the hope of those parents yet to see their children, and that it remains a matter of time for them to be equally released.
â€œWe hope by the statement, Makarfi and his faction are not saying that no girl should be brought home until the entire 200 are found because that type of reasoning does not belong in the realm of rationality.
â€œThe release of the girls has not only restored hope in the whole of the Chibok community, Borno State and Nigeria, but globally,â€ it added.
It stressed that the Muhammadu Buhari administration will ensure that the remaining girls are found and rescued.
â€˜Jonathan Initiated Prisoner Swapâ€™
Also, in a bid to dismiss the statement by the PDP faction led by Makarfi, the Sheriff-led faction on Monday provided new insight into the attempt by the past administration of Goodluck Jonathan to secure the release of the kidnapped Chibok girls in May 2014 through a prisoner swap.
It revealed, however, that the attempt to secure the girlsâ€™ release was scuttled by a top official of the Borno State government.
Speaking on what transpired three years ago, a former National Vice-Chairman of the PDP and currently the Deputy National Chairman of the Sheriff-led faction of the party, Cairo Ojuogboh, said on Monday that former President Jonathan first initiated the move to swap the kidnapped Chibok school girls for the captured Boko Haram terrorists but the attempt was scuttled by a prominent Borno government official who he declined to name.
Ojougboh, who spoke to journalists in Abuja, said that contrary to the perception that the past administration made no attempt to rescue the Chibok girls, it was the PDP-led government that first undertook the move to free the girls through a prisoner swap.
â€œWe took the information to Mr. President (Jonathan) and he said whatever it would take to release the Chibok girls, any swap that these people demand, he approved it.
â€œSo the idea of criticising the swap of the Chibok girls for Boko Haram prisoners is not necessary, because it was the PDP government that initiated it,â€ he said.
Ojougboh, who claimed that he was part of the team raised by the former president to negotiate the failed swap, faulted the criticism of the deal by the leadership of the PDP led by Makarfi.
Ojougboh said that the negotiating team had already concluded arrangements and committed all resources available, until someone in the Borno government got wind of it and scuttled it.
â€œThe only thing I have to say is that when in May, 2014, we were to receive these girls, we had already committed all resources available and logistics were put in place, but when we got to the negotiation point, the ICRC (International Committee for the Red Cross), myself and female doctors from the DSS (Department of State Services), we were disappointed.
â€œSomebody within Borno State government got wind about the development about the release and scuttled it.
â€œThat is why today, when I hear people saying Ali Modu-Sheriff is a sponsor of Boko Haram, I donâ€™t want to listen to them, because we know what happened that night.
â€œAnd after that incident, when Jonathan left office, ICRC and the Embassy of Switzerland, the then ambassador and the current one, continued with the process.
â€œLet us make it clear that the effort and the battle to release the Chibok girls started a long time ago. In fact, sometime in May 2014, a consultant of the World Bank visited Nigeria and approached Chief E.K. Clark and informed him that the Chibok girls were alive and they could be rescued.
â€œChief Clark made contact with the then president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, and he authorised Chief Clark to nominate a trustworthy person to negotiate on behalf of the Government of Nigeria for the release of the Chibok girls.
â€œI am proud today to tell you that I was the one who was nominated to negotiate the release of the Chibok girls.
â€œThe parties that were put together on behalf of the government of Nigeria were the following persons: one, the then Director of DSS, the then Chief of Defence Staff, Alex Badeh, the CSO to Mr. President and my humble self.
â€œWe were to negotiate on behalf of the president, while Shehu Sani, who is currently a senator, a particular official and the owner of a school in Borno, whose name I cannot call for obvious reason, were the people who contacted the persons to represent Boko Haram.
â€œAnd we held a series of meetings with the Red Cross and the Embassy of Switzerland. We took these representatives of Boko Haram to the Red Cross and to the Ambassador of Switzerland, and they gave us time, they studied what information we had and they approved it.
â€œArrangements were made to release the Chibok girls sometime in May 2014, provisions were made and persons were gathered. I went for the meeting for the (prisoner) exchange.
â€œConditions were set and the conditions that were set involved the release of the Boko Haram prisoners. When the Boko Haram representatives met us first, what they told us was that 10 of their (Boko Haram) mallams were arrested in Bauchi when they were praying.
â€œWhen we took the information to the DSS and the then CDS, Badeh, they laughed, saying they knew these people and gave us their names, which I still have today. They were not mallams, they were hardened and toughened terrorists.
â€œWe took the information to Mr. President and he said whatever it would take to release the Chibok girls, any swap that these people demand, we should do it, so he approved it.
â€œJonathan approved it, so the notion that the swap of the girls for prisoners was not necessary, is wrong. I will tell you that it was the PDP government that initiated it.
â€œWhen Jonathan left office, the International Red Cross and the Embassy of Switzerland, the then ambassador and the current one, continued with the process,â€ he revealed.
When pressed on the identity of the Borno official, Ojuogboh declined to speak further on the issue, stating that his focus was on the rescue of the 82 girls at the weekend.
He said the faction of the party led by Sheriff welcomed the release of the 82 Chibok girls and will continue to encourage the federal government to negotiate more and secure the freedom of other girls still held captive by Boko Haram.
â€œWe are very happy that the 82 girls have been released, we are also very concerned about the remaining girls and we urge the federal government to do all it can to secure their release.
â€œWe give them kudos and to continue this process of negotiation, and whatever it takes to release the remaining girls should be done.
â€œWe are calling on the media and Nigerians that the dissident group, the renegade group, the rebels of PDP, they should not issue statements on behalf of PDP and it is credited to PDP.
â€œNone of them on the so-called caretaker committee has ever run a party, they donâ€™t have experience and so they donâ€™t even know what government is all about.
â€œSo for them to come out to criticise the process of this release is most unbecoming and we ask Nigerians to completely ignore them; no discountenance what they are saying,â€ he said.
Regarding the presidentâ€™s ill health and its impact on governance in the country, Ojougboh said that PDP would have to wait for the 2019 elections to show the All Progressives Congress (APC) the way out of power.
â€œWe, the PDP, are working assiduously and we are focused; we will meet him (Buhari) in the field in 2019 and teach the APC Politics 101 when we regain power at the centre.
â€œSo we pray that Mr. President should recover quickly so that he can join us in he field for the general election,â€ he said.
BBOG, Community Condemn Secrecy
Meanwhile, the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) Group and leaders of Chibok community on Monday condemned in strong terms the secrecy surrounding the release of the 82 schoolgirls.
In a re-enactment of what occurred last Christmas when 21 of the girls were released last October and taken to Chibok, but were sequestered in the house belonging to the Borno government, while their parents and relatives were granted limited access to them, journalists, parents, community leaders and BBOG members were again barred on Sunday by security agencies and the presidency from seeing the 82 Chibok girls when Buhari met with them at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.
The secrecy and attempts to shield the released girls have generated controversy, with many questioning the ulterior motive behind the action.
Also, concern has been expressed over the continuing sequestering of 21 Chibok girls who secured their freedom in October.
According to sources in government, they have been camped by the DSS and prevented from gaining access to their parents and other members of the Chibok community.
Speaking on the development on Monday, the leader of the Chibok Community in Abuja, Tsambido Hosea, said even the indigenes of Chibok were concerned.
Hosea said: â€œWe are so concerned that they are keeping everything secret. When they were with Boko Haram, they got out. So why keep it secret now, why?
â€œEven with some of the leaders of Chibok in Abuja, nobody has been contacted up till now. We donâ€™t know the reason. This is of great concern.
â€œBack at home (Chibok), they have been asking us if anyone has had contact with the girls and we tell them â€˜noâ€™. They asked why and we responded that we cannot force them to allow us access to the girls. But we know it is not right, we condemn it.â€
When reminded that the government might have done so to provide protection for the girls and that it was in their interest to do so, Hosea asked: â€œWhat interest of the girls?â€
Also, the co-convener of BBOG, Aisha Yesufu, maintained that the secrecy and the decision by government to shield the girls from public glare was unwarranted and disingenuous.
Yesufu, who commended the government on their release, said: â€œFor us, it is absolutely unnecessary, because we expect some feedback mechanism.â€
She also confirmed that the verification of the 82 girls freed at the weekend was being undertaken by the group.
â€œNormally, when names come in, the first thing we do is to go through the list and verify in the next few days,â€ Yesufu stated.
Earlier Monday, officials from the Italian Embassy visited the BBOG group at the Unity Fountain, Abuja, where its members usually converge.
Speaking at the fountain, the Speaker of the Italian Parliament, Laura Boldrini, tasked the federal government and other stakeholders to put more efforts into rescuing other girls still in captivity.
Boldrini assured the Nigerian government of the readiness of the Italian government to â€œhelp Nigeria rescue the outstanding girlsâ€.
Shettima, Borno Elders Thank FG
Despite the concern expressed by the Chibok community and BBOG, acting President Yemi Osinbajo on Monday spoke on the federal governmentâ€™s preparedness to factor the interests and wellbeing of the freed Chibok girls into the welfare package for victims of the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east.
The vice-president, who made this remark when Borno State elders led by Governor Kashim Shettima came to thank the government for the rescue of the 82 Chibok girls, stated that the current allocation for humanitarian services in the region was grossly inadequate to meet the needs of thousands of victims of the insurgency.
Zamfara State Governor Abdulaziz Yari and Senator Ali Ndume were also part of the delegation.
While acknowledging the intervention of the Swiss government and other international bodies who spearheaded the negotiations, which led to the freedom of the girls, Osinbajo added that Buhariâ€™s integrity in the international community played a huge role in the girlsâ€™ release.
â€œWe thank God for bringing back our girls from captivity. For anyone who is a parent, it is just a very traumatic thing. We deserve to be excited that this is happening and we pray that the others will come back.
â€œWhat has happened is largely on the account of the international community. They believed in the integrity of the president. So many have sacrificed so much in the course of this insurgency.
â€œWe donâ€™t know how much it will cost us to restore what was lost. It is a challenge before us but I believe that we cannot wait for another generation of leaders to do it for us. We must resolve to face our challenges.
â€œWe have to take a second look at the budget. What we are providing now is not even 10 per cent of the cost. We will take out some areas to address in the shortest possible time. It is important that people donâ€™t die while we are planning.
â€œWe will take some time out to outline what are the priorities and determine what it will cost us. We must do everything that it takes to make sure that we hold ourselves to account for these children. That in my view is the whole essence of leadership,â€ Osinbajo said.
Earlier, Shettima while speaking on behalf of the group, expressed profound appreciation to the administration for its commitment in securing the release of the 82 girls, saying Buhari mobilised the entire world for Nigeria.
He also expressed optimism that the insurgency would fade away in the region sooner rather than later.
â€œWe are here principally to thank Mr. President. You and all senior aides to Mr. President â€“ the DSS DG, the army â€“ for bringing back our girls. President Buhari has the country at heart. We must as Nigerians thank God for Mr. President.
â€œThere is no way international actors will continue to facilitate the negotiations if not for the integrity of the president. Buhari succeeded in moblising the world for Nigeria.
â€œIn no distant time, the insurgency will be a thing of the past,â€ Shettima said.
Yari also thanked the president for the efforts leading to the girlsâ€™ release, saying the administration had liberated the country from insurgency. â€œThe efforts to bring 82 girls back to their parents were commendable,â€ he said.
Also speaking, Ndume solicited for the assistance of the acting president in raising more funds for victims of insurgency, lamenting how innocent children die of starvation and malnutrition everyday in the region.
â€œThe humanitarian crisis is beyond anybodyâ€™s imagination. Everyday, one child dies because of hunger. Children are out of school. We have millions of displaced persons.
â€œThe budget of the whole of Borno State is not up to the National Assembly budget. The feeding of children is not something the Borno State government can bear alone,â€ he said.
The Minister of Women Affairs, Mrs. Aisha Al-hassan, reported that the freed girls were stable health-wise and thanked the delegation for having confidence in her ministry by leaving the girls in its care.
â€œThe girls are in a good shape. We are getting the place they will stay ready. They are all happy,â€ she said.