- 1,400 schools destroyedÂ
- Calls for childrenâ€™s release, immediate end to attacks on schoolsÂ
- BBOG takes protest to UN office in LagosÂ Â
- Buhari: Chibok schoolgirls wonâ€™t be abandoned
By Bayo Akinloye in New York and Shola Oyeyipo in Lagos and Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
On the eve of the 4th year anniversary of the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls by Boko Haram in Chobok, Borno State, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) yesterday said that at least 2,295 teachers had been killed in the North-east since the conflict started in 2009.
It also said that more than 1,000 children had been abducted and 1,400 schools destroyed by the terrorists in the region since 2013.Â
Also yesterday, the Bring Back Our Girls group asked the United Nations and the federal government to ensure that the remaining 112 Chibok schoolgirls are reunited with their families. Few hours later, the Presidency released a statement, assuring that the schoolgirls will be freed.
The startling statistics about Boko Haram attacks in the North-east was revealed in Abuja just as the â€œWar Stories, Peace Storiesâ€ conference ended yesterday in New York, United States of America.
In a statement made available to THISDAY yesterday, the global watchdog for children called for immediate end to attacks on schools in Nigeria.
â€œThe four-year anniversary of the Chibok abduction reminds us that children in northeastern Nigeria continue to come under attack at a shocking scale. They are consistently targeted and exposed to brutal violence in their homes, schools and public places,â€ the UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Mohamed Malick Fall, stated.
Four years on from that tragic incident, more than 100 of the Chibok girls have yet to be returned to their families and the UN childrenâ€™s agency continues to call for their release.
The recent attack on a school in Dapchi, Yobe State, in which five girls lost their lives, the organisation noted, was just the latest indication that “there are few safe spaces left for children in the North-east”.Â
It claimed that since the Boko Haram insurgency began, not even schools were spared from violence.
Fall added: â€œThese repeated attacks against children in schools are unconscionable. Children have the right to education and protection, and the classroom must be a place where they are safe from harm.â€
Since the conflict started nearly nine years ago, at least 2,295 teachers have been killed and more than 1,400 schools have been destroyed, the UN agency said.Â
It further stated that most of the schools affected had not reopened because of extensive damage or ongoing insecurity in the region.
However, UNICEF said: “Nigerian authorities have made a commitment to make schools safer and more resilient to attack, and UNICEF stands with them to implement the Safe Schools Declaration, by which Nigeria commits to protecting schools and universities from violence and military use during armed conflict.”
At the â€œWar Stories Peace Storiesâ€ conference supported by the Stanley Foundation and the Pulitzer Centre, Devin Terrill, Programme Manager (Media) at Stanley Foundation, in an exclusive interview with THISDAY said: “Does it matter, in terms of good reporting, who is telling the story? How much of who we are influences what we see and say?
â€œAs a former documentary filmmaker, and in my current role working closely with journalists and media organisations to strengthen coverage of global peace and security issues, my experience is that every detail of a situation that is captured -or missed- influences the picture that is presented to audiences.â€Â
During the conference, a Nigerian-American author, Alexis Okeowo, shared the extraordinary stories of how some individuals in the North-east are fighting extremism.
BBOG Takes Protest to UN Office in Lagos
Meanwhile, members of the Bring Back Our Girls group have asked the United Nations and the federal government to ensure that the remaining 112 Chibok schoolgirls are reunited with their families.
While 276 girls were kidnapped on April 14, 2014, 57 of them reportedly escaped, three died, 103 were released, but 112 of the girls have remained in Boko Haram captivity till date.
In the letter addressed to the Director, United Nations Information Centre located on Alfred Rewane Street, Ikoyi Lagos, the protesters, who vowed to continue agitating for the release of the girls, urged the UN to use its wherewithal to facilitate the release of the girls from captivity.Â
“We ask you to mobilise all United Nations agencies, and to join the call on national, regional and global influence and authorities to support and pressure the Nigerian government to bring the nightmare of school abductions, violent extremism and insecurity to an end.
“We ask you to use your diplomacy and influence to ensure implementation of the Safe School Declaration, by which Nigeria commits to protecting schools and universities from violence and military use during armed conflict. Raise the issue of the plights of over 1000 children abducted from their schools,” the letter read.
Â Earlier, in her welcome address, daughter of former Nigerian military president, late General Murtala Mohammed, Aisha Mohammed-Oyebode, who is also the Lagos Coordinator of the Bring Back Our Girls group, had said the sustained protests to demand for the release of the girls still in captivity is to ensure that they are reunited with their families alive.Â
“The commemoration of the anniversary of Chibok girls in Boko Haram captivity is not mere ritual, nor an annual event that brings people together for merriment, but a gathering of concerned Nigerians who share the pain and who will never sit back to watch Nigeria’s children dehumanised by terrorists,” she noted.Â
Acknowledging that the Chibok girls struggle had become a metaphorical embodiment of the larger struggle against deaths and devastation, Oyebode said: “The recent abduction of school girls from Dapchi serves to highlight the existing threat to vulnerable people, children and especially girls. It is disheartening that four years after the abduction of the Chibok girls, the circumstances that made crime against humanity possible still exist.”
While she acknowledged the efforts of the federal government at rescuing the girls, she vowed that the group would remain concerned about issues that bothers on the vulnerability of children in the region such as girl-child education, the establishment of safe and secure learning spaces and crisis of out-of-school children of which females constitute a large disadvantaged quantity.
Buhari Vows Chibok Girls Won’t be Abandoned
President Muhammadu Buhari has assured the parents of the school girls abducted from Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, on April 14, 2014 that â€œtheir daughters will never be forgotten.”
The president also promised that the girls would not be “abandoned to their fate, despite four long years since they were taken away by terrorists.â€™â€™
In a statement, Malam Garba Shehu, a presidential spokesman, said Buhari joined the Borno State Government, parents of the girls and Nigerians in commemorating the fourth anniversary of what he described as the sad incident and prayed that the event in the school today would go well.
The statement also said the president urged the parents to keep hopes alive on the return of their daughters, observing that the return of more than 100 of the girls through federal governmentâ€™s determined effort should give them confidence that all “hope is not lost.”
According to him, Buhari reaffirmed that the government remained focused and determined to see the girls’ return to their homes and urged the parents to be expectant of more good news in due course.
The statement reads: â€œWe are concerned and aware that it is taking long to bring the rest of our daughters back home, but be assured that this administration is doing its very best to free the girls from their captors.
â€œUnfortunately, the negotiations between the government and Boko Haram suffered some unexpected setbacks, owing mainly to a lack of agreement among their abductors, whose internal differences have led to a divergence of voices regarding the outcome of the talks. We know that this is not the news parents want to hear after four whole years of waiting, but we want to be as honest as possible with you.
â€œHowever, this government is not relenting. We will continue to persist, and the parents should please not give up. Don’t give up hope of seeing our daughters back home again. Don’t lose faith in this government’s ability to fulfill our promise of reuniting you with our daughters.
â€œDon’t imagine for a moment that we have forgotten about our daughters or that we consider their freedom a lost course,â€™â€™ the president was quoted as saying.
He also said Buhari assured that as long as he remained the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, the Chibok girls would never be forgotten and all would be done to ensure they reunite with their families.â€