President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday met with some parents and 51 escaped schoolgirls of Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, exactly 99 days after the abduction incident.
Over 200 girls were abducted by the deadly Boko Haram sect from the school premises since April 14. The meeting was held behind closed doors at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa.
Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani Girl-Child Education Campaigner, after meeting with President Jonathan last week Monday said that the President had promised her that he was ready to meet with the parents and the escaped Chibok schoolgirls.
She also said that Jonathan told her that the Federal Government would ensure that the girls were rescued alive and safely returned to their parents. The President was scheduled to meet with the escaped schoolgirls and their parents last week Tuesday but the Presidency alleged that the BringBackOurGirls campaigners frustrated the meeting.
Four Abuja Urban Transit buses brought the escaped schoolgirls, their parents, parents of girls still in captivity and parents and community/opinion leaders who were not direct parents of the girls to the venue of the meeting at 10.23am.The President came into the hall at 11:12am and when the meeting was about to commence, journalists were asked to leave the hall.
At the end of the meeting, which lasted over two hours, journalists were not allowed to speak with the escaped schoolgirls and the parents as armed policemen were drafted to secure the buses as they filed out after lunch.
Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, said Jonathan told the meeting that he was yet to visit Chibok because his desire was to visit the place when the schoolgirls had been freed.
He explained that his heart was constantly with the traumatised parents and people of the area.
Abati, in a statement issued after the meeting stated that the President reassured the Chibok community that his administration was doing everything humanly possible to rescue the abducted girls and return them safely to their parents.
“The President said although he was yet to visit Chibok in the aftermath of the abductions, his heart was constantly with its traumatised parents and people, and his desire was to visit them when their daughters have been freed and they can receive him with smiling faces of joy, rather than with tears of anguish,” the statement said.
At the meeting, the President appealed for patience, understanding and cooperation of the parents.
The statement quoted Jonathan as saying, “anyone who gives you the impression that we are aloof and that we are not doing what we are supposed to do to get the girls out is not being truthful.
“Our commitment is not just to get the girls out; it is also to rout Boko Haram completely from Nigeria. But we are very, very mindful of the safety of the girls. We want to return them all alive to their parents. If they are killed in any rescue effort, then we have achieved nothing.
“Our duty now is to take all relevant steps to recover our girls alive and our primary interest is getting them out as safely as possible. I will not want to say much, but we are doing everything humanly possible to get the girls out.
“This is not the time for talking much, this is the time for action. We will get to the time that we will tell stories. We will get to the time that we will celebrate and I assure you that, by God’s grace, that time will come soon.”
Responding to appeals from the community leaders for more help in overcoming some of the challenges imposed on Chibok and neighbouring communities by the Boko Haram insurgency, the President said that the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, and Federal medical agencies would intensify efforts to provide them with additional relief aid and assistance. He also assured them that Chibok and other communities in the three North-Eastern states most affected by the Boko Haram insurgency would be the first beneficiaries of the Victims’ Support Fund, the Presidential Initiative for the North-East, the Safe Schools Initiative and other developmental programmes which the Federal Government is evolving to address the damage, losses, setbacks, economic and social dislocations occasioned by the insurgency.
“We solicit your maximum cooperation. Let us work together. Evil can never overcome good. We will surely overcome Boko Haram,” he told them.
In his remarks at the meeting, Borno State Governor, Ibrahim Shettima called for more sobriety, reflection and unity of purpose in the fight against terrorism in the country.
He pledged that his state would give Jonathan the fullest possible support for his efforts to address the problems caused by terrorism and the Boko Haram insurgency.
The statement further said that the Chibok community address was presented to Jonathan by Dr. Pogu Bitrus.
Other speakers at the meeting included a district head, Mr. Zannamadu Usman, a member of the Borno State House of Assembly, Aminu Foni Chibok, parents of the abducted girls and three of the girls, who escaped from their captors, Godia Simon, Dorcas Musa and Joy Bishara.
Bauchi State Governor, Isa Yuguda, who was also at the meeting, in a chat with journalists said the meeting with the Chibok schoolgirls was not belated.
He stressed that government was doing everything to overcome security challenge in the country.
The governor explained that the state currently had two million refugees because of the security challenge since Bauchi is surrounded by the three affected states.
Yuguda added, however, that though facilities were overstretched, the state had been able to provide basic necessities for the refugees.
Education Minister, Ibrahim Shekarau, also said that 99 days were not too late for the President to meet with the Chibok schoolgirls.
He stressed that it was not a question of how many days or of how long, but about the efforts that the government had put into tackling the security problem.
Also present at the meeting were Senate President David Mark; National Security Adviser, NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd); Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Ademola Amosu; the Inspector- General of Police, Muhammed Abubakar and the Director-General of the State Security Service, SSS, Ita Ekpeyong and ministers.
Following the abduction, Jonathan had on May 6 inaugurated a Presidential Fact-finding Committee, which submitted its report on June 20.
Chairman of the committee, Brig.- Gen. Ibrahim Sabo (rtd), while submitting the report disclosed that out of the 276 students abducted by the Boko Haram sect on the night of April 14, 219 were still missing.
He also said that at the time of submitting the report that 57 of the abducted students had been reunited with their families after escaping along the undefined routes taken by the insurgents, or by bolting to safety when the insurgents laid-by for a rest.
Submitting the report after five weeks of the inauguration of the committee, Sabo explained that it was established that 276 schoolgirls were abducted, stressing that Nigerians should stop having doubts about the abduction.
Meanwhile, the National Council for Women Society, NCWS, yesterday appealed to the Boko Haram sect to release the abducted girls.
NCWS Programme Officer, Mrs. Patricia Orukare, made the call in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, in Abuja.
Orukare said it became imperative to make the appeal as Nigerians and international communities were disturbed on the wellbeing of the girls.
“We are worried because we don’t know what is happening to them.’’
She said a vigil was held on Monday by Christians and Muslims for the release of the girls by their abductors.
“We had all night prayers on Monday to seek the face of God on the abducted girls at the Unity Fountain.
“We know there are distractions everywhere; it is time for Nigerian women and youths to come out and pray since efforts had been proved abortive.”
Orukare said some unforeseen factors had being hindering government’s efforts to bring back the girls.