President Goodluck Jonathan
• FG meets with parents of schoolgirls
•Elderly men studying Qur’an in Gwoza killed as sect is expelled from Mafa
Jaiyeola Andrews in Abuja and Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri
Almost one year after over 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped from Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, and possibly encouraged by the inroads the Nigerian military has made in recovering some territories from Boko Haram, President Goodluck Jonathan has again promised that his government is not relenting in its efforts to rescue them and reunite them with their families.
The president, who spoke when he appeared on the African Independent Television (AIT) programme Kaakaki, expressed optimism that as the military continues to narrow the area of territory held by Boko Haram in the North-east, the kidnapped girls were still alive and would be recovered.
He premised his confidence on the fact that the girls were still alive, stating that had they been killed by the terror group, their corpses would have been displayed for the whole world to see and to instill fear.
“Some territories are still in the hands of Boko Haram. But we promised
that we must get the girls. The good story is that they have not killed them because the terrorists, when they kill, they display.
“They use it to intimidate the whole society. The girls are alive. We will get the girls. Luckily, we are narrowing down the area of their control. So we will get them,” he said.
Jonathan, in the hour-long programme, also admitted that his government underestimated the Islamist sect, but with the increased capacity of the military, which had taken possession of more than 65 per cent of the military hardware required to rout the group, he stated that the remaining territories still under the control of the terrorists would soon be recaptured.
“At the beginning, probably we did not really estimate the capacity of Boko Haram. It is obvious. Boko Haram started as a non-violent group led by (Mohammed) Yusuf, limited to around Maiduguri area and parts of Yobe. They had not even spread to Adamawa.
“Just like every group of youths or young people who are criminally inclined, over the period they expanded their network and linked up with other terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda and other similar brands in the world.
“So they continued to build their capacity and it got to a point that for you to tackle them in the kind of environment they operate, you need some specialised equipment and we don’t manufacture these equipment. That is why the strategy changed. So it was not deliberate,” he said.
On the forthcoming elections, Jonathan acknowledged that he is facing a stiffer opposition than he faced in 2011, but remained confident that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would win at the polls.
He said: “I agree with you it was easier in 2011, but PDP is still the dominant party. There is no polling unit in Nigeria where you don’t have members of the PDP.
“Yes, for one reason or the other, within the party people get angry and may even vote against PDP but in terms of membership of the PDP, there is no party that has that spread.
“So PDP still has the most formidable structure, PDP has better chances of winning a national election.
“Even the opposition will tell you if they are realistic. Who has strengthened the opposition? Are they not the PDP elements? If you remove the PDP elements from the opposition, they will just crumble like a pack of cards.
“Why are people aggressive towards the PDP to the extent that even the presidential convoy is stoned? Why do you show that aggression? If you are comfortable, you will not do that.”
He however admitted that re-election bids in most countries are more challenging, stating: “Globally, it is more challenging for a president to secure a second term than the first term, because people get disappointed when their expectations are not quickly met by those they voted for.
But PDP still has an edge over the opposition.”
Also commenting on the fuel shortages in the country, the president blamed the situation on lack of refining capacity in the country, adding that the federal government had taken the necessary measure to end the fuel queues.
“Of course, the issue of payment is being addressed and we believe that within one or two day, this will completely go. But until we start refining our crude oil to get our own products here within the country, we cannot get out of some of these problems.
“It is even really the policy of government. When you continue to export raw materials, you are actually exporting jobs. But our objective is to privatise the refineries and attract private sector investors into the sector,” he said.
On a similar note, the federal government yesterday held a closed-door meeting with the parents and relatives of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls and laid out plans on their release.
A press statement by Olawale Rasheed, Special Adviser to the Minister of State for Power, said that during the meeting held in Maiduguri, the
Borno State capital, the federal government through the minister (Mohammed Wakil) told the parents how far it had gone in securing the release of the schoolgirls from captivity, adding that the government was still committed to their safe return.
He told the parents that the federal government has devised a comprehensive counter-insurgency strategy which has four focal goals of reclaiming occupied territories; rescuing abducted persons; resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDPs); and the rehabilitation of insurgency-ravaged communities.
Wakil told the gathering: “Mr. President is pursuing a multi-faceted strategy which address the pains, anger and frustrations of victims. Our president directed me to tell you that his government is committed to doing everything possible for the safe return of your daughters.
“I am here to convey the symphathy of Mr. President and the entire federal cabinet to you the parents and families as well as all other victims. As you are all aware, our military is gaining the upper hand in this sacred war. We believe by the grace of God, your children will return safely.”
He praised the families for refusing to support the politicisation of the abduction of the schoolgirls, stating: “Your presence here to listen to the message of Mr. President confirms your belief in the ongoing counter-insurgency operations as a solution to our collective challenge.
“I assure you that not only will the rescue operations be successful, the other three goals of reclaiming occupied territories, resettlement of IDPs and rebuilding of communities will be pursued to a logical conclusion.
“This is a personal pledge of Mr. President which the entire administration is committed to.”
Responding, the spokesperson of the parents and families of the Chibok girls, Mrs. Pindar Dauda, thanked the president for his concern and sympathy while praying for the success of the ongoing military operations.
She however appealed to the president not to relent, insisting: “He should continue with the war against Boko Haram. He should get our children back to us safely. We are praying for him and the military.”
In attendance at the meeting were the youth leader of the Chibok community and some elders of the community.
Meanwhile, Boko Haram militants have been amassing weapons in the Borno town of Gwoza, believed to be the group’s headquarters, killing residents who were unable to flee, a senator and witnesses said yesterday.
A female resident, who fled Gwoza on Tuesday and requested anonymity said the insurgents rounded up elderly men who were studying the Qur’an outside the home of a local cleric.
The men were later executed in front of their wives, the witness told AFP from Yola, capital of neighbouring Adamawa State.
“The Boko Haram men brought out brand new guns from cartons, tested
them and shot dead all the men who they forced to lie face down,” she said.
Some of these details were supported by Senator Ali Ndume, who also confirmed the large build-up of insurgents in Gwoza.
“Boko Haram insurgents have in recent days been converging on Gwoza where they killed many male residents and chased women and children out of the town,” said Ndume.
The group’s leader Abubakar Shekau proclaimed Gwoza part of the Islamic caliphate and reclaiming the town that was captured last June would be a huge prize for Nigeria’s military.
Nigeria, Cameroun, Chad and Niger have since last month been waging an unprecedented joint offensive against the insurgents, claiming the recapture of several key towns and villages previously under Islamist control.
Ndume speculated that the Islamists were preparing to defend the symbolically important town before an expected military advance, possibly by Chadian troops who are operating in the area with Nigeria’s permission.
The motive for the rebel build-up in Gwoza could not be independently confirmed but witnesses said a large number of residents had also been killed in recent days.
The current population of Gwoza is hard to estimate.
Many people in the town on the Camerounian border fled amid the rebel takeover in June but many others — including those too old or sick to run — stayed behind.
There were also indications that Boko Haram tried to reassure people that it was safe to stay in the town and live under the so-called caliphate.
Experts said Chad’s army has offered a huge boost to Nigeria in recent
weeks as both nations have boasted of major successes against the insurgents.
Chadian President Idriss Deby on Wednesday claimed he knew where Shekau was and called on him to surrender while vowing to “wipe out” the Islamists.
In another attack, Boko Haram is believed to have killed dozens of people, including children, in Njab village in Borno State on Tuesday.
Gunmen deliberately targeted children, witnesses told AFP news agency.
“I participated in the counting of dead bodies. Sixty-eight people were killed,” said Muminu Haruna, who escaped the attack in the village.
Militants fired into homes and then set the village on fire, witnesses reported.
The massacre took place on Tuesday but reports only emerged yesterday, as the village is in an extremely remote part of the state.
Despite the resistance being put up by the insurgents, Nigerian troops yesterday successfully expelled them from Mafa in Borno.
The defence headquarters revealed this on its Twitter handle yesterday, stating: “Troops are now in full control of Mafa, Borno State after completing the operation to clear terrorists from the town yesterday evening.”