This Day (Lagos)

21 April 2014

Nigeria: Shettima - Schoolgirls' Abduction, My Worst Period As Governor

Borno State Governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, Sunday ruminated over last week's abduction of 129 pupils of Government Girls' Secondary School, Chibok by suspected members of Boko Haram and described the days thereafter as his worst period in government.

Shettima, in his Easter message, released by his spokesman, Isa Umar Gusau, said although he had witnessed many phases of the insurgency, which his administration inherited, the abduction of the schoolgirls was the lowest point so far.

Of the reported 129 pupils, who were in the school during the dawn raid by the terrorists, 52, including seven schoolgirls who escaped at the weekend, had been accounted for, leaving 77 whom security agents have intensified the search for their whereabouts.

A breakdown provided by the Borno State Government shows that 129 students were in the school on the night of the attack: Fourteen escaped that same night from their captors when the truck they were being conveyed in broke down; 16 girls were returned to the school last Thursday by their parents in response to the state government's call to enable it take a proper account of the students that were really missing; another 14 were discovered last Friday, having also escaped from their abductors; one girl was returned by her parents on Saturday; and another seven escaped captivity yesterday, bringing the total number of girls that have been accounted for to 52.

Shettima also called on Christians to seize the occasion of the Easter season to pray and fast for the earnest release of all the schoolgirls, a plea echoed by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).

The governor in the Easter message, in which he dwelt extensively on the security challenge his administration had been facing as a result of the heinous acts of Boko Haram, said although he had witnessed many attacks by the insurgents, none was as more troubling for him as the abduction of the schoolgirls.

According to him, as a father of a young girl, he feels the pains of the parents as he always imagines being one of them.

He said: "I have seen very serious moments since I became the governor of Borno State in 2011 at a period of the insurgent crisis. I have seen many innocent lives lost for no reason and I mourn every life lost with empathy and a high sense of responsibility. But the last one week has been my worst as a governor and even the worst in my life.

"I am troubled as a father, as a leader and as a politician. First, as a father, any time my young daughter comes around me in the last one week at the Government House, my heart beats very fast.

"My heart becomes so heavy and I develop a serious headache because when I look into the eyes of my young daughter, I wonder how the parents of these our students feel when faced with the harsh reality that their loving daughters are either in the hands of abductors in fear and desperation for freedom or wandering somewhere looking for safety while their parents do not know the status of their children.

"I took a sympathetic note of one particular parent who reportedly said he preferred seeing his daughter's corpse than the trauma of having her abducted. It is my very strong hope that all the students will come out of abduction safely.

"But as a father to a girl child, I know exactly what is currently troubling the minds of parents and relations who are yet to see their children."

The governor, once more, expressed his sympathy to the parents of the abducted pupils and promised that government would do all it could to ensure that those still in custody are freed.

"More than everyone, as the leader, in whose area of governance this unfortunate incident took place, I am very anxious to have our daughters freed because I know very well that the most important obligation of any government, be it at the federal, state or local government level, is to ensure the safety and welfare of its good citizens.

"Every good citizen deserves safety as a fundamental human need and right under a democratic system of governance. As a leader and politician, I am also troubled that I have not had the important opportunity to meet the anguished parents of these girls in Chibok because I have, on a number of instances, been advised to hold back the trip in order not to interrupt security operations as well as search and rescue efforts which are our topmost priority, especially now.

"I am very much aware that Chibok is one of our communities with a high population of our Christian parents, brothers and sisters. It is therefore easy for unpatriotic and divisive elements to make an issue out of the delayed visit for whatever motive that will be unhelpful.

"However, as a leader, I have always believed and displayed fairness to all citizens, regardless of their ethno-religious backgrounds. I hold that the Borno State Government has a responsibility towards every citizen of the state, young or old, irrespective of religion, ethnic grouping or place of origin," Shettima stated.

He rallied the people behind government efforts not only at rescuing the abductees, but also in defeating terrorism in the state.

He said: "We must at this time strengthen the Borno blood that exists among us to work towards the freedom of our daughters. The insurgents threatening us target us irrespective of our religion. I am also very much aware that the girls abducted consist of not just those with origins traced to Chibok but also from other parts of the state and the country, which is typical of a good secondary school that should unite Nigerians.

"I am also aware that the abducted students include both Christian and Muslim faithful. I am made to understand that the Ameera (spiritual head) of the Muslim Students' Society in the school is among those abducted and yet to be freed.

"She was abducted alongside her Christian and Muslim colleagues without the insurgents worried about the religion any of the students practice. We must therefore remain united in our shared grief to pray vehemently for our girls as well as the patriotic security agencies and civilian volunteers currently involved in the relentless search and rescue efforts."

The governor said seven more girls escaped last night from captivity, bringing to 52 those who had been found while 77 were still missing.

He reiterated his appeal to parents and guardians to return any student that might have run home on the day of the attack to enable government take proper records of the schoolgirls.

Also speaking on the abduction of the schoolgirls, the Minister of State for Power, Hon. Mohammed Wakil, said the incident had necessitated the need for appropriate measures to be put in place for the defence of soft targets such as schools and hospitals among others from terrorist attacks.

The minister, who in a statement yesterday lamented the abduction of the pupils, added that adequate measures must be put in place to prevent a recurrence.

He said: "We must now pay close attention to schools, hospitals and other soft targets. As the insurgents are now avoiding well-defended hard targets, we should design a new approach to securing identified soft targets.

"An alarm and warning system should be put in place in all likely soft targets across the conflict areas. This system will trigger an early response and nip in the bud planned attacks as was the case of the foiled plans to attack the NNPC mega stations on Dambua-Biu Road."

However, CAN yesterday urged Christians to commence fasting and prayers for the release of all the schoolgirls.

The association, at a press briefing by its Borno State chapter Chairman, Rev. Titus Pona, in Maiduguri, said it was time to turn to God through prayers and fasting for the release of the schoolgirls from captivity.

"We are calling on all Christians in Borno State, Nigeria, and the world to fast and pray for the release of more than 100 girls said to have been kidnapped by members of the Jamatu Alisunah Lidawati Al Jihad (Boko Haram). I am calling on all Christians in Borno, in Yobe and Adamawa, Nigeria to fast and pray tomorrow (Monday), let's see how God will intervene," he said.

He also appealed to the sect to lay down their arms and enter into dialogue with the federal government.

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