As outrage continues to trail the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls on April 14 from Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, has pledged US support to help find the missing girls and to bring perpetrators to justice.
Also, President Goodluck Jonathan last night held a closed door meeting at the State House with Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima, the state education commissioner, other top government functionaries and some parents of the abducted girls.
Present at the meeting, which began at 9 pm when Jonathan arrived, were Vice President Namadi Sambo, Senate President David Mark, Secretary to the Government of Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, and Supervising Minister of Education Nyeson Wike and Inspector-General of Police Mohammed Abubakar. Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Reuben Abati, said how to ensure the safe release of the abducted girls from their captors topped the agenda of the meeting.
Pledging US support to help find the abducted girls, Kerry who was on a visit to Ethiopia said, "Let me be clear. The kidnapping of hundreds of children by Boko Haram is an unconscionable crime.
"We will do everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes and hold the perpetrators to justice. That is our responsibility and the world's responsibility."
He disclosed that US was "working to strengthen Nigeria's institutions and its military to combat Boko Haram's campaign of terror and violence."
He further stated: "I've seen this scourge of terror across the planet, and so have you. They don't offer anything. They just tell people, 'You have to behave the way we tell you to.' Our responsibility, and the world's responsibility, is to stand up to that kind of nihilism."
Kerry, who was delivering a speech in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on US policy and objectives in Africa, did however not specify what kind of help the US would provide.
A senior State Department official traveling with Kerry however said the secretary of state was referring to security, communications and intelligence help for the overall fight against Boko Haram.
Contrary to reports, the State Department official also said that US was not yet directly involved in the search for the missing girls. A team of US officials from several agencies will travel to Nigeria in the coming week for consultations, the official said.
Also yesterday, the first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, met governors' and ministers' wives, female senators, commissioners and more than 200 women from various groups at the State House.
In that meeting, Mrs Jonathan had promised to stage and lead a protest march to Chibok, if the abducted schoolgirls were not released. A News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) report quoted her as saying this in Abuja after the meeting at the weekend, which sought the actual whereabouts of the kidnapped girls.
According to her, a committee would be inaugurated to include wives of all relevant stakeholders at a meeting scheduled for today (May 4). She said the refusal of any of such stakeholders to be contacted for the meeting would also lead to a mass protest.
"I cannot perpetuate hearsay and rumour; I must have facts to tell the international community. We will set up a committee to seek the truth as women. If any of those we call refuse to come, we will take the protest to Chibok. "I do not mind being shot as long as they return our girls to us safely, we are tired of the kidnapping," she said.
Jonathan said the first ladies of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and various other countries had called to ask questions and offer assistance on the matter.
"They intimated me of their readiness to help, they also asked me questions that I could not answer and as women we are the last hope of this nation. We cannot fail our fellow women and the nation. If need be, we will call on the northern elders to help us so that our children and husbands will not die," she said. Others who spoke at the meeting included Mrs. Yemisi Suswam, Senator Nenadi Usman, and Prof. Sarah Jibril.
Meanwhile, both the West African Examination Council (WAEC) and the Borno State Government were pointing accusing fingers at each other as it emerged yesterday that GSS, Chibok, where over 200 schoolgirls were abducted, was meant to be closed for security reasons alongside most schools in the state.
The school, it emerged yesterday, was left open since April 14 despite the prevailing climate of insecurity in the state. While WAEC cited the assurance of the student's security by the state government as reason for holding examinations in the school, a state government official said the decision to leave the school open was due to the pressure from the people of the town. The people, the official said, had appealed to Borno State Governor Alhaji Kashim Shettima not to move their wards to another town. According to the official, the people of Chibok had argued that their town was safer than Maiduguri or Biu, the two towns the governor was contemplating moving the students to and had made the governor yield to their entreaties by asserting that they would be unhappy should their daughters be hurt in the course of the planned relocation.
"Some two months ago, there was fear that schools were going to be attacked. Indeed, one was attacked in Konduga and also following what happened in Yobe, the governor directed that all schools be closed but a decision was reached that an arrangement be made for all final year secondary school students to write their WAEC and NECO exams.
"The state's ministry of education identified schools that were considered safe and students from other schools were secretly collapsed in safe schools so they could take their exams. The decision had to be made since the students had spent six years and losing opportunities for WAEC and NECO exams could mean they would wait for another year before graduating. In some of the safe schools, final year students of up to four, five schools were moved to one centre."
The official explained that the "government made a decision not to make this public so that insurgents do not go after the schools and attack them. Therefore the decision was a guarded secret that not even some government officials knew about it. The GGSS Chibok was considered one of the safest schools. It was opened like some others in Uba, Askira, Maiduguri, Biu, Gwoza and some others. "In that school attacked in Chibok, students from schools in Izge, Warabe, Lassa and Ashiga-Shiya were all collapsed in one place and they were quietly writing their exams until that unfortunate attack of Tuesday, 14th of April, 2014. One other thing that should be said is that, initially, the Governor had insisted that all the final year students be moved to schools in Maiduguri and Biu but stakeholders from some of the areas, particularly in Chibok and Uba protested. The Governor had several meetings with the community members of Chibok which included traditional rulers, parents, the chairman of the council, the member of the state assembly representing Chibok and opinion leaders, they insisted that their children be allowed to remain in Chibok which was actually safe.
"At a point they asked the governor what would happen if their children were attacked in Maiduguri or Biu, it was at that point he conceded to their request. The truth is that the collapse of students from other schools in Chibok as was done in other parts of the state was a major reason there is mix up in the number of missing girls."
Meanwhile, the military said it would ensure that the rescue of the abducted female students of the Government Girls Secondary (GSS), Chibok, be carried out with minimal collateral damages. The military source was reacting to a report by UK Telegraph that "Nigerian troops are preparing to launch rescue mission for schoolgirls."
According to the source, while it would not be appropriate to disclose the operational activities of the military, enormous efforts are being made towards successful rescue of the remaining girls. "There are many activities going on surveillance and tactics to avoid casualty and collateral damage in any operation at this period when missions are mostly on safety and survival," he said. However, the Director of Defence Information (DDI), Maj-Gen. Chris Olukolade has refused to react on the report, especially concerning the Chibok operations. It could be recalled that DHQ recently streamlined its information dissemination by conceding updates on Chibok missing girls to Borno State Government and Commissioner of Education.
The UK Telegraph had in a report titled: "Nigerian troops 'preparing to launch rescue mission for schoolgirls", said about four battalions of troops, fighter aircraft and helicopter gunships reported to be preparing for assault to free 223 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram.
According to the report, Nigerian troops are massing in a forest in the north of the country in preparation for an assault to free hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped by a militant Islamist group. It said local newspapers had disclosed that four battalions of troops were now stationed at the north, south, east and west corners of the forest, backed up by fighter aircraft, helicopter gunships and police surveillance helicopters. A large medical team with mobile clinics and air ambulances had also been sent to the area amid fears of casualties if and when an assault was launched. The Nigerian authorities on Friday raised their estimate of the number of girls still being held to 223, with another 53 said to have managed to flee from the Sambisa forest where the militants have taken them.
But Borno State Government yesterday said that it was willing to always give the nation the update on the abducted schoolgirls still held by suspected members of the Boko Haram sect as long as the military makes available to it all relevant information on its search-and-rescue operation for the girls.