This Day (Lagos)

6 May 2014

Nigeria: Protests Over Girls' Rescue Continue As Shekau Vows to Sell Them

Photo: Premium Times
Boko Haram

Protests targeted at pressurising the federal government into rescuing some 200 schoolgirls who were kidnapped three weeks ago from their secondary school in Chibok, Borno State, continued nationwide monday, even as the Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau claimed responsibility for their abduction, and vowed to sell or marry them off.

As a mark of solidarity with the abducted girls, Borno State youths and students have called on their peers worldwide to stay away from classrooms tuesday, while 2,000 students thronged the streets of Calabar, the Cross River State capital, demanding the girls' unconditional release.

This is just as outrage spread over the complicity of the federal government and the First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, in the arrest of one of the protest leaders, Naomi Mutah.

The first lady, at the weekend, had attempted to lay the blame on the abduction of the girls on the politics of the 2015 elections and made a show of sobbing over the Borno State first lady, Hajia Nana Shettima's refusal to honour an invitation from Mrs. Jonathan to meet with her.

The video of the visibly infuriated and weeping Mrs. Jonathan went viral yesterday. In the 57-minute video made available to the media, Shekau said the girls were the spoils of war, adding that he might decide to sell them as articles in the market or give them out in marriage.

He said the girls had spent over 20 days in his custody and he had been treating them as "booties of war". Shekau, who did not display the girls throughout the recording, said: "We would also give their hands in marriage because they are our slaves. We would marry them out at the age of nine. We would marry them out at the age of 12, it depends on our choice." The terrorist leader, who spoke in both the Hausa and Arabic languages, admitted that the girls were captured because they were attending formal school, insisting: "Western education is a sin, it is forbidden; women must go and marry."

Shekau also justified the abduction of the girls for the incarceration of his members in Nigerian prisons and did not give any condition for their release.

The video, which was sent via e-mail to some journalists, could not however be independently verified. "I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah," he said, after reports that some of the 223 missing girls may have been sold as brides across Nigeria's border with Chad and Cameroun for as little as N2,000. Shekau added that the abduction had caused outrage "because we are holding people (as) slaves".

US: Kidnapped Schoolgirls Taken Out of Nigeria Despite Shekau's boast that the girls would be sold or married off, the United States yesterday expressed concern that many of the 276 schoolgirls had already been moved out of the country.

State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, shared Washington's assessment after local officials in the North-east told AFP that the girls had likely been taken to nearby Chad or Cameroun.

"Many of them have likely been moved out of the country to neighbouring countries," Harf said, responding to reporters' questions as news of the abduction began to climb up the world news agenda. Harf said Washington provides Nigeria with "counter-terrorism assistance" in the form of intelligence sharing and was standing by to assist "in any way we think that is appropriate".

Chibok Protest Leader Arrested However, as the saga of the girls' abduction continued, it emerged yesterday that Mrs. Mutah, an indigene of Chibok, who helped organise the protests over the abduction, was allegedly arrested and detained by the police. Mutah took part in a meeting called by Mrs. Jonathan and was then taken to a police station, her fellow community members said. Mrs. Jonathan reportedly felt slighted that the mothers of the abducted girls had sent Mutah to the meeting instead of attending themselves.

Mutah, a representative of the Chibok community where the girls were seized from their school, last week organised a protest outside the National Assembly in the capital, Abuja. The protesters and many Nigerians feel the government has not done enough to find the girls. The Associated Press (AP) news agency quoted another community leader, Saratu Angus Ndirpaya, as saying Mrs. Jonathan accused the activists of fabricating the abductions to give the federal government a bad name. She also said the first lady accused them of supporting Boko Haram.

In reaction to the purported arrest, social media commentators severely criticised Mrs. Jonathan and the federal government over the alleged arrest. According to a tweet from the former Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili, it was revealed that Mutah was detained by the Nigeria Police Force at Asokoro police station, Abuja and later taken to an unknown destination. She added that the federal government's action was unjust for arresting an ordinary mother after she attended Mrs. Jonathan's meeting.

Similarly, the Chibok community accused Mrs. Jonathan of instigating the arrest of the community women leader. In a statement by the spokesperson of the Bring Back Our Girls Campaign, Olawale Rotimi, he said the leader of the Chibok Women Development Association, Mutah, was arrested after attending a meeting with the wife of the president at the state house. "We were notified at 6 am by Mr. Tsambido Hosea, the leader of the Chibok community residents in Abuja, that Mrs. Naomi Mutah had been detained at the Asokoro police station at the instance of the first lady following a meeting she had attended in the Presidential Villa with the president's wife. "According to the leader of the Chibok community in Abuja, Mrs. Naomi Mutah and Mrs. Saratu were delegated to represent women from the Chibok Women Development Association in Maiduguri who were invited for the meeting but couldn't make it due to the short notice.

"The records at the police station showed that she had been booked in at 3.20 am. She had attended the meeting on the delegated authority of the Chibok-based mothers of the abducted girls alongside Mrs. Saratu Angus. "Mrs. Saratu Angus, who accompanied Mrs. Naomi Mutah to the meeting, and was also taken to the Asokoro police station, was released at 3.30 am.

"We arrived the Asokoro police station at 8 am with our legal representative, Femi Adedeji from Femi Falana's chambers. We, alongside her husband and members of the Chibok Committee residents in Abuja, requested to commence the process for her bail. "Our lawyer was informed that neither the Divisional Police Officer, Crime Prevention Officer nor Investigating Police Officer was available to attend to us. Subsequently, we identified the DPO who responded that he had more pressing issues to handle.

"To the utter dismay of Mrs. Mutah's husband, the Chibok community members and some of our members, some officials arrived at 11 am, 8 hours after her detention claiming to be from the presidency and took her away with the DPO to the Office of the Inspector General of Police. They prevented anyone from accompanying her. "We hereby call on the federal government to immediately cause the release by the Nigerian Police of Mrs. Naomi Mutah," the statement said.

Mrs. Jonathan, Police Deny Arrest However, the first lady and the Nigeria Police yesterday denied the arrest of Mutah. In a statement by her media aide, Ayo Adewuyi, he said: "Our attention has been drawn to media reports that the First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, ordered the arrest of a woman who attended the women stakeholders' meeting to discuss ways and the best strategies to ensure the release of the abducted children of Chibok (Girls) Secondary School. "We wish to state without any iota of equivocation that the first lady did not order the arrest of any woman or any one for that matter before, during and after the meeting. "It is instructive to note that the meeting

ended after three o'clock Monday morning and all those invited to the meeting including a handful of journalists who stayed throughout the lengthy meeting left the Presidential Villa thereafter. "The Naomi Mutah mentioned in one of the reports came to the meeting as part of the Borno delegation. The women were alarmed when someone who knew her told the meeting that she was impersonating one of the mothers of the allegedly abducted children on the basis of which she attended the meeting.

"The women expressed their disappointment when she confirmed that she is not a biological mother to any of the abducted children. Naomi left the State House with other members of the delegation. If she was arrested as claimed, then enquiries about her arrest should therefore be directed to the security agencies. "It is an unfounded rumour which the first lady knows nothing about." Equally, the police, in a statement signed by the Force spokesperson, Frank Mba, said the woman was only invited by the police as part of investigations into the case of the missing girls.

It read: "As part of measures geared towards eliciting useful information that could help security agents in the ongoing effort at finding and rescuing the female students recently abducted by terrorists, suspected to be Boko-Haram, in Chibok, Borno State, police operatives this morning, 05/05/2014 invited one Mrs Nyadar Naomi Mutah, a native of Chibok and Deputy Director at the National Directorate of Employment, Abuja.

"It was purely an interactive and fact finding interview. Mrs Nyadar cooperated with the police in the course of the interview and was immediately allowed to return home to her loved ones. She was never arrested nor detained as being wrongly speculated in some quarters." Mba added that the police and other security agencies were leaving no stone unturned at ensuring that the girls returned safely.

Mrs. Shettima: First Lady Wanted to Humiliate Me In addition to the outrage expressed over Mutah's alleged arrest, Mrs. Shettima, the wife of the Borno State governor, had an axe to grind with the first lady as she was forced to provide clarification as to why she elected not to attend the meeting summoned by the first lady.

A statement by Mrs. Shettima's press secretary, Aisha Muhammad Hassan, said Mrs. Jonathan had a clear motive of humiliating the Borno first lady at the scheduled meeting in the villa.

She said it was because of this that Mrs. Shettima decided to send a representative to the meeting and remained in Maiduguri to prepare for her planned trip to Chibok where she met with parents of the abducted girls, in order to support them.

Hassan said: "Mrs. Shettima had actually travelled to Abuja all the way from Maiduguri on 28th of April and on the evening of that day, she met the first lady at the villa and took two hours to brief her on the schoolgirls' abduction as well as her (Mrs. Shettima's) personal efforts and that of her husband, Governor Shettima, towards the freedom of the girls.

"Some wives of service chiefs and the National Women Leader of the PDP, Mrs Kema Chikwe, were present when the governor's wife met with the first lady, noting that the first lady appreciated the efforts of the governor's wife and consoled her on noticing how depressed she was."

Hassan said that it was therefore shocking to the governor's wife when she saw Mrs. Jonathan on the television accusing the governor of Borno of being responsible for the abduction.

"It became clear to the governor's wife that from the body language of the first lady and some of her close associates at the Saturday meeting, that there was a high possibility that the first lady's demand for the governor's wife on Sunday was to humiliate her by accusing her husband to her face in the midst of participants at the meeting, thereby necessitating that she concentrated on her planned trip to Chibok on Monday morning," Hassan added.

Hassan explained that before her meeting with Mrs. Jonathan on April 28, the governor's wife had held a meeting with a coalition of women groups that included stakeholders of Chibok, officials of the National Council of Women Societies (NCWS), wives of security chiefs in Borno State, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Federation of Muslim Women of Nigeria, among others. The communiqué, Hassan said, was shown to Mrs. Jonathan by the governor's wife which she also endorsed.

In addition, she said, Mrs. Shettima had met virtually all the groups from Borno that the first lady was meeting and that her representative was more than capable of representing her at the Presidential Villa meeting.

Borno, Cross River Students, Others Protest Meanwhile, youths and students in the troubled Borno State yesterday called on students all over the world to stay away from classes in protest over the scores of schoolgirls abducted 21 days ago by Boko Haram terrorists. The placard-carrying youths and students, who sang different protest songs, were led to the Maiduguri press conference by Fatima Zanna Maliki.

The inscriptions on their placards read: "Please Note all Borno Youths Are Not Insurgents", "Rescue Our Education System", "They Are Our Sisters", "They Are Our Daughters", "Bring Back Our Girls", "Borno Remains the Home of Peace", etc. Maliki said it was important that students all over the globe joined them in the protest in order to force world leaders to pressurise the Nigerian president to take the necessary action, which will get the abducted girls released from their captors.

She said: "We appreciate the concern and efforts of all the civil society organisations, women groups, leaders and the international communities towards our plight and we are urging them not to relent until our girls are brought back home safely, in particular, and peace returns back to our country in general."

She added: "We the youths and students in Borno State have endured unimaginable hardship for the past four years and we took it upon ourselves to call upon stakeholders and the president in particular to act urgently." While declaring Wednesday, May 7, 2014 as a lecture-free and sympathy day worldwide to commiserate with the families of the abducted schoolgirls, she urged Mrs. Jonathan to play a motherly role in the present challenges facing the country rather than apportioning blames.

Maliki also asked President Goodluck Jonathan to stop the buck passing and go about the task of looking for the abducted girls with more fervor. The youths and students warned that should the girls not be freed before their 40th day in captivity, they would mobilise students across the country to protest in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, until the students are reunited with their families.

Similarly, Calabar stood still yesterday when over 2,000 students from different secondary schools took to the streets protesting the abduction of female students in Chibok.

Besides protesting the abduction of their colleagues, the students clad in black, demanded that the girls be released unconditionally so that they could continue with their academic studies.

Waving placards with various inscriptions, the obviously furious students of both sexes were later joined in the protest by members of the National Association of Cross River Students (NACRISS), civil societies and non-governmental organisations in the state.

Miss Miriam Ukpong, a senior secondary school student, said they decided to protest because they were concerned about the plight of the abducted students whose fate remained unknown 21 days after.

She explained that the protest became imperative owing to the lingering violent activities of the Islamic insurgents in the North-east and other places, adding: "Today, it is students of Chibok Secondary School, tomorrow some other persons may be affected." In Akure, the Ondo State capital, women led by the state Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development, Mrs Yemi Mamud-Fasominu, also joined in the protest.

The women, who were dressed in black, marched to the Office of the Ondo State Governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, to demand the rescue of the girls.

Addressing the women, Mimiko said governments at all levels were up to the task, adding that some security steps were being kept secret for the successful rescue mission. "I thank you all for this outward display of emotions and for showing concern. We know that this is a reminder of what we should be doing.

"But I want to assure you that we will track these people who are hell-bent on destroying our nation. I am sure that God Almighty will rescue this nation," Mimiko said.

The governor said the president was doing everything humanly possible so that there would be good outcome. He added that people's concern about being oblivious of the government's step was borne out of security logistics, which should not be revealed so that its effort would not be sabotaged.

Earlier, Fasominu said all the women were aggrieved and dejected about the condition of the missing girls. She enjoined the women to continue to pray, stressing that those perpetrating heinous acts towards the girls and women would be fished out through ongoing government's efforts.

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