Premium Times (Abuja)

6 May 2014

Nigeria: Chibok Schoolgirls - UN, Borno Government Reps Absent As Jonathan Inaugurates Committee

President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday inaugurated a fact-finding committee with respect to the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State.

The representatives of the United Nations and the Borno Government, who were supposed to be members of the committee, were, conspicuously, absent during the inauguration.

Mr. Jonathan warned members of the Presidential Committee on the Rescue of Abducted Female Students at Government Secondary School, Chibok against trying to make themselves a replacement for the search and rescue operations by security agencies.

Speaking at the inauguration of the committee at the Presidential Villa, Mr. Jonathan admonished the committee not to see their appointment as an opportunity to be involved in the covert intelligence gathering required to assist that operation.

"First let me make it very clear - luckily the Minister of Justice is here - that this committee is neither a judicial committee nor an administrative committee to look into the affairs of this incident. No. It is not administrative panel set up by federal government or a judicial committee. I must make that very clear because those are the responsibilities of the state and not that of the federal government. I say so because before you know somebody will go to court and say that federal government is interloping in an area which is supposed to be an exclusive preserve of the state," Mr. Jonathan said.

The President described the setting-up of the committee as a necessary step.

"You will agree with me that this is not a committee that brings joy to me and indeed our country men and women. However, it is a necessary step which government must take to confront the sad circumstances surrounding the abduction of female students, our daughters in Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok," he said.

He insisted that the committee was not a replacement for the search and rescue operations being undertaken by security agencies or for covert intelligence gathering required to assist that of the operation.

"The operation of the security and intelligence services will continue to intensify till our daughters are rescued and brought safely home to their families. Rather this committee will be primarily concern with providing public interface with all directly concerned in this tragedy, in order to provide a well-coordinated citizens input into the overall investigations," the President said.

The inauguration ceremony went ahead despite the unexplained conspicuous absence of the two representatives of the Borno State government.

Also absent was the expected representative of the United Nations. The nominee of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, a woman, was, however, present.

Mr. Jonathan urged the committee members to be mindful of the sensitivity and the importance of their assignment and to work meticulously and swiftly to achieve the most in the short time they have.

"The whole world is watching you because that is why we made sure that an information officer is attached to you. Because I believe you will be speaking to the world every six hours or at least once a day as to the progress of the committee," he said.

The President urged Nigerians to be united in this trying moment. He said that it was reassuring that the country had the empathy and cooperation of friendly countries from across the world at this time.

"I am appreciative of the fact that this sad incident has attracted global outrage. This is a clear testimony to the fact that humanity can come together and stand as one against evil no matter how it is presented. This is the time when we must dwell together beyond all political, religious or regional divide against our common enemy. We must remain vigilant and be ready to assist security agencies and authorities at all time," he said.

He urged for more support for the families of the kidnapped girls "who, for seeking education for their daughters, are undergoing untold pains at this moment."

He assured that in conjunction with the international community government will do everything possible to get the girls back.

"We share your pain and suffering and are with you in prayers. We urge you to cooperate with the investigations in spite of your understandably difficult situation. We implore you to remain strong."

Mr. Jonathan used the opportunity to reassure Nigerians and delegates to the World Economic Forum, WEF, of a safe and conducive atmosphere.

In his response to their appointment into the membership of the committee, the Chairman, Ibrahim Sabo, a retired General, chided critics who faulted the President's establishment of the committee, saying they are not unmindful of the tantrums made when the committee was announced.

Mr. Sabo, who pledged on behalf of the committee to do their best, likened such criticism to people who are either unpatriotic or intelligently selfish.

He also urged government not to be stampeded into taking a decision that will further exacerbate the situation with the kidnapped girls.

Mr. Sabo asked the President to try to encourage the security forces to find the best possible option to tackling the situation. He told journalists shortly after the inauguration that the committee was on a fact finding mission "to cover the lacuna of the babel of information regarding the number of children abducted and the number of those released."

"We are going to interact with the stakeholders and analyse, fuse and then arrive at conclusion," he said.

He revealed that the committee had over 30 members.

They include two representatives of the National Council of Women Societies, NCWS); two female representatives, Nigeria Conference of Principals of Secondary Schools, ANCOPSS; two representatives of the national members of Parents Teachers Association; two representatives of the Nigeria Police, and two representatives of the State Security Service.

Others are two representatives of the Nigerian Army, two representatives of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, one representative of the Federal Ministry of Information (who would be the Committees' Spokesperson), and one Representative of the Federal Ministry of Justice as well as three Representatives of the Borno State Government (two of whom, preferably, shall be women), one Representative of the United Nations, one Representative of ECOWAS (who shall be a woman) and the Permanent Secretary (Special Services Office) who shall be the Secretary of the Committee.

The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Pius Anyim, read the terms of reference to include liaising with the Borno State Government and establishing the circumstances that led the school to remain open while other boarding schools were allegedly closed.

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