15 May 2014

Nigeria: Update - Jonathan to Visit Chibok One Month After Abduction

Photo: Amanda Voisard/UN
President Goodluck Jonathan.

About 24 hours after PREMIUM TIMES did a story detailing President Jonathan's failure to visit Chibok, contrary to world standards, the president has finally agreed to visit the community.

Mr. Jonathan will visit Chibok on Friday enroute France, aides said on Thursday.

Though the visit is yet to be formally confirmed, an advanced team of the presidential entourage is said to have already left Abuja ahead of the trip; a normal practice in the presidency.

Presidential spokesperson, Reuben Abati, said the president will attend the Paris summit Friday, but did not confirm Mr. Jonathan's visit to Chibok.

The security meeting was convened by French President Francois Hollande to discuss fresh strategies for dealing with the security threat posed by Boko Haram and other terrorist groups in West and Central Africa.

Mr. Jonathan will be joined at the summit by Heads of State and government of Benin Republic, Cameroon, Niger and Chad. Britain, United States and the European Union are also expected to send in representatives.

The Nigerian president is travelling alongside the defence minister, Aliyu Gusau, the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, and other aides. He will return to Abuja Saturday.

Presidency officials said ahead of the Paris trip Friday, Mr. Jonathan will fly into Chibok, a remote community without a paved road, where he will seek to reassure distraught parents and guardians of the kidnapped school girls that the nation stands with them.

The president's planned visit to the community comes over one month after Boko Haram insurgents kidnapped over 250 girls from a government school, there.

The girls were taken captives by armed men in the dead of night as they prepared for their final examinations.

President Jonathan has been widely condemned over his slow response to the kidnapping, and his handling of the Boko Haram crisis, a bloody five-year campaign that has claimed more than 5,000 lives.

Mr. Jonathan brushed aside the Chibok abduction and a car bomb attack that occurred same day, April 14, to attend a political rally in Kano State. He publicly addressed the kidnapping after three weeks.

The president has rejected an offer by Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, to swap the missing girls with detained Bok Haram fighters. In a mix of conflicting information, other top officials also signaled the government would be willing to negotiate with the extremists.

But despite an outpouring of international attention on the raid on Chibok, with U.S.-led international search assistance, neither the president, Vice President Namadi Sambo nor cabinet members visited the community for over a month.

The first major public official to visit Chibok was the Borno Governor, Kashim Shettima.

Mr. Shettima visited the community one week after the kidnap on April 21.

Apart from the Borno officials, the closest to federal officials from Abuja to visit Chibok were Nigeria's military chiefs, who arrived at the town May 8.

Abandoning Chibok and resisting paying a visit to show solidarity with the victims' families and assure them of governments' support is not new to President Goodluck Jonathan.

On February 25, gunmen suspected to be Boko Haram members stormed the Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Yobe State, killing at least 29 students (according to government figures), with residents of the area saying about 50 were killed.

The president is yet to visit Buni Yadi.

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