16 May 2014

Nigeria: Confusion Over Jonathan's Aborted Trip to Chibok

Lagos/Abuja/Maiduguri — Confusion and denials on Friday trailed the planned visit of President Goodluck Jonathan to Chibok, Borno State where over 200 girls were abducted by Islamic terrorists group, Boko Haram, over a month ago.

The visit which was widely reported by both local and international media on Thursday attracted world attention, with many saying that the President at last was about to do the right thing. Chibok is about 140 kilometers from Maiduguri, the state capital.

Sources at the Villa told Saturday Independent that a trip to Chibok was on the President's mind as at Friday morning but was cancell abruptly.

A presidential advance team of security personnel was said to have been mobilised to Borno State days ago and findings by Saturday Independent confirmed that. It was believed that security considerations may have caused the abortion of the trip.

Our correspondent gathered that as early as 6 o'clock in the morning of Friday, major streets and roads within Maiduguri metropolis, particularly the road from the airport to Government House, witnessed heavy presence of security operatives, especially policemen in readiness for the president's visit, but when news filtered in that the visit has been cancelled, most of the fierce looking policemen deployed to the streets withdrew to their stations.

Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, who flew into the state from his trip abroad in a chartered flight and landed at the Maiduguri International Airport at about 9am, refused to comment on the President's aborted visit as he drove directly to the Government House with some government officials including the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Ambassador Baba Ahmed Jidda.

A prominent leader from Chibok, who pleaded anonymity, told our correspondent on phone: "Yes we received an information from the state government that Mr. President is no longer visiting Chibok until further notice; already we have informed our people including the parents of the abducted schoolgirls who had earlier gathered waiting for Mr. President to go back to their respective houses. As I am talking to you now, I am also on my way back to Maiduguri."

However, the Presidency has described the news of the trip as malicious rumour. Presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati, denied that such a trip was planned for the President, especially as there was no official statement to that effect.

"Every trip by the President is usually pre-announced. The Presidency did not at any time announce a trip to Chibok today. Ignore rumours. The statement issued by my office yesterday indicated very clearly that the President is scheduled to travel to Paris today. It is, therefore, wrong and malicious to allege that a non-existent trip has been cancelled," Abati tweeted in his twitter handle.

The President later in the day left Abuja for France to participate in a summit convened to discuss fresh strategies for dealing with the security threat posed by Boko Haram and other terrorist groups in West and Central Africa.

The summit was convened by French President Francois Hollande and will also be attended by the Heads of State and Government of Benin Republic, Cameroon, Niger and Chad, all of which border Nigeria.

Britain, the United States of America and the European Union are expected to be represented at the talks which will give special attention to the coordination and intensification of efforts to curtail the destabilising activities of Boko Haram in Nigeria and neighbouring countries in the wake of the Chibok abduction.

Abati had announced that President Jonathan was being accompanied to Paris by the Minister of Defence, Aliyu Gusau, the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, as well as other principal aides and advisers

Also speaking on the aborted trip, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr Doyin Okupe, said the presidency never announced that President Jonathan will visit Chibok on Friday.

Okupe who was speaking during a live interview with CNN's Isha Sesay on Friday night, said the Presidency will not stop until the girls are brought back home from the captivity of Boko Haram "I am being very honest and sincere with you that the Nigerian government will do everything possible to ensure release of the kidnapped girls," he said. "Unlike the situations at the mines in Turkey or a bombing in Boston, this is a war situation and a visit there by the president has to be strategic, Okupe said.

Meanwhile, parents in Borno State have been moving their female children, particularly those within school age, to neighbouring states over fear of attack by Boko Haram members.

Speaking with our correspondent, a parent, Mr. Amos Yakubu, who expressed doubt on whether the insurgency will end, said that he had already transferred his children to Kaduna State to continue their education there.

"Immediately I noticed that Boko Haram has started unleashing terror on schools, I pulled out all my children who were in some schools, within the state and sent them to Kaduna State. How can I explain it if I lose my three boys in the hand of fanatics, that is why I took them out of this place because Borno State is no longer safe for children to school at all," he said.

Alhaji Ahmed Bukar, a principal in one of the secondary schools in the state, said that with Boko Haram activities in the state that have remained unabated, it is no longer advisable for someone to think of allowing his children to go to school in the state.

"You can see that all the schools across the state have closed indefinitely, due to constant insurgents attacks on the schools. Many teachers and even students have been killed in many occasions.

"Even if at the end of the day normalcy returns to Borno and schools resume, there may be no teachers to teach because many of them had left with no hope of coming back. The same thing for students because many of them especially those of them that are non-natives have left the state to a safer place. So, that's exactly the situation we are facing here," Bukar lamented.

David Ibrahim, a secondary school student from Gwoza Local Government Area of the state, is very bitter for not been in school due to the insurgency that forced government to close schools indefinitely.

"In fact, I am not happy that I am out of school because of Boko Haram threat to kill any student find in any school. And that is why you see me here doing nothing. Some of my friends have gone to other states for their studies. So, government should remedy the situation so that we can go back to school," Ibrahim stated.

An assistant director in the Ministry of Education, Borno State, who preferred to be anonymous, regretted the pains that both the parents and students in the state are passing through due to insurgents' activities that have caused the closure of all the post-primary schools across the state.

"Yes, the state government has deemed it necessary to close these schools so as to save more lives from these attackers call Boko Haram. And it is in the interest of all. But those parents who have the means of taking their children to other states for their studies have done so. But I am sure that as soon as the security situation improves, the schools will be reopened," he assured.

Interactions with the natives and many of the students who don't want their names in print indicated that even if the schools reopens, it may be difficult to get students to return to school because many parents have vowed not to allow their children to go back to the classrooms because of the fear of insurgents.

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