Reaffirming the United Nations unwavering support for girls' education in Nigeria, the Organization's top women's rights official has just wrapped up a mission to the country where she visited a girls' school in a show of solidarity for the more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls and their families.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, joined a delegation that visited the Federal Government Girls College (FGGC) in the town of Abaji, near the Nigerian capital, Abuja, from 17-18 May.
Her visit came in the wake of Boko Haram militants' brazen abduction of more than 200 girls from their school in Chibok, a town in strife-riven northeastern Nigeria. The incident has ignited worldwide outrage and drawn the condemnation of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the Security Council and numerous other senior UN officials.
The FGGC Abaji is one of the Nigerian Government's all-girls colleges similar to the FGGC Chibok, from which the girls were kidnapped last month.
"This... is a solidarity mission. We are with you all the way. We are standing with you," she said, pledging that the UN will "work with you to ensure that when the girls return they are consoled, and with their families they get the support they need."
Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka reassured the public that the entire UN system is committed to ensuring that girls stay in schools in Nigeria and that they do so in a safe and secure environment. She said that the girls of Nigeria deserve the best education and the best care and support.
"I see Malala in all of you because you are brave and you overcome your fears every day to come to your school because you know it is the right choice," the Executive Director said, referring to Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot by the Taliban in 2013 for attending classes.
Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka's visit follows that of Said Djinnit, the Secretary-General's High-Level Representative who was in Nigeria last week. While there, he announced that the UN has initiated preparation of an integrated support package that includes immediate support to the affected families, the population and the girls after their release, in particular with psycho-social counselling and helping them reintegrate with their families and communities.
"The package will also include response to emergency needs both in food and non-food items, early recovery support by promoting alternative livelihood, and activities geared towards addressing the long-term structural challenges through capacity building," he added.
Along with the UN Women chief, the delegation also included: UN Resident Coordinator and UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Representative in Nigeria, Louise Setshwalelo; Regional Director of UN Women for West and Central Africa, Josephine Odera; Acting UN Women Country Representative to Nigeria and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Adjaratou Fatou Ndiaye; UN Women Programme Advisor for Africa, Anthony Ngororano; and members of UN Women country team in Nigeria.
The delegation was welcomed by Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Hajiya Zainab Maina; the Permanent Secretary, representing the Federal Ministry of Education, MacJohn Nwaobiala; and the School Principal, Nkem Uzowulu, along with teachers and hundreds of students.
"Our hearts are bleeding. Everyone is deeply hurt by the abduction of our daughters. But with such solidarity I believe we will succeed," said Ms. Maina in her remarks.
She praised UN Women for having shown strong engagement and commitment to the welfare and wellbeing of women and girls across Nigeria, including making education of the girl child a priority through a long-standing partnership with her Ministry.
Speaking to the students, Minister Maina said: "Do not be discouraged. Do not be scared. Nothing will happen to you. You must keep on... We want to see to it that many of you become the best senators, heads of local councils, businesswomen, ministers and even one-day president of this nation. When a girl is educated a whole nation is educated."