27 May 2014

Nigeria: We Know Girls' Location, Says Defence Chief

Photo: Screenshot/Premium Times
Missing Nigerian Girls

The Chief of Defence Staff yesterday said security forces know the location of the Chibok schoolgirls who were abducted by Boko Haram gunmen on April 14.

Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh spoke when protesters gathered at the Defence Headquarters in Abuja to show solidarity with the military in the effort to find the girls.

"The good news for the parents of the girls is that we know where they are, but we cannot tell you," Badeh told journalists on the sidelines, soon after addressing the protesters.

"We cannot come and tell you the military secret here, just leave us alone. We are working to get the girls back." About 270 female students of the Government Secondary School Chibok, Borno State were abducted 43 days ago, though 53 of them escaped days later.

The abduction triggered global outrage, and military authorities have come under criticism over alleged lackluster efforts towards finding the girls.

But yesterday two groups held separate rallies in Abuja to show support for the military, with one of them, Citizens Initiative for Security Awareness, holding a procession at the Defence Headquarters.

The other group, Nigerians United Against Terrorism, gathered at the Unity Fountain, venue of the daily sit-in by the #BringBackOurGirls group.

At the Defence Headquarters, the youth protesters wore T-shirts and fez caps which the inscription '#WeTrustNigeriaMilitary to bringbackourgirls.'

Adressing the protesters, Badeh defended the military's approach saying the rescue operation was being handled in a way that the captive girls would not be harmed.

"We want our girls back. Our military can do it, but where they are held, can we go with force? Nobody should say Nigerian military does not know what it is doing. We can't kill our girls in the name of getting them back," Badeh said.

"We are working, the President has empowered us to do the work, and anybody castigating the Nigerian military, there is something wrong with him.

"What is happening now is that we are fighting our fellow brothers and we are not happy at all, because we are killing our own kind and we are killing mostly youths. We cannot afford to eliminate our youths, who are we going to hand over Nigeria to? We can't kill them."

He also expressed happiness with the solidarity protest, saying "people have finally realised that you don't have another military than this one you have, and it is either you support your military or you are looking for anarchy."

"Nigeria is at war everybody must put hands on deck. So if you can't do anything else, but you have mouth to support the military, don't disparage the military because you don't have another one," he added.

"We are recovering, and you know some of the arms we are recovering, they are very alien to the Nigerian armed forces, which means there are people from outside fuelling this thing. When Mr. President said we have Al-Qaeda in West Africa, I believe him 100 percent.

"Because I know people from outside Nigeria are in this war, they are fighting us, they want to destabilise us, this is our country and some people in this country are standing with the forces of darkness. No, we must salvage our country; we must bring sanity back into our nation."

Badeh said the fight against insurgency was different from a conventional war. "If we are fighting an external war, they would have been begging us to withdraw. We have proved it, we were in Liberia and Sierra Leone and we returned democracy back there," he said.

Speaking earlier, protest leader Chidi Omeje said they felt the need to show support to the military because of attacks by some politicians and groups.

"We are trying to tell the leadership of the Nigerian military that ordinary Nigerians are behind them, ordinary Nigerians appreciate them," he said.

"The kind of things the Western media talks about our military is not charitable. We don't think it's the right thing to do. We appreciate their sense of brotherhood in terms of coming to help us, but that does not give anybody any right to denigrate our military."

Elsewhere in Abuja, Badeh spoke to the other group of protesters from the Nigerians United Against Terrorism, at the Unity Fountain, where he assured them that the military remained resolute in the war against terrorism.

The protesters, led by House of Representatives member Beni Lar, wore T-Shirts with the inscription "#ReleaseOurGirls."

Ms Lar said the military must be appreciated, as the situation would have been worse if troops had not been up to the task.

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