The Australian government has offered to deploy its Special Forces to help Nigeria rescue more than 200 schoolgirls who were abducted more than a month ago by the extremist Boko Haram group from their secondary school in Chibok, Borno State.
This came as the Inspector General of Police (IG). Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, overturned the order by the Commissioner of Police in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mr. Joseph Mbu, banning the #BringBackOurGirls rallies in Abuja, stating that the Police High Command did not issue any order banning peaceful assemblies/protests anywhere in Nigeria.
Australia said the Special Air Service (SAS) regiment is on standby to deploy for the rescue if the Nigerian government accepts the offer.
Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, told Sky News yesterday that Nigeria was yet to respond to the offer. "Australian troops, the SAS, are always on standby for contingencies," Bishop said.
"We have made an offer to the Nigerian government to provide whatever support they need to release the girls. We've made a specific offer to our UK and US allies ... that we are ready to assist in whatever way we can.
"We have not had a response from the Nigerian government. "They've thanked us for our willingness to be involved in trying to rescue the girls but we haven't had any specific acceptance of the offers that we've made."
The schoolgirls were seized on April 14 and have remained in captivity despite a throng of support from the United States, United Kingdom, France and Israel - all providing surveillance and intelligence support, and specialist teams.
Until now, no country offered to send ground troops into Nigeria for the rescue operations. The closest was the deployment of 80 troops to Chad by the US, which said the personnel would support the operation of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area. But the Australian government also faces calls for caution.
The country's Green Party, which holds minority seats in the parliament, said the government must come clean with details of the Nigeria operation before getting involved.
"The Greens want to see the schoolgirls in Nigeria rescued," the party's leader, Christine Milne, was quoted by ABC Australia as saying.
"It is shocking to think all those young women have been dragged away and we don't know the circumstances in which they find themselves but I think the PM needs to inform Australia fully as to what Australia would be getting into if we sent troops into Africa."
The party said it was concerned at Australia again joining a coalition to take on another terrorist war in sub-Saharan Africa, as it did in Afghanistan.
IG Reverses Mbu's Ban
However, the setback suffered by the #BringBackOurGirls campaigners, who have worked hard to attract the world's attention to the Chibok kidnapping, was rectified yesterday when the IG reversed the ban imposed by the FCT police commissioner on their street protests in Abuja.
Mbu had on Monday barred the organisers of the peaceful rallies from holding further protests aimed at putting pressure on the federal government and the security forces to find and rescue the schoolgirls. Addressing reporters in Abuja on behalf of the IG, the Nigeria Police Force spokesman, Mr. Frank Mba, a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP), said the public should disregard the pronouncement made by Mbu banning rallies in Abuja.
Abubakar however noted that against the backdrop of the current security challenges in the country, coupled with a recent intelligence report of a likely infiltration and hijacking of otherwise innocuous and peaceful protests by some criminal elements having links with the insurgents, the police only issued an advisory notice, enjoining citizens to apply caution in the said rallies, particularly in the FCT and its environs.
Reminding citizens of the previous position of the police on peaceful rallies, which the police acknowledged are the constitutional and democratic rights of Nigerians, the IG harped on the need for the organisers of such rallies to ensure that they seek proper advice and guidance from the police before engaging in any such exercise so as to avoid any unpleasant circumstances.
Abubakar called on the general public to see the present position of the police as a necessary sacrifice for the peace the nation needs, as security is a collective responsibility.
He advised Nigerians to reconsider their position on the rallies and protests in FCT until the existing threats are appropriately neutralised and removed by the relevant security agencies. He reassured the citizens of the commitment of the police to protect lives and property and advance the course of democracy in Nigeria.
Protesters Proceed to Court
But before the police could reverse their order, 17 of the organisers of the #BringBackOurGirls rallies, including a former Minister of Education, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, and the wife of a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mrs. Maryam Uwais, yesterday asked a Federal High Court in Abuja to declare that Mbu lacked the power to ban their protests in the FCT.
In an application for the enforcement of their fundamental human rights filed on their behalf by Deji Morakinyo of Falana and Falana Chambers, the protesters said the order of the FCT Commissioner of Police violated their rights to freedom of conscience, expression, assembly and association guaranteed by Sections 38, 39 and 40 of the Constitution and Articles 8,10,11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.
The applicants described themselves as members of a group of well-meaning Nigerian women and men under the auspices of the "Women for Peace and Justice #BringBackOur Girls".
They asked the court to declare that the decision to ban the protests and rallies in the FCT with effect from Monday, June 1, 2014 as illegal, unconstitutional, null and void as it violated their fundamental rights to freedom of conscience, expression, assembly and association guaranteed by Sections 38, 39 and 40 of the Constitution and Articles 8, 10, 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.
They asked the court to declare that the FCT police commissioner was not competent to ban protests and rallies in Abuja without an order issued by a court of competent jurisdiction.
They sought an order of perpetual injunction restraining the FCT police commissioner from further preventing them or aggrieved Nigerians from taking part in protests and rallies in exercise of their freedom of conscience, expression, assembly and association as guaranteed by Sections 38, 39 and 40 of the Constitution and Articles 8, 10, 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.
In addition, they asked the court to award in their favour the sum of N200 million as damages for violating their fundamental human rights.
In an affidavit deposed to by one of the applicants, Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman, who happens to be the daughter of the late civil rights activist, social critic and famous Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) lecturer, Dr. Bala Usman, she narrated the circumstances that forced them to come out to protest.
According to her, they had been protesting for the past 31 days to draw attention to the plight of the over 200 schoolgirls abducted from Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State.
She said it was their campaigns and protests that drew the attention of the world to the plight of the abducted girls, which led to the intervention of the United States of America, the United Kingdom and the United Nations, among others.
The case has not been assigned to a judge. Speaking to THISDAY last night, human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), whose law firm is representing the organisers of the protests, said irrespective of the reversal of the ban, the protesters would still go ahead with their law suit against Mbu.
He stressed that the case was against Mbu, not the IG, as the FCT police commissioner has a history of banning peaceful rallies indiscriminately stretching back from his days when he was in charge of the Rivers State Police Command.
Anger over Police Ban
Expectedly, the ban imposed on the protests by Mbu elicited more reactions yesterday, especially on the social media and among civil society organisations (CSOs), which at the time of their comments and statements, were unaware that the police had lifted the ban. Commenting on his twitter handle, one advocate, Japheth Omojuwa, said with the recent development, there is need to ramp up the social media campaign on #BringBackOurGirls.
He said despite the ban, the campaign in Abuja would still hold at the Unity Fountain by 3 pm because they must continue to speak out for the Chibok girls.
The clamour against the ban, however, was preceded by the trending of the hashtag "Day50" on twitter, to signify the number of days the abducted girls have been in captivity.
The hashtag "Day50" which trended on twitter for hours, was in line with the ongoing social media campaign by several organisations including Spaces for Change led by Victoria Ohaeri and Chude Jideonwo's Enough is Enough (EiE) Nigeria, as well as the #BringBackOurGirls group.
Also, Ezekwesili, tweeting from her twitter account @obyezeks said: "Friends of #ChibokGirls in Nigeria, Africa and all nations of the world, today is #Day50 of their abduction.
Demand: #BringBackOurGirls!" Ezekwesili, whose tweet was retweeted by over 100 followers, said the government was yet to bring back the girls from captivity of the common enemy and yet they struck to silence the protesters.
Corroborating, Wale Gates tweeting from @walegates said: "How can you say the principal told the army the girls have been rescued when you have already taken responsibility you told the army to lie about the rescue?"
For Daniel Oghenebrorhie, tweeting from @brorhie, he said: "Goodluck Jonathan considers the #BringBackOurGirls protesters as part of those who want to bring down his government. Strange people." However, there were a few who felt the former minister had personalised the issue of the Chibok girls and did not hesitate to point it out. One of such who tweeted as @vickieboy said: "@obyezeks, #ChibokGirls #BringBackOurGirls go and get them and stop counting."
Boko Haram Razes Three Villages
Meanwhile, Boko Haram insurgents continued with their attacks on Borno State yesterday where they attacked three villages in Gwoza Local Government Area, totally razing them in what could be termed a retaliatory strike by the terrorists.
The villages attacked, according to sources, included Attagara, Amuda and Ngoshe. During an attack on Attagara on Sunday morning, the sect had killed five worshipers but suffered heavy casualties, as residents of the community fought back and killed 37 members of the sect.
It was gathered from a source in Maiduguri that the insurgents came back in full force to attack Attagara yesterday after the Sunday incident.
The source said: "The fury was just too much as they virtually levelled every structure in the already desolate town."
According to him, however, many of the residents of the village had understood the sect's modus operandi, as they had taken to their heels preempting the retaliatory attack from the insurgents. He said: "Many of our people had already fled to the top of the hill knowing that after the killing of the insurgents on Sunday, they would pay another visit.
"The guess came to pass as the insurgents trooped into the village this morning but to their dismay met next to nothing and in their fury set all standing structures ablaze."
He also said the insurgents moved from Attagara to neighbouring Amuda and levelled every standing building before invading Ngoshe which was laid to waste.
He said the terrorists had earlier destroyed major parts of Ngoshe last week and its residents had already fled to the hilltops. The source also said it was during the attack on Ngoshe that the terrorists were repelled when a Nigerian Air Force jet started dropping bombs on them, forcing them to flee into the bush.
He however lamented that this was after several hours after the insurgents had been allowed to run amok in the three vulnerable villages.
All attempts to get confirmation from the military and other security forces in the area proved abortive, as phone services were epileptic in Maiduguri throughout yesterday.