Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl-child education campaigner, who survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban, has called on Boko Haram terrorists to free the abducted Chibok schoolgirls.
Malala, who commenced a three-day visit to Nigeria on Saturday, celebrated her 17th birthday in Abuja at a dinner held in her honour at Transcorp Hilton hotel.
She spoke exclusively after the dinner that ended at about 10.40 p.m, the News Agency of Nigerian (NAN) reported.
"On my 17th birthday my wish is to see every child go to school and I want to see my Nigerian sisters being released from their abduction and I want them to be free to go to school and continue their education," she said.
Malala was accompanied to the dinner by her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai and members of Malala Fund, including Shiza Shahid, the 25-year old founder of the organisation.
A 32-man guest list at the event included members of civil society organisations and representatives of international organisations in Nigeria such as USAID, DFID, British Council and DFID. The Managing Director of NAN, Ima Niboro, presented a birthday card and flowers to Malala on behalf of President Goodluck Jonathan.
"Thank you Malala for coming to Nigeria, Mr. President personally signed this card, he shares your vision, your dreams and your ambitions and he is happy that you are here," Niboro told Malala. During her three-day visit to Nigeria, the 17-year old Pakistani girl is scheduled to meet Jonathan today, the Minister of Education, Alhaji Ibrahim Shekarau, and other top government officials.
She will also mark the Malala Day on July 14, in Abuja to champion her cause for free and compulsory education for every child around the world.
The education advocate informed the guests at the dinner that she would welcome ideas and opinions from them on how to ensure the safety and education of every child in Nigeria.
"I also hope to listen to those girls who were abducted and later ran away from their abductors and it would be really nice to listen to the parents of the girls.
"They are the ones who can really tell us what their daughters are suffering and what they are suffering too," she said. In his remarks, Malala's father said: "Since centuries we have been ignoring half of our population, so we should stop it now.
"We feel very honoured and I want to share with you one thing: What you can do for your society as a social activist, women rights activist, nobody else can do.
"In the Swat District (in Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), I was contributing to my community in education, I had a school and I was a poor man in terms of money but I had an institution I started from the scratch.
"I was able to send 120 students on scholarship to my school so your existence in your community is the biggest capital you have, your involvement with your community is the biggest capital you have which I have lost.
"I will regain it one day but the difference I was able to make when I was there, I can't make it now so you should capitalise on your being in your communities," he said.
In a telephone interview, the Pakistani High Commissioner to Nigeria, Amb. Muhammad Saleem, said the High Commission "was not informed of her visit to Nigeria.
"However, we welcome her to Nigeria because she is doing a great job. She is a daughter of Pakistan and we are proud of her achievements and we hope her visit to Nigeria would go a long way in resolving the issue of the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls.
"She's a great daughter of Pakistan and we welcome her campaign for education," Saleem said. As part of the international effort to support the girl-child education in Pakistani and other parts of the world, Malala was shot by the Taliban in 2012 in her native country.
Malala's visit is as a United Nations observer in commemoration of the 2014 "Malala Day" which is meant to ask Children "to stand up for education".
According to a statement for the National Information Centre (NIC), Malala is scheduled to meet with the president today. She would also have audience with the Minister of Education, Minister of State for Education, Nyesom Wike, and Minister of Women Affairs, Hajia Zainab Maina.
The Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who oversees the Safe Schools Initiative of the FederalGovernment is also scheduled to meet with Malala. According to the statement, Malala yesterday met with members of the NIC led by its coordinator, Mr. Mike Omeri, where she was updated on government's efforts to stem the insurgency in parts of the country and especially efforts at the safe return of the Chibok girls.