The United States of America leads a global alliance to help Nigeria combat Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East and also rescue about 234 female students abducted from their hostels in a government secondary school in Chibok, Borno State, since April 14
| By Olu Ojewale | May 19, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
IT HAS been three weeks of nightmares, uncertainty, frustration and intense pressure in Nigeria followed by global outrage occasioned by the abduction of 234 girls of Chibok Government Secondary School, Borno State, on April 14. The abduction of the girls triggered off a series of protests in many parts of Nigeria and in some foreign countries, with the protesters demanding that world leaders should act quickly to rescue the girls. In Nigeria, protests demanding the release and rescue of the girls had become a daily occurrence in the last two weeks. Also in Britain, about 100 demonstrators gathered outside the Nigerian High Commission in London, on May 4, chanting, “Bring them back!” and “Not for sale!” There were similar rallies on Saturday, May 3, in Los Angeles and London as well.
Apart from protests, the Twitter hash-tag: ‘#BringBackOurGirls’, has become a global means of putting pressure on the world powers to take drastic actions to rescue the girls. The twitter has also provided an avenue for prominent world leaders to lend their voice and support to the demand for the release of the captives. Hillary Clinton, former United States secretary of state, tweeted on May 4: “Access to education is a basic right & an unconscionable reason to target innocent girls. We must stand up to terrorism.” That was the message of Nicole Lee, outgoing president of the TransAfrica Forum, who said on a Cable News Network, CNN, news programme: “We need to take ownership as if this happened in Chicago or this happened in Washington, D.C. We need to be talking about this. I think people are doing that. It’s catching fire.” Michelle Obama, US first lady, also joined in, tweeting: “Our prayers are with the missing Nigerian girls and their families. It’s time to #BringBackOurGirls.”
The United Nations on its part, wrote a letter to President Goodluck Jonathan and members of the international community stressing the urgent need to rescue the abducted girls. In the letter, Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged President Jonathan to take steps to rescue the 276 (police figure) pupils. Pillay said failure to protect the girls was a violation of human rights. She also warned Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram leader, against selling the girls, as he had threatened, because it would amount to crimes against humanity. The UN High Commissioner made her position known in a statement in Geneva through Rupert Colville, her spokesperson. The statement said: “We are deeply concerned about the outrageous claims made in a video believed to be by the leader of Boko Haram in Nigeria yesterday, in which he brazenly says he will sell the abducted schoolgirls ‘in the market’ and ‘marry them off’, referring to them as ‘slaves.’ We condemn the violent abduction of these girls, reportedly at gunpoint from their school in Chibok in Borno State in North-Eastern Nigeria.
“We warn the perpetrators that there is an absolute prohibition against slavery and sexual slavery in international law. These can, under certain circumstances, constitute crimes against humanity. The girls must be immediately returned, unharmed, to their families.” The UN high commissioner who signed the letter along with seven human rights organisations, “reminded the Nigerian Government of its legal responsibility to ensure that girls and boys have the fundamental rights to education and to be protected from violence, persecution and intimidation.”
Overwhelmed by the weight of local and international pressures, Nigeria, in apparent state of helplessness and frustration, turned to the international community and pleaded for assistance from friendly countries to enable it to successfully rescue the abducted girls. Speaking on CNN on Monday, May 5, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, minister of finance and coordinating minister for the economy, said Nigeria needed international assistance to track the terrorists and get the girls released “because you are dealing with people that you don’t know, and you don’t know…what they might do to these girls.” The minister said she always felt sad that government had not been able to rescue the girls, but insisted that the government remained committed to finding the girls, but should have done a better job explaining the situation to the public. “Have we communicated what is being done properly? The answer is no, that people did not have enough information,” Okonjo-Iweala said.
That perhaps prompted President Goodluck Jonathan to cry out for international assistance during his presidential media chat on Sunday, May 4. He seized the opportunity to inform the nation that Nigeria had enlisted the support of many countries in its efforts to tackle the security challenges in the country. “We have been talking to heads of states from countries that could help us. From the beginning of this crisis, the United States has been assisting us. I have personally made requests to President Obama. I have always asked them to send their people to come and join our troops and see what we are doing. Don’t just sit there and say that we are committing human rights abuses. We have been talking with the Prime Minster of UK (United Kingdom), Premier of China and others.
“They have been helpful one way or the other. We have been making requests and will continue to make requests. We are trying. The security and intelligence services are trying and if you have been working in places like Yobe, Damaturu and others, you will see what is happening. There is only one Nigeria on earth. Even if it is one person that is being killed by this madness called Boko Haram, I feel pained.”
The president’s campaign paid off. On Tuesday, May 6, in a dramatic turn of events, John Kerry, United States secretary of state, called President Jonathan on phone to communicate President Barrack Obama’s offer to help Nigeria to rescue the abducted girls. A statement by Reuben Abati, special adviser to the president on media and publicity, on the acceptance of the offer, disclosed that the assistance would include the deployment of US security personnel and assets to work with their Nigerian counterparts in the search and rescue operation.
“Mr. Kerry assured President Jonathan that the United States is wholly committed to giving Nigeria all the required support and assistance to save the abducted girls and bring the reign of terror unleashed on parts of the country by Boko Haram to an end,” the statement said in part. The US Pentagon, according to an authoritative source, has decided to send no fewer than 10 military troops to Nigeria as part of the US contribution to help find the kidnapped girls. Steve Warren, a colonel and Pentagon spokesman, said the troops would be arriving in a few days as part of the larger US assistance team to include State Department and Justice Department personnel. According to Warren, the military members would help with communications, logistics and intelligence planning.
President Obama, in a television programme, disclosed that Nigeria had accepted a US offer to send a team of experts to help the country find the missing girls. “We’ve already sent in a team to Nigeria, consisting of military, law enforcement, and other agencies,” he said. According to him, the team would work to “identify where, in fact, these girls might be and provide them help.” Obama denounced the Boko Haram sect and described the kidnapping of the Chibok schoolgirls as “heartbreaking” and “outrageous” and called for an international response. He said: “This may be the event that helps to mobilise the entire international community to finally do something against this horrendous organisation that’s perpetrated such a terrible crime,” which he also described as “one of the worst regional or local terrorist organisations.” Speaking on the girls again on Thursday, May 8, Obama said: “Everyday when I wake up, I think of the school girls in Nigeria or the children in Syria, makes me want to reach out to save those kids.”
As if some world powers were waiting for the US to take the lead, Britain also followed immediately after the Us assistance was announced. William Hague, British foreign minister, similarly announced the decision of Britain to offer practical help to Nigeria. Hague spoke with reporters as he arrived for a meeting of the Council of Europe in Vienna, on Tuesday, May 6, to discuss ways to defuse the situation in Ukraine, where the government was trying to quell an insurrection by pro-Russian activists. “What has happened here… the action of Boko Haram to use girls as the spoils of war, the spoils of terrorism, is disgusting. It is immoral,” he said. Hague refused to discuss in details the kind of help Britain would be giving to Nigeria.
Hague’s promise was buttressed by David Cameron, British prime minister, who in his parliamentary speech on Tuesday, May 6, said the British aid was already helping to educate 600,000 Nigerian girls and that he had pledged to offer further assistance when he spoke to the Nigerian president on Wednesday, May 7, afternoon. “This is not just a Nigerian issue, it is a global issue. There are extreme Islamists around our world who are against education, against progress, against equality and we must fight them and take them on wherever they are,” Cameron told fellow members of British House of Commons. Besides, he said his reaction to Boko Haram’s abduction of the Nigerian schoolgirls was like that of any other parent around the world because of the evil intention. “This is an act of pure evil. It’s time for united people across the planet to stand with Nigeria to help find these children and return them to their parents,” he said.
On Wednesday, May 7, France offered to send security service agents to Nigeria to help recover the abducted girls. Laurent Fabius, French foreign minister, was quoted as telling the nation’s lawmakers that “the president has instructed that we put the intelligence services at the disposal of Nigeria and neighbouring countries. This morning, he asked us to contact the Nigerian president to tell him that a specialised unit with all the means we have in the region was at the disposal of Nigeria to help find and recover these young girls. In the face of such ignominy, France must react. This crime cannot be left unpunished.”
Similarly, the Peoples’ Republic of China also offered to assist in the effort to rescue the abducted girls. Abati, in a statement on Wednesday, said Li Keqiang, Chinese premier, had conveyed the assurance of China to the Nigerian president to assist the country in its efforts towards rescuing the girls. The statement said in part: “In talks with President Jonathan earlier today, Premier Li Keqiang promised that his country will make any useful information acquired by its satellites and intelligence services available to Nigeria’s security agencies. Mr. Keqiang assured the president that China will support Nigeria’s fight against terrorism in every possible way, including the training of military personnel for anti-insurgency operations.”
On its part, Canada promised to supply surveillance equipment to help find the girls. According to Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for Stephen Harper, the prime minister, in an e-mail said: “Canada will provide surveillance equipment and the technical expertise to operate it.” MacDonald was responding to an earlier report that the Jonathan government had asked Canada to provide surveillance equipment in the wake of the kidnap by the Boko Haram terrorists.
Following the torrential offers of foreign assistance to counter Boko Haram insurgency, the Nigerian security chiefs have also been meeting to re-strategise on how to deal with the situation. For instance, Sambo Dasuki, national security adviser, met Alex Badeh, air marshal and Chief of Defence Staff, and other service chiefs, on Wednesday, May 7. The meeting was said to have centred on the review of the search-and-rescue operation by troops and the limits of foreign intervention in the counter-insurgency battle against Boko Haram in the Northeast. The meeting, which lasted for several hours, “ focused on the review of the rescue operation for the 276 abducted girls by troops in the Northeast and alleged mass killing of people in Gamboru-Ngala axis in Borno State. Based on clues, troops have made some inroad into Sambisa area but the main challenge is locating the exact camps where the girls are kept. Again, the security chiefs prefer to rescue the girls alive than launch an outright attack on the insurgents who are using the girls as shields,” a source reportedly said. On Thursday, May 8, Dasuki and security service chiefs paid a visit to Chibok on a fact-finding mission.
The need for international assistance was, somehow, given more impetus on Thursday, May 8, when 310 shallow graves were discovered along the border between Nigeria and Cameroon. The graves were suspected to be the result of massacres which happened when Boko Haram gunmen, in armoured vehicles, stormed Gamborou Ngala town in Borno State, on Monday, May 5. The insurgents were said to have fired sporadic shots into the crowd at the local market before proceeding into the town to set it on fire. Gamborou, situated along Nigeria-Cameroon border, is the administrative headquarters of Ngala local government in Borno state, about 200km from Maiduguri, the capital city.
Ahmed Zannah, a senator, who is from the area, confirmed the killings, saying the invaders spent 12 hours wreaking havoc on defenceless civilians. He said several other persons were also injured in the attack, while almost all the houses and shops in the town were burnt down. He said that the attackers were armed with dangerous weapons comprising armoured personnel carriers, APC, improvised explosive devices, IEDs, petrol bombs, assault rifles and rocket propelled launchers, RPGs. According to him: “The attackers stormed the communities in the night when residents were still sleeping, setting ablaze houses, shops and residents who tried to escape from the fire, were shot.” Boko Haram sect said it was responsible for the attack.
Abubakar Shekau, leader of the sect, similarly claimed that the group was responsible for the kidnap of the Chibok girls. In a video clip released to some foreign media representatives, Shekau, threatened to sell off the abducted girls in defiance of international outrage that greeted their kidnapping. Shekau said in Hausa: “I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah. We will also give their hands in marriage because they are our slaves. We will marry them out at the age of nine. We will marry them out at the age of 12, it depends on our choice.” The terrorist leader, who spoke in Hausa and Arabic languages interchangeably, said the girls were captured because they were seeking Western education. He insisted: “Western education is sin, it is forbidden, and women must go and marry.”
Shekau and the sect are believed to have succeeded so far because they have some powerful sponsors within and outside Nigeria. Even when the government said it was in possession of its backers, it has refused to make the list public, which perhaps, explains why security agencies have not been able to nib in the bud some of the attacks before they are carried out. It also became apparent that the security agencies had not been sharing information when President Jonathan publicly urged the new current security chiefs to endeavour to share information so as to succeed in defeating the insurgence. The president also lamented that the security operations had also been hampered by infiltration of Boko Haram sympathisers in the government because it appeared the insurgents were always a step ahead of the military. Jonathan was made to clarify his assessment during the recent media chat. “I never said Boko Haram infiltrated my cabinet. The cabinet includes the President, Vice President and the ministers. I said Boko Haram has infiltrated the government. I never mentioned cabinet,” he said.
With the flurry of activities in recent times, the president would not need to convince the likes of Governor Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State, who recently accused the Jonathan administration of a deliberate genocide against the North. Nyako had in a letter dated April 16, 2014 to all the 18 northern state governors, titled: “On On-Going Full-Fledged Genocide in Northern Nigeria,” accused the federal government and the armed forces of carrying out genocide against the northern states with impunity. He had alleged that President Jonathan had no exit strategy to the problem of insurgency. The governor argued that whereas the government ought to have declared amnesty to the insurgents, the administration had, instead, behaved as if all was well. He also accused the government of being responsible for the wanton destruction of lives and properties and the kidnapping of school children in the North-East.
In its reaction, the Presidency described the call by Nyako for the withdrawal of the military from Adamawa, Borno and Yobe as his open endorsement of the Boko Haram insurgency. “The content of Nyako’s letter exposed him as lacking a sense of history as well as incapable of rising above parochial sentiments. The letter was extremely divisive and intentionally meant to incite one section of the country against the other. Nyako’s action is a pathetic embarrassment to the Nigerian military, from where he derives his career antecedents,’’ the Presidency said in a statement.
Realnews learnt that it was pressure from the international community and skeptics such as Nyako that forced President Jonathan to accept international assistance to tackle Boko Haram insurgence. But before then, a number of people had warned that accepting international help would expose the country to international attack, especially from the US and Europe. One of those who warned against international help was Jerry Rawlings, former Ghanaian president, who agreed that the military alone could not stop the insurgency being perpetrated by Boko Haram. Speaking at the 70th birthday ceremony of Tom Ikimi, a former senator and a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Benin, Edo State, on April 25, 2014, Rawlings pleaded that as the most populous African nation, Nigeria must not allow the international community to come into its affairs due to the prevailing insecurity, asserting that the war on terror would be won if all Nigerians would work in unity. While expressing regrets about the state of insecurity in the country, Rawlings said: “Nigeria’s political might is about 35 percent in Africa and that is why Nigeria must show the way in leading Africa. The way the world is going, Nigeria must not suffer vulnerability or others will take advantage of the problem. In my country in 1979, there was no food in the market; things were very terrible. But today there is food in the market but people cannot afford it. Don’t do something that people outside will take advantage of. The situation on the ground is not what the military can curb alone, it has eaten into the fabric of the society and that is why it is, in a way, gaining strength. The thing should not be left for government alone but the society must begin to examine itself, come together, strategize together, otherwise ladies and gentlemen may not be able to handle this problem today or tomorrow.”
Kofi Annan, former UN secretary-general, who had always favoured diplomacy ahead of force, said it was clear that force had to be used to rescue the girls. Speaking on Christiane Amanpour’s programme on CNN, on Wednesday, May 7, said: “I think the government should do all it can to get the girls free,” he said, “and I’m very happy that the US, the UK, and other governments are teaming up with Nigeria to resolve this issue.” But he also chided Nigeria for not acting fast enough. “I wish this had happened earlier, but it is happening, and the Nigerian people are also demanding action,” he said.
While welcoming the international assistance, Mohammadu Buhari, a retired major-general and a chieftain of the APC, said it had become clear that the Boko Haram sect was bent on disrupting the unity of the country. “They do not mean well for our country and her citizens. I am a Muslim, I am versed in the teaching of Christianity and I understand both religions seek peaceful co-existence of all humanity. I wish to reiterate that there is no justification whatsoever for this unrestrained disregard for the sanctity of human life. It has no place in the Holy Quran and neither does it have a place in the Holy Bible,” he said. Commending international action against the insurgence, the former head of state said: “Let these people know that the entire civilised world is united against their terrorist act. We are grateful to the world for standing by Nigeria at this trying time. We hope and pray that the young ladies will be reunited with their respective families in the days to come… We are therefore glad that the federal government has accepted international support in the search for the missing girls and for an end to the insurgency in parts of the country.”
Buhari also warned that nothing should divide Nigeria as a nation. “I fought for a united Nigeria. In my old age, I want my grandchildren, your grandchildren, our youths and indeed all Nigerians to benefit from a prosperous and united country devoid of sectarian violence whether home grown or imposed on us from outside,” he said.
Tony Etiuzale, a public commentator, does not see international intervention to end Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria as a threat or conspiracy to weaken its sovereignty. As far as he is concerned, it is a welcome development since the “Nigerian military is bereft of ideas and imbued with unnecessary pride.” He said the technological know-how of foreign powers, and high tech surveillance equipment from the US would be of good use to Nigeria. Etiuzale said Nigeria could get the kind of technology being used in advanced countries to track and deal with terrorists if only the military would shun corruption.
Ebongabasi Ekpe-Juda, a security expert, told Realnews that it was not totally bad for Nigeria to accept international assistance, but said such assistance should be well defined in order not to jeopardise the national security of the country. He also said the country must be careful about what it would be giving in return for the assistance. “I know that America has an interest in having a command base in the Niger Delta, which we have resisted in the past. We should not hand over our security to foreign interest if we still want to maintain our integrity,” he said. However, Ekpe-Juda agreed that the US could teach Nigeria a lot in counter-terrorism and as such it would be fruitful to cooperate with the country. That notwithstanding, he said the foreign intervention would send a message to the Boko Haram sect that there is no hiding place for it anymore.
Apart from establishing military foothold in the country, foreign assistance, it is believed could as well provide market for the intervening countries to sell security equipment. According to experts, it would mean providing training for Nigerian security agencies to catch up with the modern way of curbing international terrorism. Besides, allowing the insurgence to fester could similarly harm the interest of the Western world because it would not be able to continue trade with African nations which would eventually provide breeding grounds for terrorists to launch attacks on Europe and America.
However, the Nigerian government was said to have insisted that the Nigerian military would still be the pivot of the operations in the North-East. Labaran Maku, minister of information, on Thursday, May 8, allayed fears of Nigerians that the nation’s security might be ceded to foreigners. He said the foreign assistance would not jeopardise the nation’s security. This, perhaps, gave the defence headquarters courage to assure protesters from different parts of the country that it was treating the issue of the abduction of the girls as a special test case, pointing out that the military was committed to bringing back the girls. Chris Olukolade, a major-general and director, Defence Information, made the disclosure to the media and scores of protesters after a closed door meeting between selected leaders of a protest group that stormed DHQ and top officers in the military hierarchy. “Nigerian military is freshly committed to finding the girls. Let me assure the Nigerian public that the best will be done to bring back our girls safe and alive. Please, keep supporting us, keep praying along. We will get results very soon,” Olukolade said.
On its part, the Nigeria Police Force, on Wednesday, May 7, announced a cash reward of N50 million to anyone who volunteered credible information that could lead to the rescue of the girls from Boko Haram insurgents. The force assured all citizens that any information given would be treated anonymously and with utmost confidentiality.
All these must have given President Jonathan the courage to tell the three-day World Economic Forum for Africa participants on Thursday, May 8, that the Boko Haram insurgents would soon be a thing of the past. Only time will tell.