President Summons Governors To Security Council Meeting, 121 Girls Regain Freedom
Disturbed by the avalanche of security challenges facing the country as a result of the activities of the terrorist Boko Haram sect, President Goodluck Jonathan has summoned members of the National Security Council, including the 36 state governors, to an emergency meeting billed for today at 11 am.
The decision to summon the meeting Wednesday preceded the announcement by the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) last night that 121 of the female students abducted from the Government Girls’ Secondary School, Chibok in Borno State on Monday night, had been freed by the military.
With this development, the principal of the school confirmed that only eight of the students were still missing but efforts were underway to locate them, said the DHQ spokesman, Major-General Chris Olukolade.
One of the terrorists who carried out the attack on the school was also captured, he added.
However, the girls’ abduction has elicited global outrage with the former British Prime Minister and UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Mr. Gordon Brown, UNICEF and China condemning their kidnapping and calling for their immediate release.
The Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, also promised to give N50 million to anyone with information that could lead to the whereabouts of the remaining abducted students.
Notice of the meeting of the National Security Council, which will be presided over by the president, was contained in a statement issued by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati.
Those expected at the meeting include Vice-President Namadi Sambo; Minister of Defence, Lt.-Gen Aliyu Gusau (rtd); National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd.); Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh; other service chiefs; Inspector-General of Police (IG) Mohammed Abubakar; Director-General of the State Security Services; and the Director-General of National Intelligence Agency.
The meeting, according to the statement, would be followed at 1 pm by an enlarged meeting on security developments in the country to which the president invited the 36 state governors.
“President Jonathan, members of the National Security Council and the state governors will review the security situation in the country as well as ongoing national security measures and operations with a view to determining the best way forward.
“President Jonathan reassures all Nigerians and persons living in the country that the federal government remains very mindful of its responsibility for the safety of their lives and properties in all parts of Nigeria and will continue to do everything possible to protect them from the scourge of terrorism and insecurity.
“The president is particularly concerned about the plight of the young senior secondary school girls who were reportedly abducted from their school in Borno State on Monday night and has ordered the military and national security agencies to deploy maximum efforts towards rescuing all the girls and returning them safely to their parents.
“He welcomes reports that the military and security agencies have already rescued some of the girls.
“President Jonathan deeply regrets the pain, sorrow and anguish brought upon many Nigerian families in recent days as a consequence of recurring security challenges which the nation is contending with.
“The president remains convinced that with the patriotic commitment and support of all Nigerians, the country will ultimately overcome its present challenges and move forward in unity and strength.
“In this regard, President Jonathan will be pleased to see all politicians in the country exhibiting greater responsibility and patriotism by doing more to support his administration’s sincere efforts to enhance national security rather than trying to build political capital out of the pain and misery of their compatriots,” the statement concluded.
Meanwhile, DHQ confirmed last night that 121 of the 129 girls who were abducted Monday night were freed by troops who closed in on the den of those believed to have carried out the attack on the school.
The DHQ spokesman, Olukolade maintained that a total of 129 students were abducted by a group of terrorists.
He however assured Nigerians that the security forces were working together with the locals to ensure that all the students regained their freedom.
A security source disclosed to THISDAY that some of the abductors are well known to the members of the community who were making frantic efforts yesterday to ensure that the girls were freed.
However, before news of the 121 girls who had regained their freedom broke, the Borno State governor, Shettima, had at a press briefing earlier yesterday promised to give N50 million to anyone with information that might lead to the whereabouts of the students.
The governor said his government was willing to do everything to ensure that the female students were reunited with their families.
He said he had been in constant touch with the principal of the school and the leaders of Chibok and had got everyone involved in the search of the students.
The governor, who was in a pensive mood at the press briefing, said: “The Commissioner for Education has been in constant touch with the school and the people of the town. I have also been speaking to the principal and the district head of Chibok on an hourly basis.”
Shettima while making a pledge of N50 million for anyone with information that could lead to the freedom of the abducted students from the Boko Haram enclave, said he was uncertain of the precise number of girls who were kidnapped.
He said the school had even opened a register for parents to come and give information about their missing wards, stressing that so far, parents had complained of 50 missing students.
He said he would have travelled to Chibok yesterday but for security reports which advised him to stay away, as military operations were ongoing to comb the area for the insurgents.
He said: “I want to go to Chibok but was advised against it because of military operations going on around there.”
When asked how some of the girls regained their freedom, Shettima said information reaching him had revealed that 10 of the girls were asked by the insurgents to prepare their meals, and they took the opportunity that presented itself when they were washing plates, to flee the camp.
Shettima added that the time called for sober reflection and should not be used to apportion blame, insisting that everyone was required to contribute his quota to find the students and reunite them with their families.
He said: “I want to appreciate the efforts of the military in the task of bringing peace back to the state.”
Shettima said he would not rest until all the abducted students are reunited with their families.
He said it was unfortunate that the students were abducted, as the state had envisaged something like this might happen and had put in place strategies to check it.
He said one of the strategies was the premature closure of schools about two weeks ago, stressing that his government had closed down schools in the state knowing that the insurgents might strike.
Subsequently, Shettima added that the state government was compelled to bring the students to a central and secure place to write their WAEC/SSCE examination.
He said at various times whenever information was received, schools under threat of attacks had been closed.
He said: “We have had cause to close down prematurely the schools in the state. Students of GSS Konduga were rescued on the day Konduga was attacked. We congregated all the students in a central place. Students were moved from Mafa to Maiduguri to guard against attacks.”
He regretted the abduction of the students of the school in Chibok, stating that since the town is a largely Christian community, it was not anticipated that it would be attacked, adding that the state government had been given the assurance that the school was safe.
Also, reacting to the kidnapping of the schoolgirls, former British prime minister said it was time for the world to wake up to the threat to girls and boys who simply want to go to school in Nigeria.
Drawing the attention of the world to the plight of school children in the North-east, Brown said: “Over 100 girls were abducted in an attack on a school in North-east Nigeria earlier today. A few weeks ago, over 40 children were murdered in an attack on their school.
“The abduction from the school in Chibok, Borno State, follows the bombings yesterday, which killed more than 70 people in the capital, Abuja.
"The attacks are blamed on the same group, Boko Haram, whose name means, ‘Western education is forbidden’.
“The threat to children who simply want an education has led to hundreds of deaths in the last three years. Massacres of innocent boys and girls are not uncommon. This year alone, the group’s fighters have killed more than 1,500 civilians, hundreds of them children, in three states in North-east Nigeria.
“Boko Haram condemns what they say is a ‘Western-style education’, and its militants frequently target schools and educational institutions.
“Approximately one dozen girls escaped last night’s (Monday) attack. Running into the bush and wandering until daybreak, they returned to Chibok to find over 170 houses burnt down from the attack.”
Brown pledged the commitment of the UN to continue to support the Nigerian government to ensure that violence against children is stopped and all Nigerian boys and girls have the right to go to school safely.
Similarly, China yesterday condemned the girls’ abduction and voiced its firm support for the Nigerian government.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, was quoted by the country’s news agency Xinhua, in conjunction with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) as saying: “In reference to the raid on the girls’ college in Chibok Town in northeastern Nigeria, China strongly condemns and opposes terrorism in all forms.
“We urge the immediate release of those innocent students and assurance of their safety.”
She said China, as Nigeria’s strategic cooperative partner, would continue to firmly support the Nigerian government to safeguard its national security and stability.
On the same note, UNICEF yesterday condemned in strong terms the abduction of the schoolgirls from their school hostel and called for their immediate and unconditional release.
In a statement issued by UNICEF and signed by Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Manuel Fontaine, the UN body said it “is deeply concerned about the persistent trend of attacks on schools in Nigeria. Most recently, unidentified gunmen killed 53 children between 13 and 17 years old at the Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Yobe State, in February”.
According to Fontaine, “Such brutal acts of violence are unacceptable. Attacks on schools deny children their right to learn in a safe environment and can rob them of their future. Wherever it takes place, abduction of children is a crime and illegal under international law.”
While expressing its solidarity with the communities affected by the horrific acts, UNICEF assured the affected communities that it “stands with the families of the abducted children in these difficult times” as well as called for greater efforts to protect all children throughout Nigeria.
Fontaine added: “The Nigerian government should urgently take steps to make sure that the children are returned to their families unharmed and that they can continue their education in a safe environment.”