Eminent leaders across the world yesterday called for a change of tactics in the concerted global efforts to search and rescue the over 200 girls who are students of the Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno state kidnapped by the dreaded Boko Haram insurgents.
This is coming as mass protests, code named ‘Bring Back Out Girls’, continued in the nation’s major states capital including Lafia, Nasarawa state, Jos, Plateau state and Ibadan, capital of Oyo state.
It was also learnt that the insurgents who kidnapped the schoolgirls are seeking a prisoners’ swap for their jailed colleagues.
In an open letter published yesterday, the high level group of business, civil society and religious leaders, called on the Nigerian authorities and international community to mobilise all necessary resources and expertise to help locate and free the missing girls.
The letter signed by over 40 eminent world personalities reads: “On April 14, more than 200 schoolgirls were abducted at gunpoint from Chibok community in Borno State, Nigeria. 24 days later, the girls are still missing.
We urge all local, national and regional governments, with the full support of the international community, to dedicate their expertise and resources – from satellite imagery to intelligence services to multinational corporations’ supply chains – to #BringBackOurGirls.”
Among those prominent world leaders calling for change of approach include Aliko and Halima Dangote, Dangote Group, Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group and co-Chair of the B Team, Mohamed Azab, Bill and Melinda Gates, co-Founders and co-Chairs of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Representative of the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ela Bhatt, Founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association of India and Member of the Elders, President Fernando H Cardoso, Former President of Brazil and Member of the Elders, Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and Former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Mo and Hadeel Ibrahim, Mo Ibrahim Foundation and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Finance Minister of Nigeria and Amina J Mohammed, United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advisor.
Others include Abdoulie Janneh, Former Executive-Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Graça Machel, Member of the Elders, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women, Bineta Diop, African Union Special Envoy for Women Peace and Security, Rupert Murdoch, Chairman of NewsCorp and Chairman and CEO of 21st Century Fox, Festus Mogae, former President of Botswana, Chairperson of the Coalition for Dialogue on Africa, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Honorary Member of the Elders and Salim Ahmed Salim, Former Secretary-General of the Organisation of African Unity amongst others.
Protests across states
In a related development, protests continued to trail the abduction of the girls across the country in Lafia, Jos, Ibadan and other cities across the country yesterday.
In Lafia, Nasarawa state, members of the Federation of Muslim Women Association in Nigeria (FOMWAN) as well as the women wing of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), staged a joint protest in Lafia, demanding for the immediate release of the 200 girls abducted in Chibok, Borno state by the Boko Haram sect.
The women, who turned up in black to express grief over the abduction saga, staged a peaceful protest, with members of the two religious group marching side by side through major streets of Lafia before converging at the Government House where they presented a letter stating their grievances to the Governor.
After submitting their letter to Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura, represented by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Zainab Abdulmumini, the group later broke into two for a prayer session where both religions prayed for God’s intervention for the release of the abducted girls and for peace to reign across the country.
Similarly, hundreds of women yesterday in Jos, capital of Plateau State, organised a protest asking for the rescue of the girls.
The protesters in their hundreds converged at the Old Airport Junction in Jos and walked to the deputy governor’s office at Rayfield where they submitted a letter signed by Pastor Esther Ibanga of Women Without Walls Initiative, Haj. Khadija Gambo Hawaja of Muslim Women Peace Forum and Mrs. Elizabeth Rindams of Christian Women for Excellence and Empowerment in Nigerian Society.
Pastor Ibanga in her remark, called on the federal government to take all necessary measures to return the abducted girls and secure the country’s borders.
Jonathan meets with US Ambassador
Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday met with the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. James Entwistle, to discuss modalities for the actualization of the offer made by President Barrack Obama to assist Nigeria in rescuing the girls abducted from Chibok, Borno State.
According to a statement made available to newsmen by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, Jonathan at the talks reiterated Nigeria’s appreciation of the United States’ offer to deploy U.S. security personnel and assets to work with their Nigerian counterparts in the search and rescue operation, which was conveyed to him on Tuesday by the U.S. Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry.
He told Mr. Entwistle and other delegations which met separately with him at the venue of the World Economic Forum that the much greater support which Nigeria was receiving from the United States and other members of the international community in the aftermath of the Chibok abductions, will certainly help the country to rapidly overcome the Boko Haram insurgency.
Others received by President Jonathan include the President of Ghana, Mr. John Mahama and the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Mr. Kadré Désiré Ouédraogo who brought him a message of solidarity from ECOWAS Heads of State and Government.
President Mahama informed President Jonathan that to support Nigeria’s efforts to rescue the abducted girls and defeat terrorism, ECOWAS leaders have decided to invoke the community’s protocols on counter-terrorism.
The Ghanaian leader said that a meeting of Heads of Intelligence Services of ECOWAS member-countries will hold in Accra next week to work out a new framework for intelligence sharing in support of the effort to eradicate the threat of terrorism in Nigeria and the entire West African Sub-Region.
President Jonathan also had private meetings with Prof. Klaus Schwab, the Founder of the World Economic Forum who said that Nigeria deserved the maximum solidarity of the world at this trying moment.
He later met with President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, former President Lula Da Silva of Brazil and the Prime Minister of Mali, Mr. Moussa Mara all of who conveyed the solidarity of their governments and people.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki Moon also spoke with President on the phone yesterday to convey the sympathy and solidarity of the global community with the government and people of Nigeria.
Moon assured President Jonathan that the United Nations was ready to help Nigeria in every possible way to rescue the abducted girls and achieve greater security of lives and property in all parts of the country.
The UN Secretary-General said he would send a high-level representative to Nigeria to discuss how the UN could support the Nigerian government’s efforts to tackle insurgency.
A statement issued by the secretary-general spokesman from Rome said Ban made the offer which was accepted by President Goodluck Jonathan on telephone.
“He called to personally express his deep concern at the fate of the recently kidnapped schoolgirls in Borno State and to express his solidarity with the people of Nigeria, and especially the girls’ families.
It stated that Jonathan briefed the Secretary-General on the current state of the search for the abducted girls.
Boko Haram swap deal
It was however gathered yesterday that the Boko Haram militants planned to use kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls as bargaining chips to free their arrested colleagues rather than kill them.
Comrade Shehu Sani, who has previously brokered face-to-face peace talks with Boko Haram, said he believed that the video in which its leader threatened to sell the girls as “slaves” was proof that it planned to use them as bargaining chips rather than kill them.
The video released earlier this week showed Abubakar Shekau gloating that he would sell the captives “in the market” to anyone wishing to take them as wives. But while the broadcast appalled the captives’ families and provoked worldwide outrage, Mr Sani saw it as a veiled attempt to reach out for a trade with the Nigerian government.
This is just as the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, yesterday said she is “deeply troubled and alarmed “by reports of alleged abduction of over 200 schoolgirls in Borno State, Nigeria, and the most recent reports that more schoolgirls have been abducted this week.
“Such acts shock the conscience of humanity and could constitute crimes that fall within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court , ICC, ” she said in a statement at the Hague.
“The troubling phenomenon of targeting females during conflict, this time, in Borno State, cannot be tolerated and must be stopped. No stone should be left unturned to bring those responsible for such atrocious acts to justice either in Nigeria or at the ICC,” stressed Bensouda.
Buhari expresses sympathy
However, former Head of State and a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd), yesterday commiserated with the families of the kidnapped Chibok girls.
While condemning the incidence, Buhari said “Our hearts are with families who have lost loved ones in this cycle of senseless violence. We also empathize with the parents of children whose daughters are in the custody of a group of anarchists.”