•Sues for peace, unity in Benue
By Lawrence Olaoye, Abuja and Uche Nnorom, Makurdi
President Muhammadu Buhari has said that his government did not apply military force to secure the release of the adopted Chibok and Dapchi secondary schools girls by the Boko Haram insurgents in order to rescue them alive.
The President made this clarification while receiving the American Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson at the Presidential Villa yesterday.
He told Tillerson that he, instead, opted to negotiate the release of the girls with their captors
About 217 girls were abducted from Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State by the dreaded Boko Haram insurgents while they were writing their West African School Certificate (WASC) examinations in 2014.
While the government had secured above 100 of them through negotiations, about same figure has yet to be released by the insurgents. As the nation awaits the return of the remaining Chibok girls, remnants of same group of Boko Haram abducted other 110 girls from Government Girls Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe state, this year.
In a statement made available to newsmen by Buhari’s Spokesman, Femi Adesina, after close door meeting with Tillerson, the President gave the assurance that Nigeria is working in concert with international organizations and negotiators, to ensure that the girls are released unharmed by their captors.
“We are trying to be careful. It is better to get our daughters back alive,” the President said.
He thanked America for assistance rendered in the fight against insurgency, noting that Nigerian forces are good, “but need assistance in the areas of training and equipment.”
President Buhari promised that his administration would continue to do its best to secure the country, adding that he would be in Yobe State, from where Dapchi schoolgirls were abducted, later this week “as part of my condolence and sympathy visits to areas where we have had unfortunate events.”
The President pledged free and fair polls in 2019, recalling that the then American Secretary of State, John Kerry, had visited before the 2015 polls, “and he told the party in government then, and those of us in opposition, to behave ourselves, and we did.”
The visiting Secretary of State commended President Buhari on his strides in the anti-corruption war, to which the Nigerian leader responded that moneys recovered are being invested on development of infrastructure.
Mr. Tillerson said Nigeria is a very important country to the U.S, stressing: “You have our support in your challenges. We will also support opportunities to expand the economy, commercial investments, and peaceful polls in 2019.”
Asked specifically what America intends to do to assist Nigeria to ensure the rescue of the Dapchi girls, Tillerson said “First, we respect the responsibilities of the government of Nigeria and the territorial integrity of Nigeria. But the way we support is in providing them capability capacity with equipment, and also, training of the personnel of special operations and sharing intelligence, to ensure that they have all the information available to carry out the recovery effort.
“But I think it is also important to put this in a broad regional context as well. Boko Haram is a threat to other region, and this has been the subject of my meetings elsewhere and in Africa as well. In my discussion with President Derby in Chad earlier today, we spoke about the threat of Boko Haram; and I think it is important, and it’s really been powerful, the collaboration between the joint task force which Nigeria is a part and Chad is a part, to respond to this threat of terrorism which Boko Haram is one of the organizations. There are other threats that the leadership of this country has to deal with.
“So, the United States is ready to engage and coordinate efforts as well. But we have been supporting, equipping, training and when we can provide information. I think that is the best way we have been helping the government of Nigeria secure the release of the girls, which we hope will be done in a peaceful manner. We hope that something can be worked out, and they can secure the release of these girls quickly.”
President Muhammadu Buhari also, yesterday, sued for restraint by all Nigerians to ensure peace and unity of the country.
He cautioned stakeholders and leaders in Benue state to show restraints and allow the security agencies handle the incessant herders/farmers crisis.
President gave the advise while responding to various remarks by various stakeholders during his Town Hall meeting at the Government House in Makurdi during his one day state visit to commiserate with the victims of herders/farmers clashes in the state.
The President also appealed to the leaders to convince their constituents that the Federal Government is doing its best to end the recurring attacks by armed herdsmen in various parts of the country.
According to him, “The governor and I, and others here know that we will leave one day, but the relationship between farmers and herders will continue. I urge you to keep in touch with them and advise them to live peacefully. Nigeria has over 250 ethnic groups with different cultures and nobody can question God for putting us together.”
The President while noting that he was not in the habit of publicly rebuking his appointees as many would desire, said that he preferred to quietly “read the riot act” as he did to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) when the Benue attacks began.
He disclosed that he even shared the IGP’s security report on the Benue crisis with Senators George Akume and Barnabas Gemade from the state.
Recalling his Civil War era memories with military officers from Benue State, he noted that his nostalgic experience with such persons would never allow him to do harm to the state.
“I have friends from here, and there is no way I can deliberately overlook what is happening here and other parts of the country,” the President said.
Reacting to what he called a “shopping list” by some stakeholders, the President enjoined them to pray for the economy to improve, noting that he would not make any promises during this trip. He, however, stressed that, “When coming back on campaign, if coming back on campaign, I may promise.”
Governor Samuel Ortom had thanked President Buhari for visiting and listening patiently to the representatives of socio-cultural groups, farmers, herdsmen, national and state legislators, former leaders and elder statesmen, among others, described him as “a father known for his integrity and fight for justice.”
Noting that the attacks by armed herdsmen predated the current administration, the governor said the recent attacks had displaced 170,000 people with children of school age constituting 60 per cent.
He called for support for ranching, compensation for victims of the attacks and rebuilding of destroyed houses and farms, as well as the upgrading of the current military exercise to a “military operation.”
Governor Ortom also appealed to the Federal Government to fix some major roads in the state and take over the state polytechnic and college of education among other demands.