Following President Jonathan’s persistent reassurance that his administration is doing everything humanly possible to rescue the over 200 girls abducted from Government Girls College Chibok in April, the aftermath of last week’s meeting with escapees and
some parents of the victims is still generating ripples across country, writes Ohia Israel
It would be recalled that President Jonathan, while speaking at a meeting in the Presidential Villa with parents of the abducted girls, some of the girls who escaped from their abductors and leaders of the community, appealed for their patience, understanding and cooperation.
“Anyone, who gives you the impression that we are aloof and that we are not doing what we are supposed to do to get the girls out is not being truthful. Our commitment is not just to get the girls out, it is also to rout Boko Haram completely from Nigeria. But we are very, very mindful of the safety of the girls. We want to return them all alive to their parents. If they are killed in any rescue effort, then we have achieved nothing,” President Jonathan told the parents and community leaders at the meeting which was also attended by Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State, Governor Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State and the Senate President, Senator David Mark.
The President said that although he was yet to visit Chibok in the aftermath of the abductions, his heart was constantly with its traumatized parents and people, and his desire was to visit them when their daughters have been freed and they can receive him with smiling faces of joy, rather than with tears of anguish.
“Our duty now is to take all relevant steps to recover our girls alive and our primary interest is getting them out as safely as possible. I will not want to say much, but we are doing everything humanly possible to get the girls out.
“This is not the time for talking much. This is the time for action. We will get to the time that we will tell stories. We will get to the time that we will celebrate and I assure you that by God’s grace that time will come soon,” President Jonathan told them.
Responding to appeals from the community leaders for more help in overcoming some of the challenges imposed on Chibok and neighbouring communities by the Boko Haram insurgency, the President said that the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and Federal Medical Agencies will intensify their efforts to provide them with additional relief aid and assistance.
He also assured them that Chibok and other communities in the three North-Eastern States most affected by the Boko Haram insurgency will be the first beneficiaries of the Victims’ Support Fund, the Presidential Initiative for the North-East, the Safe Schools Initiative and other developmental programmes which the Federal Government is evolving to address the damage, losses, setbacks, economic and social dislocations occasioned by the Boko Haram insurgency.
“We solicit your maximum cooperation. Let us work together. Evil can never overcome good. We will surely overcome Boko Haram,” he told them. But the issue now is that a new controversy is brewing in Chibok village, in Borno State with parents of the abducted girls alleging that they have been shortchanged by Chibok community leaders who received 100 million naira cash gift from the Presidency, on their behalf.
Although a presidential aide denied any such gift to Chibok parents, through their leaders, one parent, Mr Abdu Halidu, told the BBC that he got only N200, 000 from the money. Now the parents of the missing girls are saying that the amount shared to them is unacceptable.
According to Mr Halidu “I got only N200, 000 out of the said N100 million. Some of us got N300,000 and some less than that. Our leaders in Abuja are using the girls to enrich themselves and this is unacceptable.”
Over 200 schoolgirls were abducted by gunmen who stormed the Government Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State, North-East Nigeria in the dead of the night of April 15, ordering all the girls out of their hostels into four lorries. On July 22, a special presidential meeting was held with the parents of the Chibok girls in the Presidential Villa which afforded the Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, the opportunity to empathize with the girls and their parents.
The President, after assuring the Chibok community of his Government’s determination to ensure that the abducted schoolgirls that are still in captivity are brought out alive, reassured them that everything would be done to make things easier for them especially the ones that have already escaped and the ones yet to be rescued.
President Jonathan also assured them that their education would not be allowed to suffer. The statement released by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr Reuben Abati, after the meeting made no mention of a cash gift to the parents.
Meanwhile, the leadership of Kibaku community, an umbrella body for the Chibok community, has denied claims that money exchanged hands after the community’s meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan.
National Publicity Secretary of the community, Mr Allen Manase, said that they also heard from the media that monies were given to the families of the abducted girls and such a story cannot be confirmed because they do not have any knowledge of the said exchange.
He went on to say that even if monies were to exchange hands it should have been given to the leadership of the community to ensure that it gets to all affected persons. He urged the Federal Government to instead concentrate on rescuing the girls and returning them to their families and then it can decide to help in rehabilitating them.
In a statement by Kibaku Area Development Association (Kada) they community denied ever receiving such money; “We are highly disturbed and disgusted by the recent information circulating in the media over alleged receipt of money by the leadership of Kibaku Area Development Association (KADA) from the Presidency. It is with deep sadness that we are addressing you today to state that the claim is completely false, malicious and unfounded. Our primary priority has and remains the rescue of our abducted 219 daughters. Our Association has been at the forefront of calling for decisive measures to secure their release.
“We took the moral high ground as a Community Association that represents the Chibok people in Abuja to facilitate the recent visit of parents of our abducted daughters and 51 of the 57 that escaped. We helped make that visit possible despite our misgivings that it was a poor substitute to our expectation that Mr. President should have visited Chibok even before the visit of our people for a tragedy that is now 107 days old.
“When the Presidency requested us to invite parents and escaped Chibok girls against 22nd July, 2014, we accepted the responsibility on the condition that we shall facilitate by way of contacting and mobilizing the parents and escaped girls thereby playing the sole role of facilitators.
“We clearly spelt out to the Presidency through the office of the Chief of Staff that we shall not be involved with any financial transaction whatsoever, including payment of transportation from Chibok to Yola, flight by air from Yola to Abuja, hotel accommodation and feeding in Abuja, intra-city transportation while in Abuja.
Speaking further they said; “We specifically conveyed our stand in that regard by a letter dated 18th July, 2014 of which copies are available for your perusal. The Presidency agreed to our request and made the arrangements for the conveyance of the parents and escaped girls from Chibok to Abuja, accommodated them and was responsible for their feeding and local transit.
“It is noteworthy that our primary and only goal is the safe return of the girls that are still in captivity. It is sad that we are losing sight of this to the allegation of sharing of money. We therefore want the world to understand that we, KADA, stand by our earlier position and DID NOT DEMAND, RECEIVE OR HANDLE ANY FINANCES throughout the process of the visit.”
The community also said; “On the night of the 22nd July, 2014 at about midnight, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Special Duties who had been coordinating the visit on the side of the Presidency, visited the hotel and told the 51 escaped girls who came that the Presidency sent them a token of N100,000.00 each and accordingly gave them the said sum without prior discussion with any KADA official or any other person in the community.
He equally gave the sum of N200,000.00 each to 61 parents out of the 122 parents that came on the visit. 51 Parents were given N100,000.00 each on the basis that the money given to him was not enough to go round at N200,000.00. The remaining 10 parents were not given any amount of money.
“As for the money given to some parents back home in Chibok, it was the sum of N1, 000,000.00 given to them by the Hon. Member of the House of Reps representing Chibok/Damboa/Gwoza Federal Constituency which is the source of the alleged N7,000.00 given to parents in Chibok that were not part of the visit.
“While we acknowledge that any well intended support for our suffering population which has lost means of livelihood since the events of April 14 and subsequent attacks could be welcome; however the approach that the Presidency adopted has brought reproach and dishonor to our community in the eyes of the public that has supported us since the abduction of our daughters.
“We hereby state categorically that NO AMOUNT OF MONEY whatsoever was given to KADA leadership to share among the parents and escaped girls or for whatever reason and therefore the allegation is completely baseless, false and malicious to say the least.”
Continuing to debunk the claims by some Nigerians that the Chibok parents sold the freedom of their daughters to the Federal Government, they said their children are priceless and they would continue to advocate their safe return.
Chibok community spokesperson in Abuja, Dauda Iliya, said the thought of anyone assuming that is insulting to the parents. He also said the community has settled the quarrel they had about money, as those back home now understood there was no money brought back to the village to distribute as earlier insinuated.
He said the money distributed in the community where some received N5,000 and others N7,000 was from the N1 million given to the villagers as Ramadan gift by a House of Representatives member.
Iliya spoke yesterday in Abuja, at the usual sit-out of the BringBackOurGirls protesters. He said: “We are credible people, we couldn’t have come here even after a 100 days advocating for the girls to be brought back if money was the issue.
“Sometimes you may see villagers, people that are humble farmers at home and all that and given the security situation and displacement at home, you may say that some people may be swayed by money but some people are firm in the belief that money is a distraction and our core focus is the rescue of these girls.
“It is simply mischief and blackmail; I don’t know if you are a parent but I am a parent and I know the value of children. Children are priceless, it is insulting to us to insinuate such, and there is no price you can pay for a child.”
He also said “there is no quarrel anymore, the mischief was around the fact of N1 million, which has been debunked completely. The people in Chibok where the entire mischief started also got to understand about the money that was shared to them where some of them got five or seven thousand, which they compared naturally with people that got a 100, 200,000 in Abuja.
“It became clear when they were told that no money was given to them in the village by the Presidential people. But a member of the House of Representatives gave N1 million at the hotel, which was handed over to the Chibok Local Government chairman. He took it and shared it his own way, how he came about the five or seven thousand naira is best known to him and those in Chibok’’, he said.
Former Minister of Education and a leader of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, condemned the presidency for allegedly doling out money to the parents of the abducted Chibok girls during a visit to the Aso Villa.
The Presidency through the Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, has denied the alleged act, maintaining that the presidency only took care of the feeding, accommodation and transportation of the Chibok parents.
“The President did not give any N100m to the visitors from Chibok. Government took care of their accommodation, feeding and transportation. Government’s plan is robust rehabilitation and resettlement of the girls who have escaped so they can continue their education. The government also plans to rebuild the school and in general terms, repair damaged infrastructure as a result of Boko Haram insurgency in the North East.”
Ezekwesili refused to accept the denial of the presidency, as she took to her twitter handle to lambast the presidency and Dr.Okupe. Her tweets stated: “Three months after the Chibok girls were abducted; President Jonathan finally agreed to meet with their parents following an appeal by the Pakistan girl-child education activist Malala Yusoufai. The Presidency had faced intense criticism over its handling of the kidnap of the Chibok girls being held by the extremist Boko Haram sect since April 14”.