More than three months after over 200 female students were kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists from their secondary school in Chibok, Borno State, President Goodluck Jonathan will finally meet with some of the parents of the abducted girls.
Making this known in statement, the president’s Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, said Jonathan made the promise when he met yesterday with Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani Girl-Child Education Campaigner who was at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The president had been criticised for not visiting Chibok and the parents of the girls since their abduction on April 14. Also, a planned visit by the president in May was botched at the last minute after it was leaked by presidency sources, drawing more criticism from the local and international community.
Speaking to Malala, who announced a $200,000 donation from the Malala Fund for scholarships for the kidnapped girls and their education, the statement said Jonathan reiterated that the notion that the federal government was not doing enough to find and rescue the abducted Chibok girls, “was very wrong and misplaced”.
“Jonathan said that the federal government was definitely doing everything possible to ensure that the girls were rescued alive and safely returned to their parents.
“He however explained to Malala, who was accompanied by her father and other members of her foundation, that the federal government’s efforts were constrained by the overriding imperative of ensuring that the girls’ lives are not endangered in any rescue attempt.
“Terror is relatively new here and dealing with it has its challenges. The great challenge in rescuing the Chibok girls is the need to ensure that they are rescued alive,” Jonathan was quoted as stating, stressing that the federal government and its security agencies were very mindful of the need to avoid the scenario in rescue attempts in other parts of the world where lives of abductees were lost in the effort to rescue them.
The president said this challenge notwithstanding, the federal government was very actively pursuing all feasible options to achieve the safe return of the abducted girls.
“The time it is taking to achieve that objective is not a question of the competence of the Nigerian government. We have had teams from the United States, Britain, France, Israel and other friendly nations working with us here on the rescue effort and they all appreciate the challenges and the need to tread carefully to achieve our purpose,” he said.
The president told Malala, who met yesterday with some parents of the abducted girls, that he fully empathised with their pain and anguish. He said that he would meet with the parents himself before they left Abuja to personally comfort them and reassure them that the federal government was doing all within its powers to rescue their daughters.
The president also reiterated his administration’s commitment to ensuring the safe and proper education of all Nigerian children, saying, “I personally believe that since about 50 per cent of our population are female, we will be depriving ourselves of half of our available human resources if we fail to educate our girls adequately or suppress their ambitions in any way.
“We are therefore taking steps to curb all forms of discrimination against girls and women, and have also undertaken many affirmative actions on their behalf.”
The president further informed Malala that the federal government was also proactively evolving and implementing policies and measures that would benefit the abducted Chibok girls when they are safely rescued, as well as others that have been adversely affected by the Boko Haram insurgency.
These, Jonathan said, included the establishment of a Victims’ Support Fund, the Safe Schools Initiative and the Presidential Initiative for the North-east.
He announced that he would inaugurate a National Committee tomorrow to oversee fundraising for the Victims’ Support Fund, which will also cater for families of security men and women who have lost their lives in the war against terrorism.
The president thanked Malala for coming to Nigeria to support the ongoing efforts to rescue the abducted Chibok girls and promote girl-child education.
“We appreciate your efforts to change the world positively through your powerful advocacy for girl-child education,” Jonathan told her.
Also briefing State House correspondents after meeting with the president, Malala announced the donation of $200, 000 from her foundation for the education of Chibok schoolgirls who were abducted by Boko Haram.
She disclosed that Jonathan gave his commitment to meet the parents of the abducted schoolgirls at any time, adding that she was in Nigeria on her 17th birthday at a price, which was to see that every child goes to school.
She said her objective this year was to speak up for her “Nigerian sisters”, about 200 of them who were abducted by the violent Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram.
“I met the president, Goodluck Jonathan, for this purpose. I conveyed the voice of my sisters who are out of school or who are still under the abduction of Boko haram. And for those girls who escaped from the abduction but still do not have an education.
“And in the meeting, I highlighted the same issues which the girls and their parents told me in the past two days. The parents said they really wanted to meet with the president to share their stories with him. And I asked the president if he wanted to meet with the parents of the girls, he assured me that he would meet with them.
“I spoke to the president about the girls who complained that they cannot go to school despite the fact that they want to become doctors, engineers and teachers. But the government is not providing them facilities.
“They also need healthcare facilities, security and the government is not doing anything. These are the issues I presented to the president today. And the president fortunately promised me that he would do something for these girls and he promised me that the girls under the abduction of Boko haram would be released as soon as possible.
“This is the promise the president made and I am hopeful that his promise will come through and we will soon see those girls return soon.
“Yesterday, I also met with the parents of these girls who are still in captivity and they were crying and hopeless. But still, they have this hope that there is still someone who can help them.
The teenage activist expressed hope that the two promises made by the president would be fulfilled soon, adding: “Even though the promises have been made, it does not mean I am going to stop talking. I will be counting days and I will be looking for when those girls are going to return home.
“I can’t stop this campaign until I see those girls return to their families and continue the agitation. This is the position of the Malala Foundation. My father and I and the entire family want to speak out for those 10.5 million children who are out of school.”
However, reacting to 10.5 million out-of-school widely touted by UNICEF, was disputed by the Minister of State for Education, Nyesom Wike, who said the figure was just “an assumption, and has no basis”.
He said this when he received Malala in his office in Abuja yesterday, where he added that Nigeria would however work by the figures provided.
“I doubt the number of 10.5 million out-of-school children because there is no basis. Basically, we are doubting the statistics of the United Nations, but however we don’t want to trigger a debate on it too much so let us work with the figure,” he said.
He expressed hope that with the ongoing programmes aimed at education in the country, the figure would be reduced to about 7 million by the year 2015.
“We expect from now till next year that at the basic education level, we should have nothing less than 2 million out-of-school children that have been enrolled in school, from now till 2015,” he stated.
He disclosed that the plan of the government to target out-of-school children had resulted in the injection of over N139 billion between 2011 and 2014 into the sector by the current administration.
Malala in her response called on the federal government to intensify efforts to reduce the number.
Also during her meeting with #BringBackOurGirls protesters in Abuja yesterday, Malala called on the Boko Haram sect to desist from perpetuating violence in the name of Islam, stressing that it is a religion of peace and harmony.
She also called on world leaders to work to end all wars and conflicts, and instead use the monies used to fund wars to invest in the education of young people.
During her interaction to commemorate Malala Day set aside by the United Nations, the education rights campaigner said the activities of Boko Haram had rubbished the name of Islam as Islam preaches tolerance, humanity and promotes the education of both boys and girls.
Malala urged the leaders of the terrorist sect to imagine if the abducted girls were their own sisters and were in the hands of terrorists.
“…Lay down your arms, release your sisters, release my sisters and release the daughters of this nation. Let them be free, they have committed no crime,” she urged.
Flanked by some of the parents of the abducted girls and other girls who escaped from the terrorists, Malala sought better protection of girls’ rights across the globe against early forced marriages, rape and other forms of abuse.
This year’s Malala Day, she said, was dedicated to the abducted school girls who next week would have spent “100 days in captivity, 100 days of being out of school, 100 days of being without their parents”.
She called for an end to conflicts in Nigeria, Syria, Israel, Gaza, Ukraine, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and other places.
“Instead of spending money on wars and guns, why not spend it on education? A country becomes powerful when its people and future generation are educated,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has constituted a Committee on the Victims Support Fund in order to mobilise resources and administer appropriate support to victims of the insurgency and terrorist activities all over the country.
This was contained in a statement signed yesterday by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim.
According to him, the president approved the composition and appointment of members of the Committee on the Victims Support Funds with Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (rtd) as the chairman and Mr. Fola Adeola as the deputy chairman.
Other members of the committee include Mohammed Indimi, Abdulsamad Rabiu, Sani Dauda, Mrs. Folorunsho Alakija, Mr. Cosmas Maduka, Mr. Jim Ovia, Mr. Wale Tinubu and the Director-General, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Sani Sidi, among others.
The terms of reference of the committee, among others, include identifying sources and ways of raising sustainable funding to support victims of Boko Haram terror activities, and to develop appropriate strategies for the fund raising.
In addition, the committee would ascertain the persons, communities, facilities and economic assets affected by Boko Haram terror activities.
Also, it would assess and determine the appropriate support required in each case, and to manage, disburse or administer support to the victims as appropriate.
The committee will be inaugurated by President Jonathan wednesday.