Jonathan’s Efforts at Tackling Boko Haram, Finding Schoolgirls, by Abati

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The Special Adviser to the President, Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, has decried the misconception that his principal, President Goodluck Jonathan, has consciously adopted a “do-nothing” strategy with respect to the rescue of the over 200 secondary schoolgirls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists on April 14 as well as stopping the marauding sect in its tracks. In an opinion article published in the Washington Times yesterday, the president’s spokesman, while acknowledging that the concern that has been expressed over the abduction of the girls is legitimate, he said: “What is not fair is the attempt to ignore the issues and argue that President Goodluck Jonathan is the problem.” He stated that the attempt to turn the matter of the abducted girls into a referendum on the Jonathan administration has resulted in a complete misreading of the situation and “much deliberate mischief fuelled by ignorance and sponsored propaganda”. “Take for example, Karen Attiah’s morbid satire, ‘What Nigerian president should have written’ (The Washington Post, July 3). The piece merely repeats worn misconceptions about the Chibok incident and the efforts of the Jonathan administration in Nigeria to find and rescue the abducted girls. “The most popular misconception is the notion that the Jonathan administration has consciously adopted a ‘do-nothing’ strategy, and that the government only responded and considered international partnership necessary after pressure was mounted on it to do something,” he wrote in the opinion piece. The presidential spokesman explained that the Boko Haram threat dated back to 2002 and had become a much bigger menace, and a full-scale terrorist movement, by the time Jonathan assumed office in 2010. “During the past four years, Mr. Jonathan has taken proactive steps to combat terrorism on our shores, including military, political and social actions. “In May 2013, a state of emergency was declared in the most affected northeastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. The state of emergency, lasting six months, has been renewed twice since then, with the full concurrence of the Nigerian parliament. “Nigeria was not acting alone. The military operation involved Nigerian security forces and the Multinational Joint Task Force, set up under the auspices of the Lake Chad Commission with troops contributed by Niger, Nigeria and Chad. “Nigeria also shared intelligence and efforts with Cameroun and Benin through the Gulf of Guinea Commission, focusing on piracy, border security and checking the proliferation of small arms and light weapons within the region,” Abati said. Continuing, the presidential aide pointed out that since 2011, Nigerian security chiefs have met regularly with their counterparts from the four neighboring countries on matters of peace and security, adding, “These efforts yielded positive results, notably the decimation of the ranks of the Boko Haram and their restriction to the Sambisa Forest.” He noted that a Presidential Dialogue committee was set up to pursue the option of a peaceful resolution of the Boko Haram insurgency. “Mr. Jonathan also launched a Presidential Initiative for the North-east, an economic-recovery programme. Other steps taken since then include deradicalisation programmes and the Safe Schools Initiative. “The April 14 abduction of the Chibok girls and subsequent developments marked a turning point in the Boko Haram saga. It was a terrible resurgence of an ongoing challenge, not the beginning. “The assault on schools by terrorists and the threat to turn innocent young girls into sex slaves and prisoners of terrorism is unacceptable. The outrage is understandable. But we must not become so blinded by its horror as to reduce it all to the fault of one man. “This is not about the strength or failings of one man. Terrorism is an assault on human rights and our civilisation. It requires international cooperation and concerted domestic action,” he argued. Abati maintained that the president was fully committed to ensuring that the girls are rescued alive, stating, “Yes, it has been more than 80 days since the nightmare began. Americans, Canadians, the British and other friends of Nigeria are all involved in the search, in one form or the other, but unfortunately, with all the technology and intelligence at their disposal, the girls are yet to be found.” He said Jonathan was keenly aware of his responsibility for the safety, security and wellbeing of the Chibok girls and all Nigerians and wants the girls back like everyone else and is doing everything within his powers to rescue them safely and return them to their distraught parents. Meanwhile, the dreaded Boko Haram sect is believed to have taken over one of the major routes leading into troubled Borno State capital, Maiduguri, forcing travellers to embark on a circuitous journey that adds two extra hours for those driving into the city. Many travellers to the southern part of the state now have to go through Maiduguri and Damaturu Road into Gombe and reconnect back to the state. Many of them are complaining that the journey is tortuous and always leaves them drained, not ruling out the danger of running into Boko Haram attacks. It was gathered that many travellers on the Maiduguri/Damboa/Biu highway had been forced to make a U-turn due to attacks at different spots on the 187-kilometre road. Some residents of Mule, a town 15 kilometres from Maiduguri, told reporters yesterday that they had seen many vehicles on the road returning with corpses following attacks by the terrorists. An attack on Bulabulin Nganaram on Monday drove Maiduguri into panic mode as residents thought the terrorist group was heading into the state capital. Residents of Maiduguri had to stay off the streets, rushed to pick their children from schools and closed down businesses. There was also a deadly confrontation between the military and the insurgents last Friday at Damboa, which led to about 70 deaths, with the military, police and insurgents recording heavy casualties. The clash compelled the military to vacate its base in Damboa since Friday, but sources revealed that the bid to reclaim it proved to be disastrous as the soldiers who were deployed from Maiduguri for the task were confronted by the insurgents. The soldiers were said to have been ambushed resulting in some deaths and injuries on Wednesday. The number of casualties could not be ascertained at the time of filing this report, but it was said to be heavy on the side of the military. It was learnt from sources that 200 soldiers were sent on the operation to reclaim the base from the insurgents. Unknown to the military, however, the insurgents were well prepared and had dug trenches where many of their heavily armed gunmen lay in wait. As soon as the soldiers were sighted, the insurgents opened fire from their trenches, and killed several soldiers, while the others were compelled to beat a retreat. Speaking on the dangers of the whole axis, the Chairman of the Youth Vigilante Group, popularly called Civilian JTF, Mohammed Jidda, told reporters that about 60 settlements stretching from Maiduguri to Biu had been deserted with the residents fleeing to Maiduguri. He said: “Apart from Mule and Dalwa that is partially deserted and has aged and handicapped people, who are not usually the targets of the marauding insurgents, still residing there, every other community, numbering about 60 in total, has been totally deserted.” Damboa, the largest town between Maiduguri and Biu, is equally partially deserted. The desperate situation in the communities has led to an astronomical increase in the number of internally displaced persons in Maiduguri, which previously stood at 140,000 people, according to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). Despite the daring incursions by the terrorists, the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) said yesterday that Nigerian troops on patrol on Wednesday around Delwa and neighbouring communities in Borno State, in a counter-ambush, successfully broke through Boko Haram terrorist positions, 35 kilometres from Maiduguri, and advanced to dislodge insurgents who were massing up in the area. This was confirmed yesterday through the DHQ Twitter account @DefenceInfoNG and website: www.defenceinfo.mil.ng. According to the statement, which was confirmed by the Director of Defence Information (DDI), Major-General Chris Olukolade, “The fierce fire fight that ensued as the troops waded through the ambush left scores of insurgents dead, while three soldiers died in action.” He added that seven soldiers who sustained various degrees of injuries had been evacuated for treatment while the troops continued with their mission. Meanwhile, the military is said to be on high alert as a result of a planned attack on Maiduguri and other major towns in Borno State by the Boko Haram insurgents, who are said to be unhappy with their Sambisa forest hideout. The heavy rains, according to sources, have made life unbearable for the terrorists in the forest. A military officer, who spoke to THISDAY, said that the forces were aware of their frustrations and plan to infiltrate or attack Maiduguri, but the Nigerian forces are well prepared to counter them. “We are waiting for them as we heard they are tired of the forest and wants to head to the city,” the officer said.

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