The president promises to visit Chibok only when the remaining abducted girls are freed.
President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday finally met with the Chibok school girls who escaped from their Boko Haram abductors and reassured them that his administration was doing everything humanly possible to rescue their colleagues and return them safely to their parents.
He also said Chibok or other communities in the North-East ravaged by insurgent activities would 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 was evolving to address the damage, losses, setbacks, economic and social dislocations of the region.
Mr. Jonathan gave the assurance during a meeting with the parents of the abducted girls, some of the girls who escaped from their abductors and leaders of the Chibok community at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The girls had been abducted April 14.
At the closed-door meeting were the parents of the girls, service chiefs, the Senate President, David Mark, Governors Kashim Shettima of Borno State and Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State as well as some ministers.
The meeting, which began at about 11a.m at the Banquet Hall came about 100 days after the over 200 female secondary students were kidnapped from Government Secondary School, Chibok.
Mr. Jonathan had assured the Pakistani teenage girls’ education activist, Malala Yousafzai during her visit to Nigeria last week that he would meet with the girls who escaped and their parents.
The meeting earlier slated for last Tuesday was cancelled at the last minute when government officials went to pick the girls and their parents from Hilton Hotel only to discover they had returned to Chibok.
The president appealed to his guest for 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,” Mr. Jonathan stated.
“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.”
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 had been freed and they could receive him with smiling faces of joy, rather than with tears of anguish.
He said, “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.
While 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, Mr. Jonathan said the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, and Federal Medical Agencies would 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 would 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 was 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 said.
In his remarks at the meeting, Mr. Shettima called for more sobriety, reflection and unity of purpose in the fight against terrorism in the country.
He pledged that his administration would give the president the fullest possible support for his efforts to address the problems caused by terrorism and the Boko Haram insurgency.
Pogu Bitrus presented the Chibok community’s address to the President while other speakers at the meeting included a district head, Zannamadu Usman; a member of the Borno State House of Assembly, Aminu Chibok, parents of the abducted girls and three of the girls who escaped from their captors, Godia Simon, Dorcas Musa and Joy Bishara.
Briefing journalists after the two-hour meeting, the presidential media aide, Reuben Abati said the parley was interactive and that the parents of the abducted girls, community and opinion leaders of Chibok spoke their minds. He added that for the first time Mr. Jonathan had the opportunity to hear the experiences of the Chibok people.
He said the parents included those of girls that escaped and those of the girls who are still in captivity and those of the girls who escaped.
“It was an interactive session during which the president had the opportunity to listen first hand to the various categories of persons,” Mr. Abati said. “It was a very successful event and a good development because Mr. President had always been looking forward to this opportunity. Before now he had met with various stakeholders on the matter but today he heard directly from the persons involved.
“Statements were made by all the representatives of people. They spoke their minds and conveyed their feelings to the president. The girls who escaped also gave an account of what they went through. Mr. President reassured them of the Federal Government’s determination and his own personal determination to ensure that the girls that are still in captivity are brought out alive.
The presidential spokesperson said Mr. Jonathan made it clear that the education of the escapees would not be truncated.
“Mr. President made it clear that their education won’t be truncated. The government is making efforts to place these young girls in other schools and that they should not be afraid about their future because everything will be done to protect their right to education,” he said.
Mr. Abati said the girls spoke in great details about their experiences and their observation, stating, “It was an open and frank session in which everybody expressed their minds.”
Asked about the authenticity of the identity of the girls’ parents, Mr. Abati said, “How I wished you had been inside the hall! The parents are still around and you can see that it was a full hall and they made it clear that they are representatives of other parents of what they call the Karaoke Development Association. And you can see of course that they are more than 200 people in the hall coming all the way from Chibok.
“This is quite a large number. It is not likely that every parent of every child or everybody will be here and even at that we had over 200 persons attending that meeting and that I think is representative enough.”
The Coordinator of the National Information Centre, NIC, Mike Omeri told journalists that Borno State authorities showed commitment to work towards rescuing the remaining abducted girls.
Stating that it was not easy to wait even after knowing the whereabouts of the girls, Mr. Omeri, who is also the Director General of the National Orientation Agency, NOA, said caution must be exercised in other not to jeopardize the rescue operations.
“Parents and Nigerians have shown the indication to wait as the process continues and they have so far demonstrated that on the present knowledge they have that at least they know that the government is trying to get the children out,” he said.