The Nigerian presidency has dismissed concerns over the prolonged abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls from Chibok, Borno State, saying the government has no time limit to return the long-suffering teenagers alive to their families.
The message, delivered Monday by a presidential spokesperson, appeared to imply that the government is taking its time to rescue the girls who have been in Boko Haram captivity for nearly nine months.
The girls were kidnapped on April 14 by the extremist group, which has recently seized territories in Nigeria and is pushing for the creation of an Islamic State.
The Nigerian government has in the past ruled out the use of force for the rescue of the girls.
Attempts at negotiations have also failed, the biggest being a ceasefire the government said it agreed with Boko Haram in October, which turned out false.
Speaking on Channels TV programme, Sunrise Daily, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Doyin Okupe, said the government had no time limit on when the girls should be expected home alive.
“There is no time limit for returning the girls alive,” Mr. Okupe said. “The issue of the Chibok girls is a national tragedy that must be borne with fortitude. Government has not given up on finding and rescuing the girls.
Mr. Okupe said the Chibok girls’ case remains a “major thorn in the flesh of this administration”, and assured that the government would have done anything possible to have them released if that were possible “yesterday”.
Mr. Okupe said the issue demanded extreme caution to avoid losing the girls.
Describing the girls’ kidnap as not the regular incident involving the seizure of one or two persons, the presidential spokesperson said the rescue of over 200 girls must be handled with utmost care.
“Any mistake will lead to their death. That is why we (the government) are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea,” he said.
He cited President Goodluck Jonathan’s visit to Chad’s President Idriss Deby, as an indication of the extent the government would be prepared to go to have the girls back.
On the security situation in the North East, particularly in states where emergency was declared, Mr. Okupe said the military was now in “total and perfect control”, as the insurgents have since been driven out from all territories, including Mubi, Baga, and Gwoza, they were said to have occupied.
According to him, the military has not only re-organised itself, it has overhauled its operational and administrative capacity with increased funding and equipment.
He said the insurgency in Nigeria has since taken a multi-national colouration, which was beyond the country, with the extremists group having contacts with networks in the Islamic Maghreb, Al Qaeda and ISIS that are ideologically highly motivated than the soldiers.
“Ideological insurgency is an extremely difficult situation to cope with. That is why I say we are in a state of war. Soldiers are not trained to kill themselves like the insurgent. They are trained to use their weapons to stave off the attack of the enemy,” he said.
“Even if the government were to line up the over 200,000 military men Nigeria has along the over 1,500 kilometres distance of the North East border, Mr. Okupe said it would not be adequate to secure the area, as they would still be about 10 metres apart from each other.”