Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Obasanjo, Others In Talks To Free Abducted Girls
Former Nigerian military leader and president Olusegun
May 28, 2014
Nigerian National Mirror

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has met with people close to the Boko Haram sect in an attempt to broker the release of the 276 schoolgirls kidnapped a month ago, a source close to the talks told AFP yesterday. The talks last week end at Obasanjo’s farm in Ota, Ogun State included relatives of senior Islamist fighters, intermediaries and the former president, the source said on condition of anonymity.

“The meeting was focused on how to free the girls through negotiation,” said the source, referring to the kidnapped schoolgirls, whose abduction has triggered global outrage.

Nigeria’s response to the mass abduction has been widely criticised and the hostage crisis has brought unprecedented international attention to Boko Haram’s five-year extremist uprising.

Obasanjo, who left office in 2007, has previously sought to negotiate with the insurgents, including in September 2011 after Boko Haram bombed the United Nations headquarters in Abuja.

Then, he flew to Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, to meet relatives of former Boko Haram leader Mohammed Yusuf, who was killed in police custody in 2009.

The 2011 talks did not help stem the violence and some at the time doubted if Obasanjo was dealing with people with the authority to negotiate a ceasefire.

The former head of state, who remains an influential figure in Nigerian politics, refused to take questions when reached by phone earlier yesterday.

But the source told AFP that Obasanjo had voiced concern about Nigeria’s acceptance of foreign military personnel to help rescue the girls.

“He said he is worried that Nigeria’s prestige in Africa as a major continental power had been diminished” by President Goodluck Jonathan’s decision to bring in Western military help, including from the United States.

Mustapha Zanna, the lawyer who helped organise Obasanjo’s 2011 talks with Boko Haram, said he was at the former president’s home on Saturday.

But he declined to discuss whether the Chibok abductions were on the agenda.

“I was there,” he told AFP, explaining that Obasanjo was interested in helping vulnerable children in Nigeria’s embattled northeast.

Zanna had represented Yusuf’s family in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the government following his death in police custody.

It was not clear if Obasanjo’s weekend meeting had been sanctioned by the government.

Obasanjo backed Jonathan’s 2011 presidential campaign but the two are widely thought to have since fallen out.

According to the source, Obasanjo supported a prisoner- for-hostage swap that would see some of the girls released in exchange for a group of Boko Haram fighters held in custody.

As a private citizen with damaged ties to the presidency, Obasanjo likely does not have the authority to negotiate any deal on the government’s behalf.

Abuja has officially ruled out a prisoner swap but sent intermediaries to meet Boko Haram in the northeast to negotiate for the girls’ release.

The source identified one of the envoys as Ahmad Salkida, a journalist with ties to Boko Haram who was close to Yusuf before his death.

The security conference in Paris recently saw Nigeria and its neighbours vow greater cooperation to tackle Boko Haram because of the potential threat to regional stability.

Meanwhile, protests, tears and grief marked this year’s Children’s Day celebration yesterday over the abduction of 276 students of the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, by the Boko Haram insurgents.

The schoolgirls were taken captive by the dreaded sect about six weeks ago.

There were protests across the country, with the demonstrators, including state governors, demanding that government ensure the immediate release of the girls.

In Enugu, thousands of primary and secondary school children wept openly while praying for the safety and speedy release of the abducted girls.

The children roused the audience at the Michael Okpara Square, venue of the event, with the passionate words of prayer they voiced while raising their hands towards an imagined direction of Sambisa forest and beseeching God to send his angels there to rescue their colleagues.

They also carried placards denouncing the abduction of the schoolgirls and calling for their immediate release and the cessation of harassment of school children and their teachers in the North.

Led in the prayers by the State Chairman of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, Rev. Godwin Madu and the State Secretary of Christian Association Nigeria, Rev. Emeka Ejim, the children stressed that there was no room for celebrations of this year’s event since their abducted colleagues were still going through the horror of captivity in the custody of the terrorists.

They called on the government to intensify efforts to ensure the quick release of the captives and find ways to prevent such occurrence in the future.

Amidst flowing tears, Miss Precious Ede, who prayed on behalf of the children said: “We did not come here to celebrate; rather we came here to express our anguish at the continued plight of our mates in the hands of the Boko Haram.

Presenting the address of President Jonathan on the occasion, Enugu State Governor Sullivan Chime denounced the abduction of the school children and the rampant bombing and burning of schools, leading to the closure of some schools and colleges in the North-East.

In Lagos, it was protests galore as hundreds of people in different groups took to the streets to clamour for the rescue of the abducted Chibok girls.

Different groups, who participated in the “Bring Back our Girls” protests across the state yesterday include the Nigerians United Against Terrorism, NUAT, led by Mrs. Lailai Daniels; the Association for Formidable Educational Development, AFED, led by Mrs. Ifedola Dada, the Al-Mu’minaat Social Advocacy Project, SAP, led by Mrs. Sherifah Yususf-Ajibade, The Young Muslims Association, TYMA, led by Abdulazeez Ajala, and the Pure Heart Foundation, PHF, led by Mr. Abdulraheem Lukman.

Others are the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria, MSSN, Lagos State Area and the League of Muslim Schools Proprietors, LEAMSP, Lagos State chapter.

Some of the protesting groups gathered at different areas with placards and marched through Ikeja to the Lagos State secretariat, Alausa, while others, including the NUAT marched from Maryland to the Freedom Park, Ojota.

The protesters, who marched in solidarity to demand for the release of the abducted school girls, were attended to by police officers attached to the Governor’s Office as Governor Babatunde Fashola and other members of his government had gone for the Children’s Day parade at the Police College, Ikeja.

The governor used the occasion to announce free bus rides for students in uniform in both public and private schools, to and from school, across the state.

Yesterday’s Children’s Day celebration was devoid of the usual fanfare as pupils of the various schools marched round the venue to the acknowledgement of the governor.

The pupils were all dressed in red vests with the inscription “Bring Back Our Friends” rather than their usual school uniforms.

Speaking on behalf of AFED, Dada said the protest was meant to demand for the immediate rescue of the over abducted 200 schoolgirls, saying children were now afraid of going to schools for fear of being kidnapped.

Fifteen-year-old Shukrah Yusuf, an SS1 Student of Al- Siddiq College, Mile 12, Lagos, told our correspondents that the abduction of the schoolgirls was appalling.

She said: “When I heard it, I felt very sad that schoolgirls were abducted and I learnt that some were converted from Christianity to Islam. That is not what Allah said we should do, it’s not by force, one can only encourage them, not the way the terrorists are doing it.

In Abuja, Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Hajiya Zainab Maina, lamented that terrorists had taken away the joy of the Children’s Day celebration with the kidnapping of the girls.

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