Women in Borno State have expressed their willingness to go into the notorious Sambisa Games Reserve Forest, the enclave of the terrorist Boko Haram sect, in search of over 200 schoolgirls kidnapped from the Government Secondary School, Chibok, last week.
Sambisa Forest, a large expanse of land is where most of the deadly attacks of the Boko Haram insurgency are launched and the abducted schoolgirls are believed to be held hostage there.
However, some parents of the pupils have expressed fear that their daughters might be forced into marriage by the insurgents.
The federal government on its part has condemned the abduction of the pupils, describing the incident as a national tragedy.
Addressing a press conference Wednesday in Maiduguri, the women, drawn from various women’s associations in the troubled state, and led by Prof. Hauwa Abdu Biu, said: “We are ready to go into the bush and appeal to the Boko Haram sect to release our children to us.”
They explained that several thousands of women were ready to go into the forest in search of the pupils and they were only waiting to be led by the military into the notorious forest.
The women, who were all dressed in black gowns and head-ties, said had the parents who went into the bush earlier to look for the abducted schoolgirls been given security cover, the girls by now might have been reunited with their families.
“What stopped the security men from giving security back-up to the parents to go further into the bush?” they demanded.
They also accused President Goodluck Jonathan of not doing enough to free the schoolgirls, saying had the daughter of the president been abducted, all security agencies would have been in overdrive to rescue her.
“Is the president telling us that the lives of over 200 girls abducted in the bush since a week ago is not important?
“The abduction of innocent young girls violates their human rights; it is a crime against humanity and it is prohibited under international law.
“Women in Borno State condemn in totality such acts of violence as attacks on schools deny children their rights to learn in a safe environment, thereby jeopardising their future.
“Such acts are inhuman and affect efforts to enhance girl-child education and development in the state and the country at large,” they said.
The women also condemned attacks by the sect and asked the insurgents to release all those in their custody without harming them.
Also yesterday, parents of the abducted schoolgirls said they had reason to believe that their daughters were about to be forced into marriage by their abductors.
One of the parents of the abducted girls, in a telephone interview with reporters in Maiduguri, said they had learnt that the insurgents had separated the girls into two groups – the mature ones and immature girls.
“The mature ones, we learnt, they will be moving into a different camp and would be forced into marriage while we do not know the fate of those they believe are immature,” he said.
The parent, who did not want his name in print, added that the news had saddened him further, as his daughter is 19 years old and should be among those that might be forced into marriage.
He lamented that all he could hope for is God’s mercy to make his daughter come back home safely.
According to him, the parents were not happy that no effort had been made to invade the camp of the insurgents up till now.
He said the last time the parents went into the Sambisa Forest in search of their children, they had to turn back when they were told that the insurgents were well armed and might kill all of them if they had no military escort.
Besides the parents, the federal government also lamented the abduction of the pupils, which it described as a national tragedy
Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, told State House reporters after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting yesterday in Abuja that it was unbelievable that such a large number of schoolchildren could be kidnapped in 2014.
He said: “That young girls of school age could be abducted in our country in 2014 is unimaginable. Nobody even in our wildest imagination, would believe that a group of people under whatever guise will take hostage young girls who are just in the school to write exams.
“This is indeed very painful. From the president and all of us we have been going through a lot of anguish. It is almost like a story out of this world. It goes to show the level of depravity, sheer lack of human feeling that is going on in this country.”
He assured the public that efforts were being stepped up to rescue the schoolgirls, just as he appealed to anybody with information that could lead to rescuing the pupils and fishing out criminals to give it to security agencies.
He called on Nigerians to support efforts by the federal government to fight terror, adding: “Now this nation is in need of unity but the way we are playing to the gallery, we are making irresponsible statements. We are making statements that will divide the country, statements that are setting the citizen against security services and government."
Also, the federal government yesterday restated its call for support, especially from the international community to trace and cut off the source of funding for the insurgents.
The Minister of Defence, General Aliyu Gusau (rtd), while speaking to journalists at the closing ceremony of Exercise Obangame 2014, an international maritime security interdiction hosted by the Nigerian Navy (NN), involving 23 countries from Africa, United States and Europe, added that the federal government was collaborating with the international community to end the reign of terror in Nigeria.
Gusau, represented by the Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, said although Nigeria has been battling with the challenge of insurgency, it was not a situation peculiar to the country alone as other nations, including the United States, faced similar problems.
He said: “America and the Western world are the richest in the world, yet they have not been able to tame terrorism in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya despite the resources they have put together.
“So same experience is what we are going through in Nigeria and don't forget that these activities today have an international dimension. That is why we are cooperating and collaborating with the international community to bring this to an end.
“We are not saying the whole world should come and join us and fight, rather we are saying that we want support to cut off the source of funding which will to a large extent help us to bringing terrorism to a finality.”