The abduction of 234 students of Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State altered the usually lively plenary in the Senate last week as the chamber was overwhelmed with emotion. Omololu Ogunmade writes
Plenary on April 29, 2014 in the Senate will ever be remembered with nolstagia. It was a day senators at the session wore pensive mood as though they were bereaved.
Consequently, there were outpouring of emotional feelings which infected watchers of the plenary with some of them struggling to hold back tears even as some of the senators also struggled hard to control their emotion.
The emotionally tensed atmosphere followed the narration of pathetic episodes surrounding the abduction of 234 schoolgirls of Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State on March 15 and how the military allegedly failed to promptly respond to several pieces of information on the whereabouts of the girls.
But most disheartening of the entire event was the disclosure by a senator that as grave as terrorism has become in the country, the military hasn’t added new sets of modern equipment to its armoury. It was learnt that the military could not even boast of effective armoured tanks at the war front.
It became more traumatic for watchers of the plenary that afternoon when they heard that hundreds of billions of Naira being allocated to fund security every year go down the drains without anyone accounting for it.
Whereas the federal government budgeted almost N400 billion to fund security last year, the trend is not different this year as it has again budgeted a whopping N370 billion for the same purpose. Thus the budget for security this year comprises N314.3 billion as recurrent expenditure and N35.3 billion as capital expenditure. Many therefore argued that it beat their imagination to learn that soldiers deployed to fight insurgency at the risk of their lives were not paid their deserved allowances as at when due neither did they have sophisticated weapons to combat the threat of insurgency.
Questions therefore arose regarding who really are the custodians of this whopping sum with such unpatriotic tendency to amass such money to themselves to the detriment of innocent lives who are daily being destroyed or subjected to harrowing experiences as is now the case with the abducted girls.
Nevertheless, revelations that day followed a motion by Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, urging security agencies to immediately rescue the abducted girls and simultaneously advising Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), other countries as well as United Nations Security Council to assist Nigeria by deploying advanced technological measures to rescue the abducted pupils.
Therefore, the Senate condemned the abduction in strong terms, called for prayers for their release and as well urged governments at all levels to henceforth provide security for schools and public places in their areas.
The Senate said it noted with grief the inhuman abduction of the schoolgirls on March 15 when the nation was still mourning the destruction of 75 Nigerians in bomb blast in Nyanya, an Abuja suburb.
Ndoma-Egba also recalled that the school was closed down for four weeks as a result of security threat adding that the students were only recalled to write their final examinations on Physics when Boko Haram insurgents struck and abducted them.
Ndoma-Egba also said the Senate was disappointed that two weeks after the sad incident, the whereabouts of the girls had remained unknown but for the return of 53 of them who escaped from their captors. He however, expressed hopes that the offer of assistance by the United States and United Kingdom could provide positive solution to the problem.
The motion prompted three senators representing Borno State in the Senate to narrate how the incident occurred and what transpired thereafter.
First to speak was Senator Ahmad Zanna (Borno Central), who wondered why the military failed to rescue the girls despite being periodically fed with information on the movements of the captors with their victims from one location to the other until they were eventually taken to Niger, Chad and Cameroun.
Zanna who said he was informed that the girls had now been married by their captors, added that the former had been divided into different groups and dispersed to different locations, saying it will be difficult to find a good number of them in one location any longer.
The senator said he was privy to information on their movements before the girls were eventually ferried to neighbouring countries adding that he eventually lost hope when security agencies did not act on prompt information being given to them before the girls were ferried off.
Further, he disclosed that the new base of the insurgents is now Chikungudua, a village in Mate Local Government area of Borno State which he said the insurgents recently captured after being driven away from Sambisa forest.
He further said the insurgents could freely move from their new location without being under any threat from the military because the place is a safe haven for them.
Hear Zanna: “I have been constantly in touch with the security agencies, telling them the developments, the movement of the girls from one place to the other and then the splitting of the girls and eventually the marriage of these girls by the insurgents. What bothers me most is that whenever I inform the military where these girls are, after two to three days, they will be moved from that place to another and still, I will go back and inform them that ‘see, this is what is happening.’ I lost hope two days ago when I found out that some of them were moved to Chad and Cameroon.
“Actually, some of them moved through the Mandara Mountain that is in Gwoza and some of them are just a stone throw from their barracks. Even now, as I am talking to you, some are in Kolofata, which is in Cameroon, about 15 kilometres or even less to the borders because one of the insurgents called somebody in Bama and said I just got married and said I am now settling in Kolofata and then, three or four days ago, some Fulani men reported that they saw some girls being taken by boats into the Island in Lake Chad and that some of them happened to be between Mate and Mungonu. Maybe, those ones might still be within Nigeria but that is the current and new base of the insurgents. They just took over that place less than a week ago and that village is called Chikungudua, the place is the constituency of Senator Maina Maji.
“But I informed the security agents about the situation and from that place, they (insurgents) can just go to either Chad or Cameroon because it is very open; there are no weeds in the lake and so they can go to anywhere. They have snatched all the boats around that area including the one for NNPC and so they are free to go anywhere without being chased by anybody.
“There are about 40 islands there and they have ejected most of the occupants of the islands and occupied the islands. What is most disturbing is that hitherto, Sambisa was their base and it is well known to the military and Nigerian security.
“After the abduction of those girls, they started moving out of Sambisa and even before then, I have been discussing with the military and they said they were going to attack that place, about 15 or 20 days ago. I don’t know what delayed them. But eventually when they launched the attack, all the insurgents had already gone out of the place.”
Zannah added that unless the security agencies show uncommon zeal to rescue the girls, hopes of their return would remain an illusion.
“These are the facts. So, unless there is spirit of seriousness on the part of our military, we have no hope of getting those girls. Even if we are going to get them, we are going to get them in trickles, maybe getting two, three, four and five. They are now scattered. So, it is not possible for us to get 50, 60,100 in one particular position. This is the position as at today,” he added.
Buttressing Zannah’s narration, Senator Ali Ndume (Borno South), said the military had the full fledged opportunity to rescue the girls but failed. According to him, they failed to follow the directive given to them after the abduction, noting that whereas they were told to follow the West, they chose to face the East, thus giving enough room for the captors to escape.
He again disclosed that when the insurgents arrived the school, the girls, upon hearing the sound of gunshot went to hide themselves but were later lured into seven vehicles seemingly provided to rescue them by the insurgents who disguised in Army uniform.
According to him, the girls rushed into the vehicles thinking the insurgents in Army uniform were soldiers who had come to evacuate them only to find themselves in the forest a moment later.
He lamented that 15 days after the abduction, no single victim had been rescued adding that 53 of them who returned, escaped by their own efforts and not rescued by anyone.
“We are 109 here. Imagine if one of these girls is your daughter, especially that they are girls. The school is a public school and as you know, it is poor people who send their children to public schools. So, the school is made up of the children of the poor. These girls went there not only for education but to bring hope to their families. Something needs to be done. If we are serious, 15 days after, with proper equipment, we should have rescued some of these girls. The 53 who came back escaped when they heard that their vehicle broke down,” he said.
But most disheartening of the submission of Ndume was that despite hundreds of billions of naira that Senate approves to fund security every year, the military yet lacks effective weapons to prosecute the war against terror.
He noted that in fairness to security forces fighting insurgency, they had tried their best but were handicapped by lack of modern weapons, submitting that the weapons available to them were obsolete and antiquated.
Furthermore, he said the soldiers were not well mobilised because they were not well paid neither were their welfare promptly attended to.
“The commanders had alleged that their allowances were not being paid and that the number of soldiers was inadequate. There is no new equipment; all of them are old. The other time, we went to search for the girls, one of the armoured tanks that escorted us broke down in the forest and we were afraid. We had to tow it with another vehicle,” he said.
In his own submission, Senator Maina Ma’ji Lawan (Borno North), who said humanity was on trial, noted that Nigeria had to confront the “madness” with everything it required.
He admitted that the emergency rule had been very helpful despite hiccups, explaining that the presence of the military had driven the insurgents out of the state where they were living initially to islands and forests.
He also disclosed that innocent people who were living with them in Sambisa forest have all left now, leaving only the insurgents who reside between Sambisa forest, Mandara mountain and islands in Niger, Cameroun and Chad.
“These are known bases of Boko Haram. Let’s go after them. Let’s take the battle to them. We know their location. This madness must stop,” he said.
However, the highpoint of the day’s plenary was a suggestion by Senator Olubunmi Adetumbi (Ekiti North) that the Senate must raise a delegation to interface with the president on the deteriorating security situation in the country.
According to him, this had become compelling given the wave of insurgency in the North-east which he said had resulted in suspension of Nigeria’s constitution in the region while the nation continues to lose its territories at the time that other nations are gaining more.
He lamented that innocent girls were now being forced into marriage as he tasked the Senate to rise up against the trend, saying this period will serve as a defining moment for the Senate.
He further said a situation where Nigerians were no longer confident in the willingness of its Army to defend its territorial integrity was tragic and therefore required prompt solution.
This suggestion was warmly embraced by Senate President David Mark who called for full scale war against the insurgents.
Therefore, the Senate constituted a 21-man delegation led by Mark on April 30 to meet with President Goodluck Jonathan at the Presidential Villa. The meeting lasted for four hours on Wednesday night and centred on how the nation could get out of the doldrums. One of the senators who spoke with THISDAY on the meeting, said it was fruitful and promising.
The senators who were led by Mark included Boluwaji Kunlere (Ondo South), Babafemi Ojodu (Ekiti Central), James Manager (Delta South), Helen Esuene (Akwa Ibom South), Enyinnaya Abaribe (Abia South) and Chris Anyanwu (Imo East). Others were Barnabas Gemade (Benue North-east), Ali Ndume (Borno South), Ahmed Zannah (Borno Central) Maaji Lawan (Borno North), Abdukadir Jajere (Yobe South) and Nenadi Usman (Kaduna South).
Also present were Mohammed Magoro (Kebbi South), Bello Tukur (Adamawa Central), Bindowo Jubrilla (Adamawa North), Emmanuel Bwacha (Taraba South), Sola Adeyeye (Osun Central), Ahmad Lawan (Yobe North) and Ehigie Uzamere (Edo South).