Nigeria’s nightmare got worse Tuesday when word got out that eight more teenage girls might have been abducted since Sunday from another Borno community, drawing more global outrage.
As a mark of solidarity, the US senate, will today hold a minute's silence for the abducted Nigerian girls.
This is coming as President Goodluck Jonathan formally accepted the offer of the United States to assist in the search for the over 200 students who were abducted from their secondary school in Chibok three weeks ago.
In addition to the US joining the search for the Chibok schoolgirls, the United Kingdom has also offered “practical help” to Nigeria in finding and securing the release of the girls.
The intervention by the US and UK coincided with the inauguration of the 30-member presidential fact-finding committee on the abduction of the secondary school students by the president yesterday.
Immediately after its inauguration, the committee went to work by holding its maiden meeting in Abuja.
The federal government also announced that it had set up an information centre that would provide regular updates on the efforts to rescue the girls.
In Borno, although no official confirmation was received at the time of filing this report from the security agencies, some residents from Gwoza town who spoke to journalists, said eight girls were abducted by the insurgents from Warabe village on Sunday night. Warabe is on the outskirts of Gwoza.
It was learnt that the gunmen believed to be members of the outlawed Boko Haram sect, invaded the village and also carted away foodstuff, livestock and other valuables.
Warabe is about 160 kilometres away from Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, and has witnessed a series of deadly attacks by suspected terrorists in recent times.
A resident of Warabe, Mallam Bello Umar, who spoke on the phone, said he had to flee the village following the frequent attacks by the insurgents.
Umar said: “A group of terrorists invaded Warabe village on Sunday night and abducted eight of our teenage girls before carting away our foodstuff and livestock.
“As I speak to you, I have run to the Gwoza council headquarters, and even in Gwoza, we cannot move around easily for fear of the terrorists.
“The situation is so pathetic that almost everyone in Gwoza is now forced to congregate at a safer zone close to the council secretariat where there is sufficient presence of security personnel.”
He stated that the gunmen numbering over 20 armed with AK47 rifles stormed the village but did not kill anybody, adding that they only abducted the eight teenage girls before fleeing towards the hilly border between Gwoza and Cameroun Republic.
Other indigenes of the place who also spoke, confirmed that they were apprehensive that the girls, aged 12 to 15, might have been abducted as the rumour had spread of their disappearance.
They said they had not received confirmation about the abduction from Warabe because mobile phone services have been erratic for some time.
Jonathan Accepts US Assistance
However, as global pressure continues to mount on the federal government to find and rescue the Chibok schoolgirls, the president yesterday accepted the offer of help from the US to help in the search for the girls.
The offer from US President Barack Obama was conveyed to Jonathan by the country’s Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry, during a phone conversation at 15:30 pm yesterday.
Obama's offer included the deployment of US security personnel and assets to work with their Nigerian counterparts in the search and rescue operation.
In a statement by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, Kerry assured Jonathan that the US was wholly committed to giving Nigeria all the required support and assistance to save the abducted girls and bring the reign of terror unleashed on parts of the country by Boko Haram to an end.
“Thanking Mr. Kerry for the call and offer of further assistance, President Jonathan told him that Nigeria’s security agencies who were already working at full capacity to find and rescue the abducted girls would appreciate the deployment of American counter-insurgency know-how and expertise in support of their efforts.
“After speaking with the United States Secretary of State, President Jonathan today met with the Chief of Defence Staff, service chiefs and heads of national security agencies in continuation of the national efforts to find and rescue the abducted girls.
“The president received updates on the ongoing search and rescue effort, and gave approval for recommended further actions,” the statement said.
In furtherance of this objective, the White House spokesman, Jay Carney, in a briefing yesterday said Obama had directed that “no effort would be spared to rescue the girls”.
Providing more insight into the assistance offered by the US, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: “Washington has offered to set up a coordination cell at its embassy in Abuja with US military personnel, law enforcement officials as well as experts in hostage situations.”
She said the assistance would also “include the deployment of US security personnel and assets to work with their Nigerian counterparts in the search and rescue operation”.
Psaki said Obama “has directed that we and the secretary… do everything we can to help the Nigerian government find and free these young women”.
US lawmakers have also called on the Obama administration to do all it can to help free the girls, especially after the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, went viral.
Psaki said Washington welcomes “the openness of President Jonathan to this type of a coordination cell, this team that could help provide some of the assistance that may be useful for them at this difficult time”.
She noted that the US had long been involved in helping Nigeria improve its criminal justice system, and in the past year had given some $3 million to the country in law enforcement assistance.
US Senate to Hold a Minute's Silence for Schoolgirls
And in a show of global concern, the US Senate will observe a moment of silence at 2:30 p.m. today for the abducted Nigerian girls on the steps of the Capitol. This is being organised by the Congressional African Staff Association along with the Congressional Hispanic Staff Association and the Congressional Black Associates. It is open to the media.
Senator Boxer is expected to be there. Senator Whitehouse may be there as well. Senate Chaplain Barry Black will speak and African singer Patrick Mystereux will be singing to honor the girls and their families.
Meanwhile, calls for the United States to help find and free the kidnapped girls are mounting after Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the abduction and threatened to sell the girls as "slaves".
"I abducted your girls," the Islamist group's leader, Abubakar Shekau said in a 57-minute video obtained by AFP Monday, referring to the 276 students kidnapped three weeks ago from their boarding school in Chibok, northern Nigeria.
"I will repeat this: Western education should fold up. I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah," Shekau said, adding that his group was holding the girls as "slaves", in comments that stoked international outrage.
US officials said they were worried many of the students, who are aged 16 to 18, had now been smuggled across Nigeria's borders into other countries which could complicate the so-far fruitless efforts to find them.
"We cannot close our eyes to the clear evidence of barbarity unfolding before us in Nigeria," said Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar, her voice breaking as she addressed the Senate.
As anger and frustration escalate in Nigeria at the government's failure to find the girls, six US senators have introduced a resolution calling for action.
"We and our African allies should do everything to help the Nigerian government rescue innocent girls and return them to their families," Senator Dick Durbin, one of the resolution's sponsors, said in a tweet.
However, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf who condemned the abduction as "despicable" said Washington was standing by to assist "in any way we think that is appropriate", but declined to outline specific US help; while dismissing suggestions that the US would deploy military assets on the ground.
"Undersecretary of State Sarah Sewall is on her way to Nigeria and will meet with senior officials in the coming days to discuss the crisis", Harf said.
UK Offers Practical Help
In addition to the US stepping in to assist Nigeria in the search and rescue of the schoolgirls, the United Kingdom yesterday also offered “practical help” to the country in finding and securing the release of the girls.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said this as he arrived Vienna, Austria, for a meeting of the Council of Europe to discuss the way forward in the Ukraine/Russia crisis.
“We are offering practical help…. the actions of Boko Haram to use girls as the spoils of war, the spoils of terrorism, is disgusting. It is immoral. It should show everybody across the world that they should not give any support for such a vile organisation.
“I called the Nigerian foreign minister when this first arose on Good Friday to offer help from Britain, to express our concerns,” he said.
He however did not disclose what form of assistance the UK is offering to Nigeria.
“Our high commissioner will continue to discuss that with the Nigerians. Britain is offering assistance but of course the primary responsibility will rest with the Nigerians, and I hope they will do what is necessary to reunite these girls with their families,” he said.
Hague disclosed that Nigeria was recently invited to join the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative, for which a global summit would be held in London in June.
The initiative is meant to help countries improve the way they tackle the consequences of sexual violence in conflict situations and make sure that those responsible are called to justice.
“This might help in the future; of course, it does not help today,” Hague said.
In another development, the Government of Spain condemned last week’s terrorist attack on Nyanya where 21 lives were lost with dozens wounded.
In a statement released by its embassy in Abuja yesterday, Spain expressed solidarity with the people of Nigeria in their quest for peace and security.
Committee on Kidnapped Pupils Inaugurated
Meanwhile, the president, in Abuja yesterday, inaugurated the 30-member fact finding committee on the abducted Chibok students.
He said the committee would be primarily concerned with providing a public interface with all directly concerned in the tragedy, and with a view to providing well-coordinated citizens’ inputs into the overall investigations.
The president made it clear that the committee was neither judicial nor administrative to look into the affairs of the incident.
He said the clarification was necessary because judicial and administrative committees are the responsibilities of the state and not of the federal government.
“I say so because before you know, somebody will go to court and say that the federal government is interloping in an area which is supposed to be the exclusive preserve of the state.
“You will agree with me that this is not a committee that brings joy to me and indeed our country's men and women,” the president said.
However, he said the establishment of the committee was a necessary step which the government had taken, with a view to confronting the sad circumstances surrounding the abduction of the female students.
“First of all, let me clarify that this committee is not a replacement for the search and rescue operations being undertaken by security agencies, nor for covert intelligence gathering required to assist that of the operation.
“The operation of the security and intelligence services will continue to intensify till our daughters are rescued and brought safely home to their families,” he said.
He acknowledged that the abduction was a trying moment for the country but said it has the empathy and cooperation of friendly countries from across the world.
“I am appreciative of the fact that this sad incident has attracted global outrage. This is a clear testimony to the fact that humanity can come together and stand as one against evil, no matter how it is presented.
“We must keep supporting the families whom for seeking education for their daughters are undergoing untold pains at this moment.
“Let me assure the families and our dear daughters that in conjunction with international community that government will do everything possible to get our girls back.
“We share your pain and suffering and are with you in prayers. We urge you to cooperate with the investigations in spite of your understandably difficult situation. We implore you to remain strong.
“And to my dear committee members, your mandate is clearly defined in the terms of reference. You must be ever mindful of the sensitivity and the importance of your assignment and work meticulously and swiftly to achieve the most within the time you have.
“The whole world is watching you because that is why we made sure that an information officer is attached to you, because I believe you will be speaking to the world every six hours or at least once a day on the progress of the committee.
“We will continue to reinforce security everywhere around the country in order to sustain our development gains. Distinguish ladies and gentlemen, we must bring back our daughters,” Jonathan charged.
Following its inauguration, the chairman of the committee, Gen. Ibrahim Sabo (rtd), who spoke to State House correspondents, said the committee was a fact-finding one constituted to uncover the information regarding the number of children abducted and the number of those released.
“We are going to interact with the stakeholders and then analyse, fuse and then arrive at conclusion,” he explained.
Shortly after departing the State House, the committee held its maiden meeting in Abuja, a member and spokesman of the committee, Kingsley Osadolor, said yesterday.
In a statement issued by Osadolor, he said the committee, after its inauguration, split into clusters of work groups to immediately gather and sift facts already in the public domain and within the knowledge of appropriate agencies.
He explained that this was done in order to ascertain gaps, which would assist the committee in the next stages of its fact-finding mission.
“The committee took cognisance of the absence of the three representatives of Borno State Government during the committee's inauguration at State House, Abuja.
“The committee contacted the Secretary to the Borno State Government, Ambassador Baba Ahmed Jidda, who explained that he had been away, but promised to send the nominated representatives at the next plenary of the presidential committee,” the statement added.
Traders Shut down Markets in Lagos
In a related development, protesters yesterday continued to express their anger and frustration over the abduction of the schoolgirls and the government’s seeming helplessness to rescue them, when major markets in Lagos State were shut down following the demand by traders for the unconditional release of the girls.
Leading the aggrieved market women in the protest under the auspices of the Association of Commodity Market Women and Men of Nigeria to the Government House in Alausa, the Iyaloja General, Mrs. Folashade Tinubu-Ojo, said the abduction was absurd and pathetic.
She said market women in Lagos, who are mothers themselves, feel the pains of the affected mothers and decided to embark on the protest to impress it on the Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola, to convey the message of the Lagos market women to the president.
“We are on this protest just to identify with the parents; to tell them that we are in it together. The fact that it has not affected us today does not mean that it may not affect us tomorrow.
“The situation is very pathetic and absurd. We need our security system to be well coordinated. One can only imagine the condition of the girls now. Though I’m not their mother, I feel the pain.
“We are sending our governor to the president to tell him that they should do more in bringing the girls home and on time. It is not a committee thing. We all have to do more. Even if it entails the president going into the bush where those girls are being kept,” she said.
Ezekwesili, Chibok Indigenes Storm DHQ
Also, the leader of Chibok Community in Abuja, Mr. Tsambido Hosea Abana, broke down in tears yesterday when he narrated how the mothers of the kidnapped students had refused to eat.
He added that the whole community had been thrown into despair and abandonment by the concerned authorities.
Abana, who was among protesters under the auspices of “Bring Back Our Girls” rally that stormed the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) in Abuja, demanded urgent action to rescue their daughters from the clutches of the terrorists.
He said the whole community was traumatised by the ugly development despite the efforts of their men who had made two attempts to search for the kidnapped girls, but were forced back when they were confronted with superior firepower of the terrorists.
He said: “Since April 14, we have been bearing this trauma, which is now well known all over the world that the insurgents came, set part of our village ablaze and carted away about 276 of our girls.
“Unfortunately, up till now we don't know what is happening to the girls, except what we are reading in the pages of newspapers. In fact, we don't know the situation they are in now and the parents have refused to eat.”
Also speaking, the leader of the group and former Vice-President of the World Bank, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, said the group had no political, religious or ethnic affiliations, but was genuinely concerned “as mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters over the abducted young girls”.
Ezekwesili said they had come to meet with the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Air Marshal Alex Badeh, to convey their anger and frustration over the inability of the military to rescue the girls.
She said despite the genuine efforts of the security forces, the results and reality indicate that they are not doing enough to free the students.
The former Minister of Education then invited gender activist, Hajia Saudatu Mahdi, who read from a prepared speech on behalf of the group, urging the military and all relevant agencies to expedite action that would lead to the freedom of the girls