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Teachers in public primary and secondary schools in Nigeria under the aegis of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) yesterday stayed away from their respective schools to protest the abduction of more than 200 girls from Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, over five weeks ago.
The president of the teachers' union, Mr. Michael Alogba Olukoya, who issued the directive in Abuja on Wednesday, said the teachers would also protest the killing of 173 teachers by members of the Boko Haram sect.
He said the complete shutdown of schools would force the government to put in more efforts to rescue the girls who were abducted on April 14.
Consequently, teachers in various states nationwide, not only stayed away from classes, they organised protest rallies in their various states.
The teachers were joined in Abuja by the #BringBackOurGirls campaigners, who led a mammoth crowd including civil society groups in protest to demand more action on the kidnapped girls.
But the protesters in Abuja who had planned to march to the Presidential Villa to meet with President Goodluck Jonathan to register their protest, were rebuffed by men of the Nigeria Police Force.
Instead, the protesters were met by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Senator Bala Mohammed, Minister of State for the FCT, Ms. Olajumoke Akinjide, and other members of the cabinet, who called for a united front against terrorism and cautioned against the politicisation of the campaign against terror.
During their interaction with the campaigners, the president through Akinjide assured them of the safe return of the girls, adding that he was also at pains at their plight.
Addressing the protesters from a letter written by the president, Akinjide said the protests should be directed at the terrorists that have unleashed mayhem on the country.
He also cautioned against attacking the military that continues to fight and lose their lives “while we all sleep”.
“Our security forces are among the best trained in Africa… We must never lose sight of the fact that we have a common enemy,” he said.
The president also described as “wrong and unfair” suggestions that the government was slow to act following the abduction of the schoolgirls, adding that he had been holding daily meetings with security agencies since the incident.
The president’s letter read in part: “For a government that has placed so much premium on addressing major areas of reform and development in the nation, especially the development of women and the girl-child through increased investment in girl-child education and added opportunity for women, this wicked act has been indeed very painful.
“Our present world is under the grip of terrorism. Yesterday, a market in China where ordinary people go to shop was bombed. Two days ago, terrorists visited our beautiful town of Jos and detonated bombs killing scores of people.
“The communities of Kano, Maiduguri, Abuja, Nyanya, Madallah, amongst others, have at various times been bombed. Churches, mosques, parks and newspaper houses have not been spared. Terrorists and their sponsors have brought terrorism to our land. This is sad. This we must resist.
“In the last three weeks, our country has been in the spotlight. Some evil individuals who call themselves Boko Haram abducted our daughters, the future mothers of our nation, and have refused to release them.
“This evil act has sparked protests all over the world. This is as it should be. There must be a united movement for the release of our daughters and that movement must now be turned into a united action against terrorism.
“Government has mobilised available resources, military and diplomatic, in the search for our girls who have suffered so much trauma in captivity by agents of terror.
“From the very first day this kidnapping occurred, the federal government took action, directing our security services to go after the abductors. The search for our daughters has now assumed regional and global proportions and our nation has received strong support from our neighbouring countries and the international community including the United States, China, France and the United Kingdom, among others.
“The security forces also reached out to the Borno State Government and community members for support and collaboration to bring back our innocent daughters. So far, the campaign to bring our daughters back home is on, and is receiving global support.
“Nigeria in collaboration with Chad, Cameroun and Benin Republic have all agreed to establish a single centre for sharing intelligence on the activities of terrorists across our boundaries.
“Apart from those efforts in the public space, I have personally initiated consultations with so many stakeholders, to explore alternative methods of resolving this crisis. It is wrong and most unfair to suggest that there was a slow reaction to this kidnapping.
“As the Commander-in-Chief, I meet with the security chiefs almost daily, and I am also in constant consultations with regional and global partners on these terrorist threats.
“This is why I want to appeal to your group and others through this medium, that it is important that your genuine patriotic zeal is matched with a realistic understanding of the situation in expressing concern and sentiments on this matter and other matters of terrorism.
“As early as January 23, 2013, I asked the world for help in tackling terrorism at Davos, Switzerland. I later met with President Barack Obama during the United Nations General Assembly in September of 2013 where I requested for US support.
“Government believes that we all must come together to fight terrorism and that protests should be directed at the terrorists who have abducted our innocent daughters and deprived them of a place at the fountain of freedom in our country.
“Our security forces are among the best trained in Africa. They are making so much sacrifice in the fight against terror. As we sleep daily, they are in the field confronting the enemy. They need our support, not attacks and discouragement.
“When terrorists see Nigerians turn on each other in blame it gives them a huge morale boost. We must never lose sight of the fact that terrorists are the real enemy.
“We would like to encourage civil society groups to use their influence to encourage Nigerians to supply useful information to the security services using the emergency number 112. Citizens must protect citizens if our civilisation is to prosper.”
Anyim also expressed the appreciation of the federal government to the protesters for comporting themselves in an orderly manner.
The protesters had earlier handed over a letter enumerating 10 questions for the president to the delegation.
Pre-selected protesters read out the questions after the first one by the wife of the former Chief Justice of the Federation, Mrs. Maryam Uwais.
Some of the questions demanded to know why the president had not visited Chibok to commiserate with the affected families; why the security forces were not effective in fighting and curbing the activities of the Boko Haram sect; and what minimum safety standards are currently in place for soft targets.
Others asked the president to explain the scale and magnitude of what Nigeria is dealing with in terms of the insurgency.
The protesters led by former a Vice-President of the World Bank, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili and Coordinator Hadiza Bala Usman, took off from the Unity Fountain, their convergence point, at 3.42 pm.
The procession chanted “Bring Back Our Girls”, using the tune of John Lennon’s classic “Give Peace a Chance”, and bore placards with inscriptions: “We Are All from Chibok”, “We Condemn Terrorism”, “All we want is Peace”, “Religion is not Politics”, etc.
However, as they got to the Federal Secretariat en route to the Presidential Villa, policemen forming human barricades, bearing batons and shields, blocked all roads leading to the villa, until Anyim and members of the cabinet came out to meet with them.
Throughout the rally, Ezekwesili appealed to the protesters to remain calm and comport themselves as law-abiding citizens.
Ezekwesili, responding to the president's letter lamented that the president had missed a “colossal opportunity” to address Nigerians, adding that none of the issues raised by the protesters was addressed by the president's letter.
Jonathan to Meet African Leaders
But in furtherance of the government’s war against terrorism, the president will today head to Pretoria, South Africa for high-level discussions with other African heads of state and government on combating terrorism on the continent.
The continent’s five regions will each be represented by two heads of state and government at the talks, which will focus on a collective action to effectively roll back the scourge of terrorism in Africa.
In a statement by his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, others expected at the talks, which will take place ahead of President Jacob Zuma’s inauguration for a new term in office, include the leaders of Ghana, Republic of Congo, Chad, Angola, Rwanda, South Africa, Mauritania, Algeria and Ethiopia.
“President Jonathan who will be accompanied by the First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Aminu Wali and some key aides, and will return to Abuja after attending President Zuma’s inauguration on Saturday,” the statement said.
CDS Ordered to Investigate Jos Bombings
Also, the president has ordered the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Air Marshal Alex Badeh, to proceed to Jos, Plateau State, to strengthen investigations into Tuesday’s twin bombings which rocked the central area of the city.
The president was reported to have given the order on Wednesday, but this was made public yesterday in Abuja, by the Coordinator of the National Briefing Centre on Terrorism and Director General of the National Orientation Agency, Mr. Mike Omeri.
Omeri also said the federal government welcomes the growing international support towards the search for the 200 plus abducted girls, adding that the foreign support would help in the safe rescue of the girls and the return of normalcy to the North-eastern part of the country.
“There was an incident in Jos as a result of which the president has directed the Chief of Defence Staff to proceed to Jos to conduct the investigation into the incident for further assessment of the situation on the ground,” he said.
Boko Haram Kills 29 in Fresh Attack
Despite the repeated assurance by the government to stop the activities of the terrorist sect, the violence continued when Boko Haram attacked yet another Borno village on Wednesday, resulting in the death of 29 persons.
The repeated attacks by the sect have forced Nigerians living in communities bordering Cameroun to migrate to the Francophone country.
The latest attack occurred in Chukungduoa village, a community in Gamboru Ngala Local Government Area of Borno State.
Chukungduoa is a few kilometres from Gamboru, which was attacked two weeks ago and left in its trail over 300 dead persons.
Wednesday’s attack, according to a resident, Mallam Bakura Mustapha Alhaji, occurred barely 10 days after the withdrawal of military personnel from the village.
Sources said the gunmen drove into the village in 15 vehicles and several motorcycles and were armed with AK47 rifles, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and petrol bombs.
It was gathered that they stormed the village at about 11am and opened fire on unarmed residents, killing 29 people, while most of the houses and shops in the village were razed.
Another source said apart from those killed, there were several injured people, but many residents of the village who sustained gunshot wounds “are now receiving treatment at one of the hospitals in Cameroun Republic”.
He said all buildings in the village were completely razed, with only three structures left untouched by the attackers.
He said the 29 bodies were still littering the community as the villagers had fled.
“As I speak, we have counted 29 dead bodies lying on the streets. The whole houses and shops were razed, the village is deserted with no presence of security operatives.
“Some of our people have fled to Gamboru Ngala Council Area, while others fled into neighbouring Camerounian villages. Please I am appealing to you to tell government about the situation in which we find ourselves, it is really shocking,” he told journalists on the phone.
All efforts to get the Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Gideon Jubrin, to respond did not yield any result as at press time, but a top security source who was not authorised to speak to the press, confirmed the incident.
UN Blacklists Boko Haram, Imposes Sanctions
In response to the monster that Boko Haram has become, the United Nations yesterday imposed sanctions on the sect, blacklisting it as an Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist organisation.
The terror designation, which was immediately welcomed by the United States, subjects Boko Haram to an arms embargo and asset freeze, though it remains unclear what practical impact this would have.
“Boko Haram is now listed on the United Nations’ Al-Qaeda sanctions list,” said Australian Ambassador Gary Quinlan, chair of the Al-Qaeda sanctions committee.
“We will work to try and make sure that anyone providing material assistance to Boko Haram, whether funding or arms, will in effect be stopped,” he told reporters in New York.
Quinlan said there was “very clear evidence” that Boko Haram had trained extensively with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, particularly on developing bombs.
A significant number of Boko Haram personnel had fought alongside Al-Qaeda affiliates in Mali and their leader had made strong statements of solidarity with Al-Qaeda franchises, he added.
US Ambassador Samantha Power hailed the sanctions as “an important step” to support Nigeria in defeating “Boko Haram and hold its murderous leadership accountable for atrocities”.
Experts, however, questioned whether sanctions will have a real impact given that the group is based in an area that operates on a cash economy.
However, it was Nigeria that requested the Boko Haram terror designation, with Jonathan calling the group “Al-Qaeda in Western and Central Africa,” portraying it as a threat to regional stability.
The US and a number of other countries have already designated Boko Haram a terrorist organisation in an attempt to cut off any overseas funding for the group.
Power said Washington would continue doing everything possible to help bring back the kidnapped girls and to work with the government of Nigeria to eliminate Boko Haram.
Meanwhile, hundreds of teachers of public primary and secondary schools nationwide expressed their anger over the prolonged delay in locating and rescuing the schoolgirls by staying away from their respective schools.
The teachers also protested the killing of 173 of their colleagues by Boko Haram, demanding that the government must provide security at schools, especially in the northern section of the country.
In Lagos, the teachers took their protest to the Governor’s Office and called on the government to bring back the girls. Some of their placards read: ‘Girl-child Slavery is Haram, Bring Back our Girls’; ‘All of the Girls Must be Released Now’; ‘We Want our Girls Back’; and ‘Pray for our Girls to Return Home’.
In a letter addressed to Governor Babatunde Fashola, the teachers demanded the release of the girls, saying they had been depressed since the students were kidnapped more than a month ago.
Likewise, the Values-based Civil Society Organisation of Nigeria staged its protest in Surulere area of the state, calling on the federal government to map out strategies to secure the release of the girls and return them home safely.
The Coordinator of the body, Mr. Sonnie Ekwowusi, said: “What we have done today is to demonstrate that the girls who were kidnapped are part of the human society and we decided to seek for their freedom because it is their right to be free.”
The coalition marched from Union Bank Sports Field through Adeniran Ogunsanya to Eric Moore and Bode Thomas.
In Lokoja, Kogi State, teachers also joined the BringBackOurGirls protest as directed by the NUT.
Although THISDAY gathered that primary school teachers in the state have been on strike due to the non-payment of their four months salaries and allowances, the secondary schools observed the directive by closing down their various schools.
However, academic activities went on smoothly in private schools across the state.
In a chat with THISDAY, the state chairman of NUT, Mr. Abdullahi Suleiman, said though the teachers in the state-owned primary schools were on strike, the teachers decided to collaborate with their counterparts in the union.
It was the same effect in Osun State yesterday when academic activities came to an abrupt halt as the teachers in the state stayed away from their duty posts, after pupils and students who had earlier resumed for normal studies were dispersed and sent back home.
The state chairman of the union, Mr. Saka Adesiyan, urged the federal government to put in extra efforts to tackle the insurgence to allow peace in the country.
The protest took place in all the 30 local government areas of the state with a call on Nigerians to be vigilant so as to avoid another Chibok experience.
However, the protest failed to take place in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja as teachers in public schools did not initially hold any such rally, saying they were not informed about the protest, even though the directive nationwide curiously emanated from Abuja, the seat of power. Therefore teachers in public schools across the FCT went about their daily duties.
At the Model Secondary School, Maitama, classes continued as usual. THISDAY visited the school premises at about 11am, and only a few students were walking around, others were in their classrooms.
But after a while, the FCT chapter of the NUT which gathered in Zone 7, Wuse now had a mini rally that ended up with a prayer session, beseeching God to rescue the girls.
Chairman of the NUT FCT, Mr. Hassan Jibir, said the abducted girls were left in the care of teachers to train because of the trust parents had in them.
In the same vein, no fewer than 200 teachers drawn from the 17 local government areas of Enugu State yesterday embarked on a peaceful protest in solidarity with their colleagues across the country to express their displeasure over the abduction of the Chibok girls.
Clad in black attire, with some adorning the uniform of the NUT, the aggrieved teachers also protested against the killing of 173 teachers in Borno and Yobe States by the Boko Haram Islamic group, asking government to find an end to the senseless destruction of lives and property in the North-east.
It was however observed that schools in the state were not shut down as a result of the teachers’ protest as teachers were selected from the schools in the state to represent their colleagues.
Led by their chairman, Mr. Paul Nnaji, the teachers carried placards with several inscriptions like: Bring Back our Girls; Save our Schools; Education is a Right; Chibok Girls must be brought Back to School; Pay compensation to Families of Murdered Teachers; Support Government to Crush insurgents; and We taught you, Don’t kill Us’, among others.
The teachers were equally protected by security operatives such as the police, SSS, and civil defence corps in order to ward off the possible hijack of the protest by hoodlums. They later marched to the Government House where they handed over their protest letter to Governor Sullivan Chime who was represented by his Senior Special Assistant on Inter-Party Relations and Conflict Resolutions, Chris Asadu.
Responding, Asadu said: “Our prayer is that those innocent girls will be released soonest and in good health.”
Similarly, the Sokoto State chapter of the NUT yesterday conducted a peaceful demonstration. Members of the union, who filed out in large numbers for the protest marched to the Government House, carrying several placards to send their message.
Some of the placards read: "Save our Schools; Pay compensation to Families of Murdered Teachers; Support government to crush insurgency; You have killed 173 teachers but have not killed our Patriotism".
Speaking in Sokoto yesterday, state Chairman of the NUT, Mr. Cika Maidamma Alkamawa, said the demonstrating teachers were angry over the abduction of the over 200 schoolgirls in Chibok.
He lamented that over 173 teachers had been killed by the Boko Haram insurgents without any reason while the school system had suffered as a result of the recurring violence in the north, appealing to the Boko Haram insurgents to release the girls without any condition.
"The innocent schoolgirls are raw materials for the nation's future development. We therefore, appeal to Boko Haram to bring back our girls alive,"Alkamawa added.
Responding, Governor Aliyu Wamakko described the abduction of the schoolgirls in Chibok as cruel and unprecedented in the country.
As it was in the FCT, Kaduna teachers shunned the protest as public schools remained open.
THISDAY observed that both private and public schools in the metropolis, especially areas like Sabon -Tasha, Narayi, Kakuri, Television, Independence Way, Kawo, Angwan Sarki and Hayin Banki opened for normal activities.
One of the teachers at Government Secondary School, Narayi, told THISDAY that they were not informed about any plan to close schools today in solidarity with the kidnapped Chibok girls.
"We are not aware of the NUT directive to close the schools today. Nobody informed us about it. If they had informed us you will not see us in the school.
“We have been praying for the release of the girls and we will support any move that will lead to their release.” she stated.
But teachers in Cross River State fully complied with the directive as the teachers in the state’s public schools turned back their pupils and students who had come to school.
Chairman of NUT in the state, Mr. Eyo-Nsa Itam, who addressed his colleagues yesterday said teachers in the state had decided to join other Nigerians and the international community to call for the release of the girls.
“The school system had suffered the worst attack- from primary and secondary to tertiary education system.
“Apart from the abduction of Chibok school girls and others unaccounted for, so far 173 teachers have lost their lives in the Boko Haram human decimation,” he said.
Itam called on government to put in place appropriate measures that would safeguard the lives of both students and teachers in the schools, demanding insurance cover for teachers and students in volatile regions.
In the same breadth, teachers in Edo State yesterday staged the rally in protest of the abduction of the over 200 girls in Chibok, Bornu State by the Boko Haram insurgents.
The protesting teachers urged the federal government to rescue the girls immediately in order to reassure the country and the citizens that they are capable of protecting every citizen no matter the status.
Consequently, all schools except private schools were under lock and key.
The rally saw the teachers marching through the streets of Benin-city through the state House of Assembly to Government House bearing placards of various inscriptions.
A teacher, who spoke to THISDAY,ss lamented that it was increasingly becoming difficult for teachers to carry out their duties in the classrooms when their mates and pupils in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States are being killed.
“The killing of teachers in these states is a national tragedy. Those killing teachers were taught by teachers. Why then are they killing teachers now?” he queried.
“So we are out now to send a warning to those concerned that we will no longer tolerate such killing,” he said.
Teachers in Ogun State also failed to join in the protest. When THISDAY visited some primary and secondary schools in Abeokuta, it was gathered that only the primary schools complied with the directive, while the secondary schools failed to comply with the excuse that secondary schools in the state are under the umbrella of Academic Staff Union of Secondary Schools (ASUSS) not NUT.
Some of the secondary schools that failed to comply with the national directives of NUT included Reverend Kuti Secondary School; Nawarudeen Secondary School, St John Anglican Secondary School; Abeokuta Grammar School; African Church Secondary School.
On the other hand, teachers in Delta State held a protest march which ended in the Government House, Asaba where Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan advised them not to shut down the schools as that would be the ultimate wish of the Boko Haram insurgents.
“If the classrooms are closed, then, we are supporting those against western education. We must not remotely support them, western education is good for us, it is good for the society and it is good for the nation,” Uduaghan said.
He assured the protesters that Jonathan’s administration was determined to stop any form of terrorism in the country.
Also in Adamawa , the state chapter of the NUT protested the abduction, social and religious incarceration of the over 200 girls by Boko Haram insurgents.
The members of the union marched through some streets of Yola, rounding it off at the Government House to express their grievances to Governor Murtala Nyako, where he was urged to appeal to the federal government to expedite action for the release of the abducted girls.
The state Chairman of NUT, Mr. Dauda Maina, told the governor that they received the news of the abduction as a tale from wonderland”.
Maina said the abduction of the Chibok girls would be a setback to the realisation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on education by 2015, which is aimed at making education available for all Nigerians by that year.
The NUT in Anambra State also joined in the protest yesterday in front of the Government House, Awka to demand the unconditional release of the over 200 girls of the Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State abducted by the Boko Haram insurgents over a month ago.
The state chapter chairman of NUT, Mr. Ifeanyi Ofodile, who led members of the union, said Nigerians irrespective of tribe and religion should close ranks and tackle the challenge posed by the Boko Haram insurgency, adding that should the insurgents succeed in their devilish agenda, they would take Nigeria back by over a 100 years.
“We as parents, teachers and Nigerians are here to say no to the evil perpetrated by them” he said, adding that over 173 teachers had been sacrificed nation-wide since the insurgency began”, describing them as the unsung heroes of these attacks.
The demand for the release of the abducted girls as well as compensation for the slain teachers also formed the fulcrum of demand by the Borno State teachers.
Since all public schools were still closed in the state, the teachers used the opportunity of the day to stage a peaceful protest to the Government House, Maiduguri.
The teachers carried placards with inscriptions such as: "Boko Haram leaders are educated don't deceive Others," "Leave our schools alone, Boko Haram," "Bring Back our girls, safe and alive," "We demand immediate release of abducted girls," Education is a right", "Chibok girls must be brought back to school," "Over 170 teachers were killed," "Support government to crush insurgency."
Also written on the placards were: "We taught you not to kill," "Pay compensation to families of murdered teachers," "Our girls must go to school”, etc.
“The union urges the federal government to stand up to the challenges and end these unwanted destruction of lives and properties” the statement by the Deputy Chairman of the state NUT said.
While addressing the protesters, Governor Ibrahim Shettima said the 173 teachers died fighting the right cause.
“Education is the fundamental right of each and every child in this country and in this world. It is so sad that in this century so many people want us to backslide into primitive era. They want us to be using hoes and cutlasses; they want us to go back and be using only herbs for medication but ironically these lunatics are using guns and ammunition produced using modern technology to kill innocent souls, what a contradiction,” he said.
The protest also forced public schools in Ekiti State to close down yesterday.
The protesting teachers embarked on a protest march through major streets in Ado-Ekiti.
Led by the state Chairman, Kayode Akosile,s and Secretary, Jamiu Ola-Idris, the protesting teachers took off from their state secretariat along Iyin Road and dropped a copy of their protest letter at the police headquarters and later walked to the popular Fajuyi Park.
Addressing the gathering, Akosile said it was unacceptable that over 200 girls had been kidnapped for over a month and nobody has a clue of their whereabouts.
Besides, he disclosed that about 173 teachers had been killed in Borno State since the Boko Haram insurgency started.
He called on the federal government to expedite action to bring back the girls safely and reunite them with their families.
It was the same experience of shut schools in Rivers State as members of the NUT marched through major streets in Port Harcourt to protest the abduction of the Chibok girls.
But more for fear of insecurity than unwillingness to comply, the NUT Kano State chapter declined to join their counterparts nationwide in the protest, fearing that it might suffer another attack. The city was attacked by bomb blasts penultimate weekend, while the police averted another attack last week.
Consequently, school activities both in public and private schools went on unhindered yesterday in the state.
Schools visited by THISDAY observed that teaching and learning activities held successfully.
The state Chairman of the NUT, Mr. Lawal Abdu Garun Malam told THISDAY: “We only gathered at our secretariat and prayed for the abducted girls but no protests at all because of security reason.”
A schoolteacher who spoke with THISDAY under anonymity, revealed that “there is no any security reason, it’s just a matter that the state chapter of the union is not aware of what to do but resolved to organise the prayer”.