The Federal Government on Saturday reject the suggestion that it postpones the trip by its high-powered delegation to the recently reclaimed Sambisa Forest on Monday, January 16, 2017 as requested by the Bring Back Our Girls (BOG) campaigners its letter on Friday.
BBOG is perhaps one of government’s most vocal critics since few days after over 200 girls were abducted from Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, North East of Nigeria, on April 14, 2014 by the Boko Haram insurgents. In a letter signed by Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, its convener, BBOG had opted out of government’s bid to show-off its successful takeover of the dreaded forest with the tour, until a pre-tour meeting is convened.
In its invitation dated January 11, had government noted that the visitors would have an opportunity to “witness, first-hand, efforts being made to search for the girls by the NAF and then join the day and night sorties with the NAF to the Sambisa Forest,” besides being an “opportunity to witness and better understand the efforts being made by the Nigerian military to secure freedom for the abducted Chibok girls and all other victims of the Boko Haram terrorism.”
In a reply to the BBOG letter on Saturday, the Federal Government, through Alhaji Lai Mohammed, its Information & Culture, said the proposed guided tour of the North East cannot be postponed for a pre-tour meeting with the group.
“We have also noted the conditions you gave for embarking on the trip, which include the said Pre-Tour Meeting and the retraction of some remarks allegedly made by the Chief of Army Staff, which the #BBOG finds to be “slanderous.”
The letter listed as reasons for not postponing the trip as scheduled, the narrow window available to have a good weather on that day, payment already made for the satellite downlink streaming of the mission that Monday, such that any shift “will require another round of booking to secure such as slot.”
The Minister also pointed out that besides the #BBOG members, other local and international journalists have been invited for the trip and that preparations have been made by the Nigerian military.
“With due respect, we will also like to say that the remarks purportedly made by the Chief of Army Staff and the request for a meeting with certain top officials of the government are, at best tangential to the invitation we extended to the #BBOG to join the search mission, in recognition of the group’s commitment to the safe release of the Chibok girls who remain in captivity as well as its continued interest in the welfare of the firls who have been released,” he added.
Mohammed also expressed hope that the group would drop its conditions and join the trip, which shows government’s commitment to securing freedom for the abducted girls as well as its transparency in handling the issue of the girls.
According to the earlier letter, the Federal Government’s delegation to Sambisa Forest would include Mohammed, his Defence counterpart- Brigadier-General Mansur Dan-Alli (Rtd), Chiefs of Air and Army Staff, the BBOG and select journalists.
Thereafter, the team would return to Yola for a briefing by the NAF on the daily search for the girls as well as all those who have been abducted by Boko Haram.
In its January 13 reply, the BBOG said its members expressed readiness to explore the opportunity for a visit to the North East region, but that this would only be after “a pre-tour meeting to discuss pertinent issues that will help inform our decision to proceed.”
The meeting to be attended by the Minister of Defence, Chief of Army Staff, as well as Chief of the Air Force, according to the letter signed by Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, former Minister of Education, would “provide first-hand knowledge of, and answers to questions that our movement wishes to raise ahead of the guided visit.”
The group however regretted that while it was being invited for a tour of the dreaded forest, the Chief of Army Staff, had barely two days earlier attacked it, reportedly accusing the group of engaging in “social advocacy terrorism” when a group visited his office.
“It is puzzling that the reported said visit happened less than forty-eight hours before our movement received your letter asking us to travel in the company of the same Chief of Army Staff to Sambisa Forest.”
Consequently, the group demanded that ahead of the said pre-tour meeting “that the Chief of Army Staff retracts and apologises for endorsing such slanderous attacks against our movement #BringBackOurGirls and specifically at some of our leaders.”
Such step, the group added, would communicate the FG’s goodwill in asking its members to accompany it on the visit.
Sounding pained at the derogatory remark by such senior public officer as the Army chief, the group recalled that 990 days, the “movement has singularly advocated for the return of our Chibok daughters who were
“For nearly three years, our movement has demonstrated the utmost decorum and civility by ensuring that our advocacy follows due process and upholds the core values that we developed early on in our campaigns.”
The letter assured government of BBOG’s readiness to attend the pre-tour meeting on the date to be fixed by government, just as it would continue on the path of its core values like “hope, unity, motivation, affability, nationalism, integrity, transparency, empathy, equity, discipline and sacrifice.