HUNDREDS of women from Chibok, Borno State, on Tuesday, staged a protest in Abuja urging the Federal Government to intensify efforts in rescuing the remaining female students abducted in the town about two weeks ago by insurgents.
The women were dressed in black and converged on Eagle Square before marching to the National Assembly.
They were led by Naomi Mutah, who also spoke on their behalf.
She said they took the decision to stage the protest in order to express their dissatisfaction with the way the rescue efforts of their kidnapped daughters were being handled by government.
She alleged that no government official had reached out to the community to intimate the people of the efforts being made to rescue the girls.
“Our daughters were carried away by the insurgents like cows into the wilderness. If they are dead, we want to see their corpses.
“For the past two weeks that the incident occurred, nobody has talked to us. We are dying in silence. Where is the international community? We need their assistance.
“We have come here to express our dismay. Probably if the government sees us like this, it may ginger them to do what they are supposed to do.
We want government to rescue our daughters from their abductors,’’ she said.
A concerned father in Chibok, Malam Shetima Abba, said they would leave no stone unturned until they find the missing girls in the wild.
Similarly, Esther Bata, who was part of a peaceful demonstration in Abuja, said many parents in the troubled community were now suffering from hypertension and related body complications.
Speaking in an interview with the VOA Hausa, monitored in Kaduna, on Tuesday, Abba said when reports reached them that the girls were moved to a further location, the development had angered the affected parents and caused serious upsets.
He said apart from 15 soldiers and their vehicles earlier stationed at Chibok, there was no reinforcement of troops in the community as those that were deployed to the area at the peak of the crisis were moved to somewhere else.
He faulted the earlier claim, by security agents that they had annexed the enclave where the terrorists were holding the girls captive, saying it was a lie, as nothing like that had happened.
Abba recalled that the parents had arranged with the security agents to go to Balli, about 25km from Chibok, where it was believed the terrorists had camped the girls, but alleged that, the soldiers retreated and allowed only the parents to proceed on the mission.
Also, Senator Ahmed Zanna, who represented Borno Central Senatorial district, alleged that many of the girls had been married to insurgents in Chad and Cameroon.
At the National Assembly, Senator Barnabas Gemade, who received the women on behalf of the Senate President, David Mark, told them that members of the National Assembly were saddened by the incident.
He assured them that the Senate was not sleeping or giving up on its responsibility, but had been working hard to ensure that the girls were rescued.
Gemade noted the first issue handled by the Senate when it resumed on Tuesday was a motion on the abducted girls and assured that government was doing everything possible to address the issue.
Senators Helen Esuene, Zainab Kure and Ali Ndume equally addressed the women.
FG pleads with parents
The Federal Government, has, however, pleaded with the parents, saying that concerted efforts were being made by all the nation’s security forces to secure them safely.
Minister of Women Affairs, Hajia Zainab Maina, made the plea at the premises of the National Assembly, Abuja, while addressing the parents and relatives.
The parents had earlier presented a letter containing their grievances to the Minister of Women Affairs, for onward transfer to President Goodluck Jonathan, which she promised to deliver to him before the close of work on Tuesday.
The minister, however, debunked the allegations that the Federal Government was not making efforts to rescue the students, saying that “as I speak, all the nation’s security forces are in the forest on the orders of President Jonathan, to search for the children and bring them alive within days.”
According to the minister, the president was worried, the First Lady was worried too, adding that “we are all worried, all the security forces have been fully mobilised by the president himself, he is on top of the matter. He has been holding series of meeting with the security chiefs and all centred on the security challenges we are facing, which brought about this abduction.”
The minister expressed the optimism that all the efforts being made to locate the children would soon pay off, while she appealed to the parents to be patient with the government on the matter and, as well, intensify their efforts in prayers for their early release.
Senator Ndume, representing Borno South senatorial district, the jurisdiction where the incident happened, wept profusely on Tuesday while addressing the aggrieved parents.
All efforts by Senator Ndume to explain to the parents steps he had taken in ensuring that the kidnapped students were released fell on their deaf ears, as they told him bluntly to forget ever coming to them to campaign for re-election.
At a stage, the senator, who was sandwiched by several National Assembly security forces, could no longer control his emotion and started weeping.
The girls were married off, locals allege
Some of the schoolgirls abducted by suspected militant Islamists in Chibok, Borno State, are believed to have been taken to neighbouring countries, a local leader, Pogo Bitrus, told the British Broadcasting Corporation, (BBC).
Pogo Bitrus said there had been “sightings” of gunmen crossing with the girls into Cameroon and Chad, alleging that one of the girls had been forced to marry the militants.
Bitrus, a Chibok community leader, said 43 of the girls had “regained their freedom” after escaping, while 230 were still in captivity.
He said there were also reports that the insurgents had married some of the girls.
“We learned that one of the ‘grooms’ brought his ‘wife’ to a neighbouring town in Cameroon and kept her there,” he told the BBC.
“Some of them have been taken across Lake Chad and some have been ferried across the border into parts of Cameroon,” he further told the BBC.
“I’m crying now as a community leader to alert the world to what’s happening, so that some pressure would be brought to bear on government to act,” he added.
Meanwhile rumours doing the round in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, indicated that five out of the female students had been slaughtered, over their refusal to marry some of the dreaded sect members as did their other colleagues, while three others, who escaped were now hospitalised at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (UMTH) for excessive bleeding.
A source, who pleaded anonymity, told the Nigerian Tribune in Maiduguri, on Tuesday, that the girls said the insurgents were a community to themselves in the forest, adding that they were never allowed to sleep in one place, as they kept moving from one place to another.
“From what one of the girls is saying, these people are over a thousand, but I want to believe they are much more than that, because, according to them, sometimes they took them inside Hilux vehicles and travelled for about three hours in the bush to spend the night and the next day, they would also take them to another destination.
“The insurgents keep moving, but according to the girls, they are still within the Nigerian border,” he said.
He further added that “it is true that some of them were married to the insurgents, while some of them were being used by those who did not propose marriage. The girls said, they are aware of five of their colleagues, who refused to get married were forced to be used and afterwards slaughtered.”
A medical personnel at the UMTH, who also pleaded not to be mentioned, said he was not aware of such a case that was brought to the hospital with regards to the girls abducted from Chibok, but that he heard people talking about it.
“So many cases are already being attended to. It could be one of such cases, but I am not aware of girls that were brought from Chibok. I am sure if you can speak with the people at the emergency ward or some of your friends in the hospital, they can oblige you with news, but please don’t quote my name,” he said.
Reps summon CDS
The House of Representatives, on Tuesday, summoned the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and service chiefs over the latest development on the abducted schoolgirls.
This came as the House urged the Federal Government to seek foreign assistance in the rescue mission.
To this end, the House urged the security agencies to, as a matter of urgency, expedite action in rescuing the abducted girls.
The service chiefs summoned alongside the CDS, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, were Chief of Army Staff, Major-General Kenneth Tobiah Minimah; Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Usman Jibrin and Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal Adesola Amosu.
The House also urged the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to provide relief materials to those whose houses and shops were destroyed during the incident.
The House resolution was sequel to the motion of urgent public importance, entitled: “urgent need to secure the release of the abducted girls of Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State,” moved by Honourable Peter Biye Gumtha.
However, the House rejected some amendments to the motion.
The rejected amendments to the motion, which was proposed by Honourable Mohammed Asema, included a call on the service chiefs to resign their appointments if they were unable to secure the release of the girls within one week.
The lawmakers also rejected an amendment to have Federal Government declare a day of national prayer.
While moving the motion, Honourable Gumtha maintained that “the parents of the abducted girls are yet to receive any reliable information from the security agencies on the whereabouts of their children.”
Most lawmakers, in turns, spoke in support of the motion.
The House Leader, Honourable Mulikat Adeola-Akande, who led the pack of lawmakers to condemn the abduction of the girls, also supported the move to have the service chiefs brief the House on what they had done to bring the situation under control.
Also, Honourable Rasaq Bello-Osagie said “beyond rhetoric and politics, we need to have national agenda to address the insecurity in the country” and appealed to political leaders to moderate their comments.
Speaking further, he said, “we need to invest more on intelligence to deal with this matter. This is not about politics, we need to do what we can do as parliamentarians to help rescue the situation.”
On her part, Honourable Aisha Dahiru, however, said “the debate on this issue is belated. I thought that this House would have suspended its recess to discuss this issue. I believe that this motion is more important. How can over 200 girls be abducted to an unknown destination?”
When the motion was put to vote by the Speaker, Honourable Aminu Tambuwal, who presided over the session, it was unanimously supported.
Senate seeks full military action
The Senate, on Tuesday, sought full military action against the insurgents.
While contributing on a motion moved by Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba on behalf of the entire senators, Senator Zanna said the insurgents had scattered the girls in villages and towns around Cameroon and Chad Republic.
He also submitted that it might be impossible to recover up to 100 of the abducted girls.
“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 where they 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 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 move through the Mandara Mountain that is in Gwoza and some of them are just a stone throw from the military barracks.
“Even now, some of them are in Kolofata, Cameroon, which is about 15 kilometre or even less to the borders,” he said.
The senator added that one of the insurgents called somebody in Bama and said “I just got married and 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 Marte 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 and that village is called Chikungudua, the place is the constituency of Senator Maina Ma’aji.
“I informed the security agents about the situation and from that place, they can just go into the Lake and 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.”
He added that the insurgents had snatched all the boats around that area, including the one for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), adding that they were free to go anywhere without being chased by anybody.
The senator representing Borno North, Senator Mana Maaji Lawan, also told the Senate that all the islands around Sambisa forests and Mandara mountains, which extend to Cameroons and Chad, had been sacked by the insurgents.
He said so far, 53 of the abducted girls had escaped, adding that something urgent had to be done to retrieve the area from insurgents.
Senator Ndume, who represents Borno South, said the military must act fast to ensure that the insurgents did not enter Nigeria at will.
He also agreed that the insurgents largely operated from Mandara mountains, having taken over the islands in the area.
Senate Minority Whip, Ganiyu Solomon, who seconded the motion lamented the development, adding that insecurity in the country appeared to be defying measures aimed at curbing it.
Senate spokesman, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, told the Senate that the manner in which insurgents operated in Nigeria was vicious and totally at variance with how such groups operated in other countries of the world, including Syria, Afghanistan, Malaysia and Iraq.
Senate President, David Mark, who presented a welcome address to his colleagues on resumption from Easter break, said the time had come for full military action against the insurgents.
He described the act of kidnapping children as barbaric, adding that the nation was rocked by the bombing in Nyanya, Abuja and the kidnap saga in Borno in the week of Easter.
“It is obvious that we are dealing with insurgents and well funded nihilists who are determined to violently trample upon the secularity of the Nigerian state and destroy the country.
“A modern, vibrant, progressive, multi-ethnic, multi-religious Nigeria is an anathema to them. Because they are fired by zealotry and extremism, they are not likely to be swayed by overtures of any kind. We must, henceforth, shift from fighting terrorism to fighting insurgency.
“The full might and strength of our security services must now be deployed to confront this scourge and we expect our security services to rapidly re-orient their assets and capabilities so as to overcome this difficult,” he said.
Public schools remain closed in Borno
While it was expected that all schools should resume after the Easter break, public schools in Borno State remained closed since they were closed about three months ago by the state government on the ground of insecurity in the state.
Speaking with the Nigerian Tribune, on whether public school would be opened or not, particularly with the attack at Chibok, principal of the Government Secondary School, Mrs Asabe Kwabura, said, at the moment, she was not in the position to speak on whether or not public schools would be re-opened in the state, adding that only the state commisioner for education had the power to speak on matters of closing or reopening of schools in the state.
“Right now, I am in Maiduguri. We are supposed to be meeting with the governor on the matter as to reopening of schools after the long break, but I am not in a position to tell you whether or not government schools would be reopened immediately.
“But you can speak with the commissioner for education later in the day, perhaps after our meeting, he should be able to tell you the position of the government on public schools in the state,” Asabe said.
Nigerian Tribune, who repeatedly called the commissioner, Musa Inuwa Kubo, but did not get through to the commissioner, while the text messages sent to him bounced back.
Also, a text message sent to the superving commissioner, Ministry of Home Affairs, Information and Culture, Mr Mohammed Bulama, with the hope to get him speak on the matter, indicated it was received, but the commissioner was yet to call back as of the time of filing this report.
Nigerian Tribune also visited Government College, Maiduguri, as well as Government Girls Secondary School within the metropolis and reports that no school activity was ongoing, with school environment unkempt.
A member of staff of Government College, Maiduguri, who did not want his name mentioned, said only the final year students writing their West African Examination Council (WAEC) examinations were coming to school.
Lawmaker calls for demolition of Sambisa forest
A lawmaker representing Chibok in the House of Representatives, Peter Biyo, called for a total demolition of the Sambisa forest by the federal authorities, adding that it would help end insurgency and other terrorist acts in the North-East.
He said the Sambisa forest, which harboured wild animals, was a den for the terrorists in the constituency, a development, he said, made it difficult for the soldiers to track and deal with the terrorists in the wild.
Honourable Biyo also lamented over the plight of the missing Borno schoolgirls, saying “because of the condition these girls have found themselves, their parents and all of us are in a very difficult situation.”
Speaking in an interview with the VOA Hausa, monitored in Kaduna, on Tuesday, the lawmaker maintained that 43 among the girls were able to run away from the terrorists.
According to him, “Sambisa forest is in my ward, my constituency,where I was born. Sambisa is about 60km long and 60km wide,if you are in the forest you can only see the next person by your side if you have a torchlight, if not,you can’t see anything.”
He said it was possible for people to comfortably hide in the Sambisa forest, adding that if not, the soldiers would have fished out the terrorists.