LAGOS—BUT for lack of response from immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan, the British Armed Forces, would have helped to rescue the 276 Chibok schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram insurgents in Borno State on April 14, 2014, the United Kingdom’s Guardian, has claimed, quoting the Observer.
According to the newspaper, in a mission named ‘Operation Turus,’ the RAF conducted air reconnaissance over northern Nigeria for several months, following the kidnapping of 276 girls from the town of Chibok in April 2014.
Quoting a source involved in the operation, the Observer said: “The girls were located in the first few weeks of the RAF mission. We offered to rescue them, but the Nigerian government declined.
President Goodluck Jonathan (centre) inspecting parade during the Nigerian Army Day Celebration in Abuja On Saturday (6/7/13)
“The girls were then tracked by the aircraft as they were dispersed into progressively smaller groups over the following months.’’
The claim elicited immediate response from Dr. Jonathan, who dismissed the Observer report as false and advised ‘’newspapers to always cross-check their facts before rushing to publish false information, especially when being spread by those who want to unfairly promote their own pride, against our own national interest.’’
Following negotiations by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, some of the girls have been released by their captors.
However, 195 of the girls are still missing. Those who have managed to escape from their kidnappers have told of a life of torture, enslavement, rape, and forced marriages in captivity.
According to reports, notes from meetings between UK and Nigerian officials, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, also suggest that Nigeria shunned international offers to rescue the girls. The Guardian said while Nigeria welcomed an aid package and assistance from the US, the UK and France in looking for the girls, it viewed any action to be taken against kidnapping as a “national issue.”
“Nigeria’s intelligence and military services must solve the ultimate problem,” Jonathan was quoted as saying in a meeting with the UK’s then Africa Minister, Mark Simmonds, on May 15, 2014.
According to Guardian’s report, a document summarising a meeting in Abuja in September 2014 between Nigeria’s National Security Adviser and James Duddridge MP, former Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, shows Operation Turus had advanced to the point where rescue options were being discussed.
It also stated that minutes from a meeting the following month between Major-General James Chiswell and Jonathan, hinted at the frustration felt by those trying to prompt some action from Nigeria.
“President Jonathan was still focused on ‘platforms,’ General Chiswell said again we could offer advice on what equipment might make sense and how weapon systems might be best deployed,” the October 2014 document stated.
The document indicated that the Nigerian government did not respond to a request for comment.
The Foreign Office said: “We wouldn’t comment on specific operational details, which are a matter for the Nigerian government and military.”
Jonathan had drawn criticism at home and abroad for a lack of action and perceived apathy over the kidnappings.
The government was slow to mount any response in the weeks after the girls were taken. The Governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, also publicly criticised Jonathan for failing to even call him or any other state official for 19 days after the kidnappings.
Jonathan also hit out at the worldwide #BringBackOurGirls campaign, branding it a “manipulation” of the victims of the attack.
Boko Haram had raided the dormitories of the government secondary school at Chibok. The girls staying there had braved warnings of an attack to sit for their final examinations.
Boko Haram looted the school and then set it ablaze. The kidnappings also blighted the lives of girls from the town who were not taken away, as many have been too scared to continue their education.
Allegation is false — Jonathan
Reacting to the report, yesterday, Jonathan, in a statement by his spokesman, Ikechukwu Eze, said he did not rebuff British offer to rescue the girls, adding that he gave the international community free latitude to conduct their operation.
Titled: ‘’Re: Alleged British offer to rescue Chibok schoolgirls: Our Response,’’ the statement read: ‘’Our attention has been drawn to a report that has been trending, without proper attribution, to the effect that the last administration rebuffed British offer to rescue the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls.
‘’We wish to promptly point out that nothing can be farther from the truth, as Nigerians are conversant with the effort made by the Jonathan administration towards rescuing the Chibok girls, especially in relation to collaborating with the international community, in the bid.
‘’We can confidently say that the lies in this report are self-evident. This is because the international press as well as the Nigeria media actively covered the multinational efforts and collaboration, which involved some of the major powers deploying their crack intelligence officers to work with our own security operatives, and those of our neighbours.
‘’In the course of the mission, the international team, including members from Nigeria’s neighbours of Chad, Niger and Cameroun, met regularly with our own operatives to plan and conduct their operations.
‘’In fact, the Jonathan administration was so genuinely supportive that the foreign powers involved were granted permission to overfly our airspace, while conducting the search and rescue missions.
We would wish to recall that this collaboration was made possible following letters personally written by former President Jonathan to President Barack Obama of the United States, President Francois Hollande of France, Mr. David Cameron, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, as well as personal contacts made to the Governments of Israel and China, seeking their assistance in the search for the abducted Chibok girls.
‘’We are, however, not surprised that this kind of concocted story is coming out at this point in time, as it appears that some people who have obviously been playing politics with the issue of the Chibok girls will stop at nothing to further their interest.
‘’Again, we ask the newspapers to always cross-check their facts before rushing to publish false information, especially when being spread by those who want to unfairly promote their own pride, against our own national interest.’’