THE full text of a press conference by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, in Lagos, on Sunday, March 25, 2018.
Thank you, gentlemen, for once again heeding our call. May I also use this opportunity to thank you, most immensely, for the professional manner in which you have always treated our press conferences. We do not expect anything less from today’s event.
As you are aware, the abducted Dapchi girls were released last Wednesday as a result of intense back-channel engagement aimed at securing their quick and safe release. This was done in concert with a friendly country, international organization and trusted facilitators.
Since then, there have been a lot of developments. We feel we should meet with you to furnish you with first-hand information on this, and also give you the opportunity to clarify any issue surrounding the release.
Gentlemen, a total of 111 girls were abducted from the Government Girls Secondary and Technical College (GGSTC) in Dapchi on 19 Feb. 2018. That means one student was not captured on the list of 110 abducted students that was compiled by the school, on the basis of which the Federal Government gave the number of abducted schoolgirls as 110.
Also kidnapped were two other persons, who are not students of the college. They include a primary school boy who came to the school to sell pure water and another primary school girl. That brings the total number of abducted persons on that day to 113.
So far, a total of 107 persons, comprising 105 Dapchi schoolgirls and the two non-students, have been released by the insurgents.
Six Dapchi schoolgirls are yet unaccounted for. All efforts will be made to secure their release.
HOW THE DAPCHI GIRLS WERE FREED
As I have said at many fora, we neither paid ransom nor swapped any Boko Haram member to secure the release of the girls. This is a fact, irrespective of how a section of the press has tried to spin the story.
The insurgents brought the girls back to the location of the kidnapping themselves as an apparent gesture of goodwill, following relentless efforts by the Government to find long-lasting solutions to the conflict.
Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari had directed all security agencies to do everything possible to bring the girls back unharmed. That dictated the method we adopted. Back-channel talks with our international friends as mediators and the result was the release of the girls
HOW WERE THE INSURGENTS ABLE TO RETURN THE GIRLS TO DAPCHI UNATTACKED, DESPITE TROOPS PRESENCE?
Unknown to many, we have been in wider cessation-of-hostility talks with the insurgents for some time now. The talks helped to secure the release of the police officers’ wives and the University of Maiduguri lecturers recently. And the talks did not stop thereafter.
Therefore, we were able to leverage on the wider talks when the Dapchi girls were abducted. As I said earlier, the insurgents decided to return the girls to where they picked them from as a goodwill gesture. All they demanded was a ceasefire that will grant them a safe corridor to drop the girls. This is not new. Even in larger war situations, safe corridors are usually created for humanitarian and other purposes. Consequently, a week-long ceasefire was declared, starting from Monday, 19 March. That is why the insurgents were able to drop the girls. This counters the conspiracy theories being propounded in some quarters concerning why it was so easy for the insurgents to drop off the girls without being attacked by the military.
WHY THE GIRLS WERE FREED EARLY
As I have said time and again, there is no government that will not face tragedies. What makes the difference is how such tragedies are managed.
President Buhari put this in perspective when he said the response of his Administration is a marked departure from the attitude of the preceding administration in the aftermath of the kidnap of the 276 Chibok girls in 2014
Whereas it took that administration 18 days to even acknowledge the kidnap of the girls, the current administration was responsive and was not in denial. No stone was left unturned to secure the release of the girls. For the record, the following actions were taken:
1. The President sent FG’s delegation twice to Dapchi and Damaturu, within four days, to engage in fact-finding and to condole with the government and people of Yobe State and the families of the abducted girls. I was on both delegations.
2. The President ordered the Service Chiefs and the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to take direct charge and brief him on a daily basis on the efforts to bring back the girls.
3. The President ordered the re-strengthening of a Joint Operational Base involving relevant agencies and Services to coordinate the rescue mission. Consequently, the Service Commanders established a unified Command Centre in Maiduguri, and the Military also raised several rescue teams to comb the forests in the North East Theatre of Operation.
4. The Nigerian Air Force maintained aerial surveillance of the area all through.
It was not a surprise, therefore, that this abduction ended about a month after it occurred, and that most of the girls are free.
THE REACTION OF NAYSAYERS
You are not unaware of the reaction of the naysayers – the main opposition PDP in particular – to the release of the Dapchi girls. What called for non-partisan celebrations was rather thoughtlessly turned into politics, bad, despicable politics that has no place in any democracy. At times of national tragedies, countries unite. This is the norm everywhere.
Let me encapsulate my reaction to the disgraceful and insensitive politics, that the PDP has been playing with the Dapchi girls, by quoting the statement of the President when he received the Dapchi girls last Friday: ”May I also warn against those elements who have chosen to make the political fortune of our citizens’ misfortune. The government would not tolerate any attempt by any person or group to trivialize or politicize security issues for politically motivated ends. Accordingly, security agencies would not hesitate to decisively deal with such unscrupulous characters.” Those are very clear words that need no elaboration.
The PDP and its co-travellers do not understand that terrorism is a global problem. A terror attack on any country is an attack on all countries. The UN was among the first international organizations to condemn the abduction of the Dapchi girls and also among the first to welcome their release.
Perhaps we should ask the PDP what indeed the party knows about the abduction of the Dapchi girls, going by its statement that their abduction and release were stage-managed. The party made itself a laughing stock within and outside Nigeria with that statement. Don’t they know that our international friends are involved in the process that led to the release of the girls? Indeed, there should be a new criterion for withdrawing the registration of a party like the PDP which has failed both as a ruling and an opposition party! If a party cannot rule and cannot be in opposition, what else can it do?
1. We thank all Nigerians for their support and prayers. We are grateful for their belief in the ability of this government to secure an early release of the girls. We will continue with the ongoing efforts to account for the remaining six Dapchi girls, and indeed to bring back our remaining Chibok girls.
2. In the words of Mr President, this Administration remains committed to the fight against terrorism and insurgency. The security services have since been directed to put in place further measures around all schools vulnerable to attacks to ensure the safety of pupils/students and teachers and school workers. The President has also tasked all the security agencies to work to ensure that we do not witness any recurrence of these incidents.
3. Let me emphasize the government’s position that while the military efforts are necessarily ongoing, we are willing to continue engaging in a meaningful dialogue which is not only about the release of hostages, but intended as a broader engagement on conflict mitigation (reduction of the violence, possibility of ceasefire, protection of civilians, increased humanitarian access). Government is therefore willing to engage on measures which can lead to stopping the bloodshed and finding long-lasting solutions to the conflict.
4 We appeal for non-partisanship on the issue of security. We all have to be safe and alive before we can even belong to any political party. And whether you are in government or in opposition, Nigeria belongs to all of us.
5. We appeal to the media to be more discerning in disseminating materials that serve no other purpose than to sabotage the ongoing efforts to end the insurgency and secure the release of the remaining Chibok and Dapchi girls. Obviously, the naysayers are growing more desperate and will stop at nothing, including disinformation and fake news, to muddle the waters.
Finally, let me use this opportunity to react to the fake news making the rounds concerning a supposed Sergeant in the Nigerian Army, named David Bako, who said he was part of an alleged conspiracy by the Government to abduct the Dapchi girls.
This is a classic example of what I have just said: Disinformation and fake news! I can tell you categorically that this David Bako is fake. There is no such soldier in the Nigerian Army. There was no conspiracy anywhere. The intention of those behind the disinformation and fake news is to cause disaffection between Christians and Muslims, and between Southerners and Northerners.
This Administration’s success in seeking an early release of the Dapchi girls has ruffled many feathers. It has upturned a lot of plans by naysayers. They have not been able to sleep since the girls came back. Their campaign to unseat President Buhari is fuelling their desperation. Nigerians should prepare to see more avalanche of disinformation and fake news. But they should not lend any credibility to such reports. They belong to the trash can.
I thank you for your kind attention.
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