By Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor & Levinus Nwabughiogu, with agency reports
ABUJA—The Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Olonishakin, said, yesterday, that the business of swapping abducted Chibok schoolgirls for Boko Haram insurgents was not that of the military, vowing that operations against the sect would continue.
The defence chief’s declaration came against the backdrop of the sect’s demand in a new video, Sunday, that the federal government swapped its members detained at detention centres across the country for the girls, who had been kidnapped since April 14, 2014.
It also vowed that the over 200 girls would not be released until the federal government set free its fighters held in Lagos, Maiduguri, Abuja and other parts of the country.
This development came as the three persons declared wanted by the military, in connection with the new Boko Haram video, yesterday, said they were ready to make themselves available.
General Olonishakin, who spoke at a meeting with service chiefs at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, said the decision to swap the girls for the sect members was a political one which was not the business of the military.
“The military decision is that we are going ahead with our operations. The operation is being conducted appropriately,” he said.
He also denied that the military had turned away any of the three persons it declared wanted on Sunday on allegation of having ties to the sect, saying “nobody reported to my men and was turned back.”
Olonishakin said the military was still analysing the video released by the sect and would make appropriate comments at the right time.
Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, who also spoke at the Villa, yesterday, said the government was in talks with the Boko Haram sect for the release of the girls.
He said the government was careful to ensure it was speaking with the right group as the sect had been factionalised.
“The government’s position is clear, that we are in touch with them. We are just being careful and cautious to ensure that we are talking to the right people, especially with the news that there is a split in the leadership. But what is important is the safety and security of these girls,” Mohammed said.
On the planned march by the BringBackOurGirls to Aso Rock presidential villa, the minister said the government appreciated the group’s commitment to the return of the girls but noted that a few things needed to be done behind the scene.
He said: What we are saying is that the government is committed to do everything to rescue these girls.
“We are engaging them. By saying we are talking to them, I am talking from a point of knowledge. It does not matter what other people say. I know that the government is in touch with the group.”
He said the government had not relented on efforts to find and recover the girls.
“For us, it is not just because of the release of the video but because of our belief that there will be no final closure to Boko Haram until we are able to resolve the issue of these girls,” the minister said.
I’m available — wanted journalist
However, barely a day after being declared wanted by the Federal Government for alleged association with Boko Haram terrorists, Ahmad Salkida has said he should be commended for making sacrifice to free the Chibok girls rather than being labelled an accomplice.
The Nigerian journalist, who was declared wanted, along with two others, Ahmed Bolori and Aisha Wakil, by the Nigerian Army over Boko Haram’s latest video, said, yesterday, that he was ready to return to Nigeria to meet with the Nigerian Army on the condition that it funded his trip.
Salkida has been living in the Middle East since the outbreak of the Boko Haram crisis and is believed to have said he had commenced preparations to return to country to honour the invitation.
Salkida said in a statement that the Army was aware that he was not in the country at the time he was declared wanted, apparently faulting the tag on him.
He said: “The Army is aware that I am not in Nigeria at present. In the coming days, I will seek to get a flight to Abuja and avail myself to the Army authorities. Indeed, my return will be hastened if the military sends me a ticket.”
Salkida wondered why the army declared him wanted for simply carrying out his job as a journalist, saying he did his work in strict compliance with professionalism.
“Clearly, my status as a Nigerian journalist, who has reported extensively, painstakingly and consistently on the Boko Haram menace in the country since 2006, is an open book known to Nigerians and the international community.
“As a testimony to the credible and professional values of my access, since May, 2015, l have been to Nigeria three times on the invitation of Federal Government agencies. I made personal sacrifices for the release of our Chibok daughters,” Salkida said.
The journalist is one of the persons who had been having negotiations with the Federal Government over the release of the Chibok girls.
A Nigerian senator last year, described Salkida as one of the most reliable persons who could help the federal government free the girls because of his credibility and respect among the terrorists.
Wanted Bolori returns to army barracks in Maiduguri
Similarly, another person wanted by the military for the same reason, Ahmed Bolori, who had turned himself in on Sunday evening but was allegedly asked to go back home without questioning, returned to the army barracks, yesterday.
Bolori, who continued to update his visit to the military barracks he was asked to submit himself, wrote on his Facebook page: “I have signed the visitors register since and I am still waiting to be taken in. Although, the Army guard doesn’t have airtime to contact his heads.” This was at about 10:00am yesterday.
An hour later, he posted another photo saying: “Finally, I am driving into the Army Operation Headquarters now.”
Some 20 minutes later, he posted another picture, saying “the Army is now treating me well and peacefully, as a nice colonel by the name ‘Ahmed’ (a military police), just took me to his office to drink tea. May God help us!”
The Chief of General Staff, General Olonishakin, however, dismissed such visit, saying none of those declared wanted had reported to the military.
Woman declared wanted by the Nigerian Army reports to military
The third, Aisha Wakil, a lawyer, was at the Defence Headquarters in Abuja, yesterday, to submit herself to military authorities.
Wakil said she was immediately taken in for interrogation as soon as she arrived at the Defence Headquarters.
She said the front desk officers asked her what she wanted and she told them she was declared wanted Sunday. But the officers said they were not aware of such and she asked them to read the newspapers online.
“They told me they will go and read and get back to me,” Mrs. Wakil said.
Spokesman of the Nigerian Army, Sani Usman, confirmed yesterday, that Mrs. Wakil had submitted herself.
“I have been reliably informed that she has reported at the Defence Headquarters and she has been directed to the Directorate of Military Intelligence,” Mr. Usman said.
Terrorism: U.S to send FBI team to Nigeria
Meanwhile, the U.S. Government has promised to send officials from its Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI, and other security experts to provide technical assistance to the federal government to deal with terrorism.
Acting Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy, Alan Tousignant, disclosed this, yesterday, in Abuja, when he led a security delegation on a courtesy visit to the Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau.
The envoy said the delegation, which comprised a team of the U.S Security Governance Initiative, was in the country as a follow-up to its earlier visit in January.
The SGI is an initiative of the U.S. government that offers enhanced security technical assistance to six African countries, including Nigeria.
Tousignant said they were in Nigeria at the request of the Federal Government to provide a holistic security technical assistance and not to donate any equipment.
He explained that the federal government identified three major areas of partnership to include enhancing the Ministry of Interior’s emergency response coordination, Ministry of Defence’s procurement procedure and the civilian security planning for the North-East.
He said the week-long interaction between the SGI team and the Nigerian security agencies would fashion out a robust roadmap to ensure better efficiency, transparency and justice in Nigeria’s security architecture.
The Team leader, SGI, Stephen Nolan, said both countries were working to finalise and implement a Joint Country Action Plan, JCAP, which was a document that outlined a roadmap for a successful partnership.
He said the JCAP emphasised partnership and finding Nigerian solution to its security challenges, and not about what the U.S was doing for Nigeria.
Mr. Nolan, however, assured that the forthcoming elections in the U.S and the change of government in January 2017 would not affect the project as they had been working hard to ensure its sustenance.
“I want to assure you that we have been working for the continuity and sustainability of this project, even after the Obama administration in January, 2017,” he said.
Mr. Dambazau, in his remarks, said the partnership would involve all security agencies and not just those of the Ministry of Interior to fashion out a holistic security roadmap to deal with terrorism and other crimes.
The minister said the meeting was in tandem with President Muhammadu Buhari’s agenda to address security, corruption and the economy of the country in line with international best practice.