Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has for the first time met those campaigning for the release of more than 200 girls abducted by Islamist Boko Haram militants last year. His predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, declined to meet the Bring Back Our Girls activists.
Buhari promised them that troops for a regional force to fight the militants would be in place by the end of July. The kidnap of the girls from a school in Chibok sparked global outrage.
The president also regretted that Nigerian army known for its military finesse in the sub African region has been unable to rout out the Boko haram in Nigeria.
The President hosted a delegation of ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ led by Dr. Oby Ezekwesili and Mrs. Mariam Uwaise at the presidential Villa in furtherance of their campaign for the release of over 200 abducted Chibok girls from Borno State.
Responding to the 13 points demand by the group, President Buhari regretted what he described as the conflicting reports of the terrorist attacks, saying that the delayed response by the former government encouraged the escalated attacks and promised to rebuild the ravaged communities.
The mass abduction sparked one of the biggest social media campaigns of 2014, with the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls being used more than five million times.
Boko Haram has stepped up attacks since Mr Buhari took office in May vowing to tackle the insurgency “head on”.
The Nigerian military has said it has arrested “the mastermind” behind two recent attacks on the northern towns of Jos and Zaria in which almost 70 people were killed.
Addressing members of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign group and the media, the president said that the government was doing all it could to tackle insecurity, but did not refer directly to the 219 Chibok girls abducted in April 2014.
Earlier, the activists had marched through the capital, Abuja, on their way meet Mr Buhari at his official residence.
One of the founders of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign group told the BBC that “there was no time left” for the government to act.
“The rescue of the Chibok girls would be the strongest statement this government could make for having respect for the sanctity and dignity of every Nigerian life,” said Oby Ezekwesili.
In his speech, Mr Buhari spoke of the “paradox” of Nigeria asking its neighbours for help, despite itself providing help to so many other countries in the past.
“How the mighty have fallen,” he said.
The president criticised the previous government’s “incompetence” in dealing with the kidnapping and the broader Boko Haram insurgency.
Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin are all expected to provide troops for the 7,500-strong regional task force to tackle Boko Haram.
The force will be led by Nigeria but have its headquarters in the Chadian capital, N’Djamena.
The Chibok schoolgirls have not been seen since last May when Boko Haram released a video of around 130 of them gathered together reciting the Koran.
President Buhari gave a detailed account of the efforts to end insurgency in Nigeria and assured the country that there’s no lost hope.
“I think you will agree that the present government take the issue very seriously. Within a week of being sworn in, I visited Niger, Chad and would have visited Cameroon but for the invitation of the G7 to go to Germany and listen to them. I’m very impressed with the leadership of this important group (G7) other than the United Nations itself. They are very concerned about the security in Nigeria led by abduction of the Chibok girls by the terrorists.
“When the terrorists announced their loyalty to ISIS, the whole attention again was brought squarely to Nigeria. And now we are rated with Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria , this is very unfortunate.
“After Ramadan, I will visit Cameroon to see the President there and then Benin Republic. But on the efforts we have been making, we will not disclose some of them publicly because it will not be consistent with security. But I assure you that under the Lake Chad Basin Commission, the military have met. The ministers of defence have met. We the presidents have met here in Abuja except the President of Cameroon who was represented by his Minister of Defence.
“Strategy and tactics have been drawn. Multinational taskforce has been put in place more or less with headquarters in Ndjamina with a Nigerian General as Commander. The troops delegated by each of the countries are to be put in place by the end of the month. And Nigeria, I assure you will do its best because we as I said are the battle ground and we are being helped by our neighbors”, he said.
“It is paradoxical what the Nigerian military has achieved from Burma to Zaire to Liberia to Sierra Leon to Sudan. But Nigeria has now to be helped by Niger, Chad, and Cameroon. How are the mighty fallen!
“We will do our best to restore the respectability of our country and its institutions. And with you, your steadfastness and your seriousness, we will do what we can do. We will accommodate all your observations including the negative ones about the performance of the government and its agencies”, he said
“At the G7, the leadership there asked us for our shopping list which I’m still compiling. The military has submitted theirs and I’m waiting for the governments of the front line states to submit theirs local government by local government in terms of infrastructure, schools, health care, roads, markets, churches, mosques and so on.”