Politics yesterday crept into the release of the 82 Chibok girls.
The Ahmed Makarfi faction of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) criticised the swapping of the girls for Boko Haram suspects.
But the Federal Government described the criticism as indecent and inhuman.
According to the government, the reaction showed that the party never wanted the girls freed.
Also yesterday, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres urged Nigerians to embrace the freed schoolgirls.
Besides, the Ali Modu Sheriff-led faction of the PDP hailed the government for securing freedom for the girls by swapping.
Faulting Markarfi in a statement issued in Abuja, Information, Culture and Tourism Minister Lai Mohammed said it stood logic on its head for any individual or organisation to douse on the altar of politics the universal joy that greeted the release of the 82 girls.
He described the number of the released girls as the highest so far since the April 14, 2014 abduction from their dormitory at the Government Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State under the watch of the PDP-led government.
According to him, from the ‘ill-advised statement, it is clear that the PDP, whose incompetence and cluelessness precipitated the Chibok girls’ crisis in the first instance,’ never wanted freedom for the abducted girls.
The statement reads: “In his inaugural address, President Muhammadu Buhari said the Administration cannot claim to have defeated Boko Haram without rescuing the Chibok girls. He also said this government will do all it can to rescue them alive.
“If that includes swapping some Boko Haram elements for the girls, so what? Will the PDP rather have the girls stay in perpetual captivity, just to prove a ludicrous point? Didn’t superpower United States engage in negotiations with the Taliban that led to the exchange of five Taliban fighters for US Army Sgt Bowe Bergdahl in 2014? Didn’t Israel release 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, in 2011?
“A lot of factors come into play when a nation has to decide whether or not to engage in prisoner/hostage swap. None, however, trounces the sanctity attached to human life and the consideration for the pains of the loved ones of those involved.”
Mohammed noted that the disdain for human life as exhibited by the PDP statement was the same reason the girls were kidnapped in the first instance, and for which then PDP-controlled Federal Government took what seemed an eternity before even acknowledging the abduction, thus losing critical time for their rescue.
“Since the PDP failed – as it did in everything – to rescue even one of the Chibok girls, the party should hold its peace while this administration continues to seek the release of all the abducted girls, using every means at its disposal, in addition to working assiduously to end all Boko Haram hostilities.” the minister said.
In a statement issued by Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesman for the Secretary-General, in New York, United States (U.S), Guterres urged Nigerians to support the girls for their speedy reintegration into the society.
The UN chief welcomed the girls’ release and called for international support for the Federal Government to ensure the release of other Boko Haram captives.
He pledged that the international body remained deeply concerned about the safety and well-being of the schoolgirls and other victims still in captivity.
Guterres said: “We also call for the provision of urgent financial support to prevent the worsening of the food security situation in the northeast of Nigeria and other parts of the Lake Chad Basin.
“We reiterate the continued commitment of the United Nations in this regard.”
Also speaking on the girls’ release, the Catholic Church Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, wondered why it took so long to negotiate their release, saying the girls could have been saved “three years of suffering”.
He said: “In all these years, I was among those who insistently asked the government to do everything possible to free the girls. The government replied that it could not negotiate for their release with terrorists, or exchange them with Boko Haram prisoners. But that is exactly what has happened. Why did this not happen before, saving three years of suffering for these girls and their families?”
He said the 113 girls still unaccounted for must not be forgotten. “I urge everyone to pray for their release,” Onaiyekan said.
A group under the auspices of the League of Upcoming Political Parties described Makarfi’s comment as shocking from a “confused group”.
The league, in a statement by its National Coordinator, Dr. Musa Ahmadu and make in Kaduna, added: “It is more shocking that the statement was coming from the faction led by a man who has been the executive governor and chief security officer of a state for eight years and who is widely acclaimed to have brought relative peace to his state of Kaduna during his tenure.”
The Ahmed Makarfi-led Caretaker Committee had through its spokesman Dayo Adeyeye faulted swapping of the girls with terror suspects.
Adeyeye said: “While we welcome the release of the girls, we do not think that exchanging innocent girls for hardened criminals like the terrorists is the right approach.”
According to him, the freed terrorists have escaped justice and the efforts made by security agencies to bring them to book have come to nothing.
He said: “The release of the terrorists is a setback for the war on insurgency. Their release is tantamount to releasing them to resume their war against society.
But, speaking though his deputy, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh in Abuja, Sheriff said negotiation for the release of the girls was initiated by the Goodluck Jonathan administration in 2014.
Sheriff said Jonathan, apart from authorising the swap of some Boko Haram detainees with the girls, had also set up a team to negotiate with the insurgents to secure the release of the girls, regretting however that the deal was scuttled at the last minute.
He said: “The effort and the battle to release the Chibok girls started a long time ago. In effect, sometime in May 2014, a consultant of the World Bank visited Nigeria and approached Chief Edwin Clark that the Chibok girls were alive and they could be rescued.
“Chief Clark made contacts with the then President Goodluck Jonathan, and he authorised Chief Clark to nominate a trustworthy person to negotiate on behalf of the government of Nigeria for the release of the Chibok girls.
“The parties that were put together on behalf of the government of Nigeria included the then Director-General of the DSS; the then Chief of Defence Staff, Alex Badeh and the then Chief Security Officer to the President.
“Also in the team was Shehu Sani, who is now a senator, a particular businessman and the owner of a school in Borno whose name I cannot call for obvious reasons, were the people who contacted the persons to represent Boko Haram.
“And we held series of meetings with the International Red Cross, the Embassy of Switzerland. We took these representatives of the Boko Haram to the Red Cross, and to the Ambassador of Switzerland. They gave us time, they studied what information we had and they approved it.
“Arrangements were made to release the Chibok girls sometime in May 2014; provisions were made, persons were gathered. I went for the meeting for the exchange.
“Conditions were set. The conditions that were set involved the release of the Boko Haram prisoners. When the Boko Haram representatives met us first, what they told us was that 10 of their mallams were arrested in Baluchi while they were praying.
“When we took the information to the DSS and the then CDS Badeh, they laughed. They said ‘no’; that these people were not Mallams, that they were hardened and toughened terrorists.
“We took the information to Mr. President. Mr. President said that whatever it would take to release the Chibok girls, any swop that these people demanded, he approved it.
“Jonathan approved it. So, faulting the idea that the swap of Chibok girls with Boko Haram prisoners is not necessary. It was the PDP government that initiated it.
“And that matter, when Jonathan left office, the International Red Cross, the Embassy of Switzerland, the then ambassador and the current one, continued with the process.”
The Sheriff camp urged the Federal Government to continue the negotiations and to do whatever it takes to ensure the release of the remaining girls.
Activist lawyer Femi Falana, SAN, said the Buhari administration deserved the commendation of all for the girls’ release.
“The release of over 100 girls has rekindled hope for eventual freedom for all the abducted girls. The Federal Government should therefore intensify efforts and conclude the negotiations to secure freedom for the remaining abducted girls,” Falana said in a statement.
He went on: “We congratulate the girls whose liberty has just been restored after three years of dashed hopes, frustration, humiliation and degrading treatment in the camp of the dangerous and heartless criminal gang of abductors. We sympathise with those parents who died of heart attacks and other related diseases occasioned by the abduction of their daughters.
“In commending the parents of the freed girls, their friends and well-wishers we advise the others whose loved ones have not been released to keep hope alive.”
He also said that members of the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) movement deserved the greatest commendation.
Red Cross clears the air
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) yesterday explained its role in the release of 82 of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls, clarifying that it was not involved in the negotiation.
Its Communication Coordinator Ms Aleksandra Mosimann, said ICRC acted as a neutral intermediary based on the agreement of the two parties involved as specified in its mandate.
Ms Mosimann said : “The girls were handed over to us by the armed opposition group that had held them and we handed them over to the military.’’