Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has said President Goodluck Jonathan’s failure to immediately order the rescue of the over 200 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram, spoilt the chances of rescuing them.
The sect had abducted some female pupils of Government Girls’ Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State on April 14. The group later released a video where its leader, Abubakar Shekau, threatened to sell the girls.
According to Obasanjo, the President did not believe the pupils were truly abducted until after 18 days.
In an interview with Bloomberg TV, which was aired on Saturday, ex-president
Obasanjo said, “On the kidnapping or abduction, the President did not believe that those girls were abducted for almost 18 days. If the President got the information within 12 hours of the act and he reacted immediately, I believe those girls would have been rescued within 24 hours, maximum, 48 hours.
“Don’t forget, they are almost 300 girls. The logistics of moving them is something (delay the sect would have encountered). Unfortunately, the President had doubts; ‘Is this true? Is this a ploy by some people who don’t want me to be President again, who is doing this?’
“I think that was unfortunate aspect of the whole exercise or situation.”
When asked to comment on the performance of Jonathan, whose candidacy he supported, Obasanjo said Jonathan had performed below the expectations of Nigerians.
“It is not about disappointment; I don’t believe he has performed up to the expectations of many Nigerians, not just me,” he stated.
While he disagreed that he ‘helped’ Jonathan to the presidency, he said it was God who made him president. He, however, said people could be instrumental to one’s achievements.
Obasanjo added, “I always tell the President himself; ‘if God doesn’t want you to be there, you won’t be there.’ On instrumentality of people, yes, because God wants him to be there. But having been there, you have to perform. That is what I believe. When you get there, no matter how, just perform and keep on performing.”
Confirming the recent meeting he had with some relatives of Boko Haram members and the outcome of it, the ex-president stated that he made a similar reconciliatory effort three years ago but his recommendations were not implemented.
Obasanjo said, “People have forgotten that three years ago, I went to Maiduguri. That was when Boko Haram attacked the United Nations building in Abuja and they accepted responsibility.
“Then, I went to Abuja to meet security leaders, the Inspector-General of Police and the National Security Adviser to know what is their (Boko Haram’s) objectives. Do they have grievances? Can we reach out to them? The feeling I got was that ‘they are a bunch of riff-raff; just forget about them.’
“I then went to the President and asked if I could take it upon myself for a fact-finding visit. I want to find out things. The President was gracious and said ‘I trust your judgment. You can do that’
“I could not do that without people leading me. There was a lawyer who knew most of them (insurgents) and their leaders. He acted as proxy to talk to them and talk to me. He communicated my arguments, my ideas and my questions to them.
“I reported to the two most important principals – the state governor and President at that time. I believe that if action had been taken at that time, as recommended, maybe we would have gotten to this stage.”
Obasanjo said while he had not been officially mandated to lead the mediation, his next step was to get an approval from the government. He insisted that the President must know about his moves.
He emphasised the need to raise the standards of education in the northern part of the country, especially for female children. He said the relegation of girl-child education in the area was one of the factors responsible for the Chibok girls’ abduction.
Meanwhile, the International Criminal Police Organisation has launched an initiative to prevent Boko Haram from selling the over 200 schoolgirls in its custody.
The Secretary-General, INTERPOL, Ronald Noble, said it had blanketed the North-East with warnings and photos of the abducted girls to make it harder for the sect to sell the schoolgirls.
The INTERPOL boss told ABC News that his organisation was trying to “make sure it is difficult for them (Boko Haram) to consummate the end that they want in terms of transferring and selling the girls.”
He said the agency had been distributing alerts, photos and warnings to the residents of northern Nigeria.
“So if they cross the border and are stopped by police, we’ll be able to identify them (the girls),” he said.
Noble, however, said he had no information to confirm or dispute the claims by the military that they knew the location of the schoolgirls.
In a related development, United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, has warned that a full military offensive against Boko Haram in the rescue of the pupils will be risky.
Kerry in an interview with the Public Broadcasting Service was responding to President Jonathan’s ‘full scale-operation’ order against Boko Haram.
“I think an all-out assault — I’m not sure what that means; I’d want to know what that means — could be very risky to the young women. And there may be a time and place for that but we need to look at this very closely,” said Kerry during the interview at the State Department on Friday.
‘Presidency not involved in talks’
Also on Saturday, the Presidency said the Federal Government was not involved in any formal negotiation with Boko Haram as part of ongoing efforts to rescue the girls.
The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, told SUNDAY PUNCH that although there could be ongoing efforts by individuals who thought they could assist in resolving the crisis, the government was not officially involved.
He said, “The Federal Government is not involved in any formal negotiation with Boko Haram.
“What has happened is that a number of people came up to say they had access to Boko Haram and that they wanted to assist by setting up their own initiatives.
“Don’t forget also that the Nigeria Police announced a reward of N50m for anybody who can provide useful information to assist in the ongoing investigations as well as search and rescue operations.
“Under such circumstances, it is normal that people will come forward and contact whoever they think they know in government or approach the two standing committees — the committee on dialogue and the fact-finding committee.
“There may be such things going on between individuals or individuals who claim they have information talking to people in the system but there is no formal official negotiation between government and any Boko Haram element.”
On the meeting former President Olusegun Obasanjo had with families of some Boko Haram members recently, where they demanded government’s consent to go on with their mediation plan, Abati said the initiative was a welcome development.
He said, “The President’s position consistently has been that winning the war against terrorism is a collective responsibility, that any Nigerian who wants to support government or provide useful information is welcome.
“So, whatever initiative former President Obasanjo is pursuing, as a stakeholder, concerned citizen and an elder statesman, such initiatives are welcome.
“I don’t see what is wrong in either President Obasanjo or anybody trying to help in solving the problem,” he added.
When asked whether Obasanjo was fronting for the government in his latest peace move, the presidential spokesman said he had no information on that.