The federal government has said former President, Olusegun Obasanjo has unimpeded access to President Goodluck Jonathan and the necessary platform to contribute to nation building, particularly the release of the schoolgirls, without waiting for the permission of the presidency to negotiate their release.
Last week, Obansanjo had said his efforts to negotiate the release of the over 200 Chibok schoolgirls who were kidnapped two months ago by Boko Haram had been hampered by lack of support from the Nigerian government.
He also said some of the girls might never return to their parents and those that do might come back pregnant.
The reaction of the federal government coincided with that of the Governing Council of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which described Boko Haram activities in North-eastern Nigeria as “war crimes and crimes against humanity”.
The Coordinator of the National Information Centre and Director General National Orientation Agency (NOA), Mr. Mike Omeri, made this clarification while responding to THISDAY enquiries on the statement credited to Obasanjo.
According to Omeri, the former president does not need anybody's permission to embark on issues of national importance such as negotiations for the release of the Chibok girls with members of Boko Haram.
He said: “What we are saying is that ordinarily and according to our culture, if two people get in a heated quarrel, neighbours come to make peace.
“So if at his level he can make peace why not. After all, the first time he went to Borno State, he did not get anybody's permission to go, and as a former head of state, if he has information or a strategy to get those girls back he can meet his colleagues.”
The NOA boss also said Obasanjo, contrary to what he would have the public believe, has unfettered access to the president and the necessary platform to get his message across.
Last week, the president had invited former heads of state on Boko Haram and everybody was there except Obasanjo.
According to him, these are platforms, he could actually go to and explain or seek the kind of clearance he said he needed to do the job that he had elected to do for Nigeria.
“What I am saying is that if he has any challenges or difficulties, he has access to Mr. President to discuss them with him. He has the platform,” he added.
Earlier, Omeri had during the daily briefing in Abuja maintained that the former president did not need any formal clearance from Jonathan before engaging in any meaningful dialogue with Boko Haram over the release of the schoolgirls.
He said the federal government would be happy to receive suggestions from every patriotic Nigerian on how best to secure the release of the Chibok girls.
“In our last briefing, we reiterated that there were three options available to the government to find these abducted girls, and the first was that any individual with access to the sect should help the government in securing the release of the girls.
“Second is for the army, in collaboration with our international allies, to secure their release and the third is for the insurgents to voluntarily release the girls,” he said.
In the same vein, sources in the presidency questioned the sincerity of Obasanjo in the ongoing abduction saga in Borno State.
The sources said the former president was playing games with the whole counter-terrorism efforts and knew more than meets the eyes.
“The question is that all this while he knew what they (Boko Haram) were doing. Is he the one supporting and sponsoring them for him to know and talk authoritatively that some of the girls were pregnant and others would not come back again. This is something that betrays him,” the source explained.
According to the source, Obasanjo was playing politics with the insurgency, adding: “Even right now it might surprise you that Jonathan's group are even safer taking advice from Major-General Muhammad Buhari than any other person.
“IBB (General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida) is even more professional and not involved in all this politics Obasanjo is playing. IBB is more refined and dignified than Obasanjo.”
The presidential source traced Obasanjo’s comments on the Chibok girls to his know-it-all attitude, stating: “He must know all and be all. If it’s not me, it is nobody else and that is why he is working tirelessly to undermine the administration.
“He does not want any government to be better than his own and goes all out to frustrate, criticise and sabotage his successors. Look at him going up and down blackmailing the government that they must follow his script.”
Efforts to get the reaction of the military proved abortive as the Director of Defence Information (DDI), Major-General Chris Olukolade, refused to comment on the matter.
Sect’s Activities are War Crimes
Meanwhile, the Governing Council of NHRC yesterday said Boko Haram activities in the North-east constituted “a pattern of war crimes and crimes against humanity”.
In a statement issued after its second statutory meeting held in Gombe State between 13th and 15th June 2014, the council undertook a comprehensive analysis of the deteriorating human rights situation in the North-east, including the abduction of the over 200 students from Chibok in Borno State.
NHRC said the deteriorating situation had led to serious and massive violations of human rights, including the loss of many lives among the civil populace and security agencies, mass casualties, exponential growth in forced displacement, abduction of girls and women, and resulting in food insecurity and humanitarian crises.
The council however acknowledged the efforts of government at both the federal and state levels as well as those of security agencies in addressing these security challenges.
It also welcomed the support from regional and international partners towards the search and rescue operations of the Chibok girls as well as other measures taken to enhance the protection of lives and property in the affected states.
It further called for sustained and multi-dimensional responses in respect of the following: “Regular and continuing inter-governmental cooperation and dialogue in resolving these difficult challenges, in addition to putting in place effective measures to ensure accountability by the perpetrators.
“Development and urgent deployment of a comprehensive humanitarian plan for the North-east particularly one aimed at addressing the food security crisis, access to trauma care and support, and forced displacement.
“Deepening and sustaining regional and international cooperation to ameliorate the situation and sufferings of the victims in North-eastern Nigeria and accountability by the perpetrators.”
The council also said it had considered and disposed of 134 cases and complaints mostly concerning allegations connected with demolition exercises and forced evictions, as well as violations of rights of women and children.
It expressed concern about the growing abandonment of children, neglect of parental responsibilities and the absence of effective institutions to address these as provided by laws such as the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act.
On the legality of the provisions of the Same Sex Prohibition Act, council said it was unable to comment on this because of pending cases in court.
At the meeting, the annual report of the commission for the year 2013 and the State of Human Rights in Nigeria Report were approved, while the executive secretary was mandated to transmit copies to the president and the National Assembly.
15 Killed in Borno
In confirmation of NHRC’s report on the sect, no fewer than 15 people including traders were killed yesterday when some suspected terrorists belonging to Boko Haram stormed a local market in Daku village of Askira Uba Local Government Area of Borno State, while several shops, houses, vehicles and motorcycles were set ablaze.
Askira Uba shares local boundaries with Biu, Chibok, Gwoza and Hawul council areas, and is about 190 kilometres from Maiduguri, the state capital.
It was gathered from sources that about 20 gunmen armed with AK47 rifles, improvised explosive devices and petrol bombs invaded the market square using motorcycles and one Hilux Toyota vehicle at about 11 am and opened fire on traders, killing 15 of them before they carted away food items and unspecified amounts of money.
They were reported to have fled towards Sambisa forest after the attack.
US Offers $18m Bounty
However, as the spate of attacks by Boko Haram and other terrorists organisations show no sign of abating, and the United States’ Department of State Rewards for Justice Programme has placed a bounty of $18 million on four terrorists operating in West and North Africa, including Khalid al-Barnawi, reportedly a leader of the Nigeria-based terrorist group known as Ansaru.
Through the Secretary of State, John Kerry, it authorised rewards of up to $5 million each for information leading to the location of al-Barnawi, Hamad el Khairy and Ahmed el Tilemsi, as well as a reward of up to $3 million for information leading to the arrest or conviction of Abu-Yusuf al-Muhajir.
Providing more insight on the terrorists it wants found dead or alive, the US State Department said at Barnawi is reportedly a leader of the Nigeria-based terrorist group, Ansaru, and is a former senior member of the Boko Haram terrorist organisation.
Ansaru, which originated as a faction of Boko Haram, has close ties to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and has sought to target Westerners, including US citizens.
According to the US government, at Barnawi reportedly helped plan the May 2011 kidnapping by Ansaru of a British and an Italian engineer, who were both killed 10 months later.
The Department of State named at Barnawi a Specially Designated Global Terrorist on June 21, 2012.
It noted that Khairy and Tilemsi are both founding members of the terrorist group Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) and former members of AQIM.
While a member of AQIM, Khairy, planned terrorist operations against Mauritania and participated in planning the December 2008 abduction of UN envoy and Canadian Ambassador, Robert Fowler, in Niger, according to the US Government.
It disclosed that Khairy had appeared in MUJWA videos threatening those who oppose the organisation.
In January 2012, Khairy stated that MUJWA’s goal was to impose the Sharia Law across the whole of West Africa.
Tilemsi is the military leader of MUJWA. Previously, while a member of AQIM, Tilemsi played a role in the January 2011 kidnapping of two French nationals in Niger.
On December 7, 2012, the US State Department placed both Khairy and Tilemsi on the US government’s list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists.
According to the US, Abu-Yusuf al-Muhajir is an explosives expert and was a former member of Tawhid w’al Jihad-Egypt (TWJ-Egypt), an extremist group active in the Sinai Peninsula from 2004 to 2006 and whose members re-established it in 2011.
It stated that Muhajir was involved in the planning of attacks against a variety of targets in Egypt, including US interests.