ABUJA— PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday, assured parents of the abducted Chibok girls and all Nigerians that the girls were still alive and his government was doing everything possible to rescue them.
The President spoke during a live discussion programme, Kaakaki, on African Independent Television (AIT), monitored in Abuja. This came as a delegation of the Federal Government held a closed-door meeting with relations of the abducted girls in Maiduguri and briefed them about how far the administration had gone in securing their release from captivity.
Speaking during the programme, President Jonathan hinged his optimism on the assumption that had the girls been killed, the terrorists would have publicly displayed their corpses in order to induce fear.
In the more than one hour programme, the President, who was appearing on a Nigerian television station for the first time apart from the government-owned Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, spoke on a wide range of issues including his chances of being re-elected in the March 28 election.
President Jonathan admitted during the programme that government under-rated the capacity of the Boko Haram sect and this explained why the terrorists were so entrenched.
According to the President, with the increased capacity of the military which has taken possession of more than 65 per cent of the platform needed to prosecute the war, the remaining territories still under the control of the terrorists would soon be recaptured.
Speaking on why the girls have not been recovered despite the gains recorded by the military, the president said this was because “reasonable territories are still in the hands of Boko Haram”.
His words: “We promised that we must get the girls. The good story is that they have not killed them because the terrorists, when they kill, they display. They use it to intimidate the whole society. The girls are alive. We will get the girls. Luckily, we are narrowing down the area of their control. So, we will get them. At the beginning, probably we did not really estimate the capacity of Boko Haram. It is obvious Boko Haram started as a non-violent group led by Yusuf, limited to around Maiduguri area and Yobe. They did not even get to Adamawa.
“Just like every group of youths or young people that is inclined to criminalit, they expanded their network and linked up with other terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda in North Africa and other similar brands in the world.
“So, they continued to build their capacity and it got to a point that for you to tackle them in the kind of environment they operate, you need some specialized equipment to use and we don’t manufacture these equipment now. That is why the movement has changed. So, it is not deliberate,” he said.
Speaking on the forthcoming election, President Jonathan admitted that he is facing a stiffer opposition than he faced in 2011 but expressed confidence that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will be victorious.
2011 was easier — Jonathan
He said: “I agree with you it was easier in 2011 but PDP is still the dominant party. There is no polling unit in Nigeria where you don’t have members of the PDP.
“Yes, for one reason or the other, within the party people get angry and may even vote against PDP but in terms of membership of the PDP, there is no party that has that spread.
“So, PDP still has the most formidable structure, PDP has better chances of winning a national election.
“Even the opposition will tell you if they are realistic. Who has strengthened the opposition? Are they not the PDP elements? If you remove the PDP elements from the opposition, they will just crumble like a pack of cards.
“Why are people aggressive towards the PDP to the extent that even the presidential convoy is stoned? Why do you show that aggression? If you are comfortable, you will not do that” he said.
He, however, added that what he was facing was not unusual because globally, second term election is more challenging.
“Globally, it is more challenging for a president to secure a second term than the first tenure,” because people get disappointed when their expectations were not quickly met by those they voted for. However, PDP still has an edge over the opposition.”
On the fuel scarcity being experienced in some parts of the country, President Jonathan said government has taken necessary steps to bring it to an end.
“For the fuel scarcity, we are doing everything humanly possible to ensure it is taken care of. It is very temporary. Of course, there are issues of payment being addressed and we believe that within one or two days, this will completely go,” he said.
He blamed the lack of refining capacity in the country for the perennial fuel scarcity, noting that “until we start refining our crude oil to get our own products here within the country, we cannot get out of some of these problems. It is even really the policy of government. When you continue to export raw materials, you are actually exporting jobs.”
The President denied accusation by the opposition All Progressive Congress that the recent reduction in the pump price of petrol was politically motivated.
“It is not politically motivated. Pump prices are not constant but are based on changes in the international market.
“When I came as vice president in 2007, the price of crude oil at the international market dropped to about $40, there was a day it dropped to $38 per barrel and we dropped the pump price to N65 per litre. And we had to keep it up to N97 when the price went up to about $111 per barrel at the international market.
“The cushioning gap was because the subsidy became unbearable to government. So, we had to push it up to N97 per litre. Now that the international crude oil price has dropped back to about $60 or so, it would not be fair for you to still ask Nigerians to pay N97 except you want to deregulate completely”, he said.
Chibok Girls’ Anniversary: FG meets families in Borno
Meanwhile, the Federal Government held a closed door meeting with relations of the abducted Chibok girls, briefing them about how far the administration had gone in securing their release from captivity.
At a meeting, yesterday, in Maiduguri, Minister of State for Power, Mr Mohammed Wakil represented President Goodluck Jonathan while the families of the girls were led by Mrs. Pindar Dauda. The youth leader of the Chibok community was also in attendance with some elders of the community.
The President’s representative told parents that the Federal Government under president Jonathan has devised comprehensive counter-insurgency strategies which include reclaiming occupied territories, rescuing abducted persons, resettlement of IDPs, and the rehabilitation of insurgency-ravaged communities.
According to the minister,”the President is pursuing multi- faceted strategies which address the pains, anger and frustrations of victims. Our President directed me to tell you that his government is committed to doing everything possible for the safe return of your daughters.
“I am here to convey the sympathy of Mr President and the entire Federal cabinet to you the parents and families as well as all other victims. As you are all aware, our military is having the upper hand in this sacred war. We believe by the grace of God that your children will return safely“, the President’s representative said.
Speaking further, the minister commended the families for refusing to support the politicisation of the regrettable abduction, adding, “your presence here to listen to the message of Mr President confirms your belief in the ongoing counter insurgency operations as a solution to our collective challenge.
“I assure you that not only will rescue operations be successful, the other three goals of reclaiming occupied territories,resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons and rebuilding of communities will be pursued to a logical conclusion. This is a personal pledge of the President which the entire administration is committed to”, the minister said.
Responding, the spokesperson of the parents and families, Mrs Pindar Dauda thanked the President for his concern and sympathy while praying for the success of the ongoing military operations.
Speaking in local dialect, Mrs Dauda said: ”I appeal to President Jonathan not to relent. He should continue with the war on Boko Haram. He should get our children back for us safely. We are praying for him and the military.”