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Africa

Nigerian military and government 'have failed Nigerians'

Campaigners behind the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) movement in Nigeria have urged the military to ensure that all women and girls abducted by Boko Haram islamists in northeastern Nigeria are rescued.

The BBOG campaigners' call comes after the military announced that it had rescued close to 300 women and girls from the militants’ bases in Sambisa forest. Army spokesman Chris Olukolade said that the former abductees were being screened to verify their identities. Until now it has not yet been confirmed if the girls abducted from a school in Chibok are among those rescued, according to the army. DW spoke to Emman Shehu, a member of the BBOG movement and director of the International Institute of Communication in Abuja, on hopes of the army rescuing the girls who have been missing since April 2014.

DW: Do you believe what the army says that the rescued girls may not be the Chibok schoolgirls?

Emman Shehu: That is the dilemma we are in. So many times we have had our hopes raised and dashed. For the past 380 days since these girls in particular were abducted, the military has kept issuing statements and then contradicting itself about the girls and the counter-insurgency itself. We were excited earlier when the tweets started coming in, but then as the tweets increased we started having second thoughts because the tweets from the defense secretary, the statement from military spokesman Chris Olukolade and even from his deputy Colonel Sani Usman seem to be contradictory. So the bottom line is that we are confused.

So in other words you are disappointed with the army that it is not sure of the identity of the rescued girls?

Well, we are happy that people have been rescued because this is the first time in the course of this insurgency that the rescue has become something specific. You recall that in the case of the Chibok girls we had demanded constant updates about the rescue operations and as of yesterday (28.04.2015), there wasn't a single update of the rescue of the Chibok girls. Before and after the Chibok girls, there have been abductions. The unfortunate thing is that not for once have we heard of these women and girls until this statement yesterday. Yes, it is encouraging but on the other hand the mode of communication which is typical of the Nigerian military does not give room for much hope.

Why do you think it has taken such a long time to rescue the Chibok girls?

Well, because there was no rescue in the first place. I believe personally - this is not the position of the movement (BBOG), this is my personal perception - that there has never been any rescue of the girls. You well know that in any situation of abductions, kidnap,hostage taking and so forth, the window of opportunity is the first 24 to 48 hours that you do a rescue operation. Unfortunately in the case of the Chibok girls nothing was done for two weeks. And after the demonstration by the Chibok women and when our own advocacy took off, the presidency got into a state of denial. Even when our advocacy attracted international attention and created pressure for the government and the military, what played out eventually was just a statement sometime in May last year that they knew where the girls were, based on intelligence by the international community and after that there has been nothing. Clearly there has been no rescue operation.

Are you optimistic that the incoming administration of President-elect Muhammadu Buhari will do things differently?

We hope so; we hope as somebody with a military background, he will be able to know when the commanders are telling him the truth and when they are being deceitful. At least the basic thing he should do is to demand what went on under President Jonathan's watch and see the credibility of things that were done and see how he can do things differently. To me that is the basis of hope, given his previous military background and the fact that he had to deal with insurgents in the past during his career as a military officer.

If you were to meet face to face with Nigeria's military top brass and senior government officials what would you tell them at this moment?

That they have failed Nigerians and they have an opportunity to do the needful and save their reputation before it is too late. The basic minimum is for them to ensure that these girls and other abductees are accounted for. That is a right of every Nigerian citizen and if they fail to do that as the military and as leaders of this country then they have failed the citizens, especially those who do not come from a privileged background.

Emman Shehu is a member of the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) movement

Interview: Isaac Mugabi

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