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Chibok girls may not return soon –Defence minister

• Insurgents working with human rights groups, IGP alleges
From Magnus Eze, Abuja

If you are one of those expecting the release of the over 170 girls being held by Boko Haram, you need to exercise cautious optimism as the Minister of Defence, Mansur Ali, has warned it may take years to find all of them.
The Islamist terror group kidnapped 276 students from Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, on April 14, 2014. While 57 of them managed to escape, three were found, and 21 released after the sect struck a deal with the government. About 195 are still missing and are believed to be in the custody of insurgents, whose activities have caused the death of an estimated 100,000 people since 2009.
The Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) movement has been advocating for the release of the girls.
President Muhammadu Buhari, in his statement to mark the three years abduction of the Chibok girls, had pledged that his administration would do everything possible to ensure their freedom.
The minister, a retired brigadier general, told the VOA’s Hausa service, monitored in Yola yesterday, that the military was committed to finding the girls and was combing Boko Haram hideouts in the Sambisa forest, a vast area covering parts of three states in North-eastern region.
He compared the inability to find the girls despite retaking most of the territory initially occupied by Boko Haram to the United States’ efforts to find Osama bin Laden after the invasion of Afghanistan.
“It took the US up to seven, eight, up to 10 years before they could get to bin Laden. We are continuing our campaign in the Sambisa forest in all its nooks and crannies,” he said.
Brig-Gen Ali spoke to VOA against the backdrop of intense pressure by activists on the Federal Government to intensify effort to free the girls.
In 2014, Boko Haram seized control of about 14 local governments in the Northeast region. But they have since been flushed out of virtually all the territory they occupied by Nigerian soldiers. However, the government’s inability to find the Chibok girls has continued to overshadow the military’s victory.
While reacting to the abduction on the VOA programme, an Islamic cleric, Nuru Khalid, a member of the influential Interfaith group that tries to ensure peace between Nigerian Muslims and Christians, said failure to find the girls would translate into a victory for Boko Haram.
“We can never allow the terrorists to win the war. If they got (away) free with those girls, then they have relatively won the war,” Khalid said.
Meanwhile, rights lawyer, Abdu Bulama Bukar has called on the Federal Government to address the psychological trauma suffered by the families of the missing girls and other victims of Boko Haram brutality.
“Married women have been made single again; kids have been orphaned; homeowners are without shelter; Nigerians have been turned into refugees in their own homeland,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr. Ibrahim Idris, yesterday raised the alarm that insurgents may have infiltrated the human rights community.
He also alleged that human rights reports from Nigeria, and even globally, seemed to be politically motivated.
Speaking at a one day seminar organised by international human rights group, Global Amnesty Watch, the police boss, who was represented by the Federal Capital Territory Commissioner of Police, Mr. Musa Kimo, said protection of human rights is a core function of the Nigeria Police, but decried the lack of strong synergy between them and the human rights community.
Idris said there was mutual suspicion between the security forces and the human rights observers.
“Some human rights observations seem to be politically motivated locally and internationally. Some of the insurgents may have influenced or infiltrated the human rights observers; hence, some of their reports appear supportive of the insurgents’ cause,” he said.
The IGP also faulted the over-dependence on media reports by human rights observers without bothering to cross check and ascertain the authenticity or otherwise of what the media reported.
He further harped on the need to bridge the gap between the human rights observers and security forces.
Similarly, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen Tukur Buratai, represented by the Director of Army Public Relations, Brig Gen. S.K. Usman said the army, as a show of commitment to respect of human rights, in its operations, had set up a human rights desk to investigate allegations of human rights abuses by its personnel. The COAS said the army recently made history by opening its doors and some its facilities to Amnesty International and other stakeholders in human rights issue to see.
He added that the army has always carried out investigation of complaints by civilian population against its officers and never shielded those found culpable.

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