Molly Kilete, Abuja
The #BringBackOurGirls group has countered claims by the Nigerian Army that its soldiers on counter-insurgency operations rescued hostages numbering about 1, 000 in the captivity of the Bokom Hara terrorists.
The group, in a statement, said as exciting as the news of the release of the 1,000, hostages may sounds, “it raises grave concerns”.
It has, therefore, called on Nigerians not to accept what it describes as “opaque claims by our government” without appropriate public scrutiny.
The Director Army Public Relations, Brig.-Gen. Texas Chukwu had, on Monday, claimed that Nigerian army soldiers working in conjunction with their counterparts from Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), rescued 1,000, hostages at Malamkari, Amchaka, Walasa and Gora villages of Bama Local Government Area of Borno State.
Chukwu, in a statement said the hostages were mostly women, children and young men who were forced to become Boko Haram fighters.
But in a swift reaction, the BBOG group, in a statement signed by Dr. Oby Ezekwsili, Aisha Yesufu and Florence Uzor, said issues of reporting of abductions, rescues, and deaths deserve much more seriousness than is currently the case and wants the army to address some pertinent concerns of the group if it truly cares about the lives of Nigerians.
The group in the statement listed some of the concerns to include; “The military has over the last 18 months regaled the country with reports that the terrorists have been “totally defeated”, how is it then possible for a defeated group to have capacity to hold 1,000 of our citizens captive?
“Even more pertinent for the future, “How many more of our citizens does the Federal Government know may still be held captive by the terrorists?
“Can the military please provide full details of the names, identities, and communities of the returnees? Where were these citizens abducted from, and are there plans by the Federal Government to trace their families?
“Is there a system for further verifying and confirming the true identities of the 1,000 citizens and a process including transparent plans for reuniting them with their families and communities?
“Can the military and Federal Government immediately publish print and electronic images of the 1,000 compatriots rescued?
The BBOG statement made available to Daily Sun, also stated that, “Three years ago – 2015 – our movement developed a tool known as a “Verification, Authentication, and Reunification System (VARS)” that offers timeliness in handling rescued citizens with the dignity their lives deserve.
“The VARS also addresses matters of opaqueness and reduces any public doubts about mass rescues of citizens who were never in the first place reported missing. Regrettably, neither the previous administration nor the current one embraced use of the VARS tool or a similar method of systematic identification, verification, and reunification of rescued citizens from their terrorist captors.
“A complementary initiative of our movement in 2015 was a proposal to the Federal Government to establish a Missing Persons Register and Bureau.
“When the administration showed no interest in doing so, our movement reached out and partnered with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to design and launch the idea of a Missing Persons Register and Bureau.
“The Federal Government subsequently took over the initiative but slowed down its delivery, and so three years after, the country still lacks such an important agency in an environment of frequent kidnap of citizens.
“Had it been implemented, accurate data and identities of all missing persons in Nigeria would be captured in a database. A National Missing Persons Register and Bureau will make it considerably easier to know those which of our citizens are missing, and when found to be promptly identified and reunited with families and communities.
“It is indeed unfortunate that failure to adopt these recommended basic tools, processes and practices frequently casts doubts on claims of rescues by the military and the Federal Government.
“Citizens must never accept opaque claims by our government without appropriate public scrutiny. The troubling record of contradictory statements by our military and government instruct caution on the part of the Nigerian public to be more circumspect in our reaction to mass rescue claims and such like.
“Our movement shall be seeking audience with the leadership of the Nigerian Army to present these deep concerns as well as press for better and more transparent processes in order to improve its approach in the future.”