Buhari begins fresh medical vacation in London
• Newsmen barred from leader’s meeting with Chibok girls
• Saraki, Dogara hail him, PDP, others express concern
President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday night left for London, United Kingdom (UK) to meet with his doctors. The presidency said the length of his stay in London would be determined by his medical team. He transmitted a letter to the National Assembly in this respect.
A statement by his spokesman, Femi Adesina, said the president had planned to depart yesterday afternoon, but delayed the trip by some hours to receive the 82 Chibok girls.
The new development may have eventually confirmed the speculations that Buhari has been gravely ill and that he needs to see his doctors instead of worsening his condition by attempting to meet his presidential responsibilities.
“The president wishes to assure all Nigerians that there is no cause for worry. He is very grateful for the prayers and good wishes of the people, and hopes they would continue to pray for the peace and unity of the nation. The length of the president’s stay in London will be determined by the doctors.
“Government will continue to function normally under the able leadership of the vice president,” the statement read in part. However, State House correspondents, who had been waiting since 2:00 p.m. to cover the meeting with the girls, were barred from the venue when the latter, led by officials and security agents, eventually arrived at the Villa at 7:04 p.m.
But the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the restriction was due to space constraint in the president’s official residence as well as the need to “control the narrative.”
Only government-owned media organisations, including the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) and Voice of Nigeria (VON) as well as the president’s photographer were allowed to cover the event.
The newsmen, who were at the Council Chambers ahead of the earlier announced 4:00 p.m. time, had earlier been restricted to the entrance of the residence with a provison that they would get access only if granted permission.
But, this was not to be as security agencies barred them to cover the ceremony, which lasted about 45 minutes. Accompanied by the Minister of Women Affairs, Hajiya Aisha Alhassan along with plainclothes security aides, the girls were driven straight into Buhari’s official residence in two tinted Marcopolo luxury buses belonging to the Nigerian Army.
But the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has expressed concern over the freed members of the terrorist group. In a statement last night by the spokesman to the caretaker committee, Dayo Adeyeye, the party noted that though it welcomed the release of the girls, the freedom granted to the insurgents would further embolden the group to unleash mayhem on innocent Nigerians.
“The suspected terrorists by the release have escaped justice. And all the efforts made by security agencies to bring them to book have come to nothing,” it said.
Briefing newsmen shortly after the ceremony, presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, restated the government’s commitment to facilitate the rehabilitation and education of the girls.
Expressing the joy of his boss at their return, he pledged that government would also ensure that the parents have access to them as soon as possible. He declined comments on the number of swapped Boko Haram members, saying it was within the purview of the security agencies.
The presidential aide restated government’s commitment to rescuing the remaining of the 276 girls kidnapped by the sect in the night of April 14, 2014 from their Government Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State.
Prior to this fresh reprieve, 57 of them had escaped while being taken away. Three others were later rescued by the military. Another batch of twenty-one was freed on October 13, 2016 after the Swiss government and the International Committee of Red Cross brokered a deal between the insurgents and government.
Though the government denied a prisoner swap took place at the time, multiple sources, however, insisted that four Boko Haram detainees were freed to secure the release.
But a rights organisation, Human Rights Writers Association Of Nigeria (HURIWA), has queried the authenticity of the deal since the administration had in the recent past announced the routing of the sect and taking over of its dreaded abode, Sambisa Forest, in Borno State.
The government had at the weekend announced that the 82 females were freed in exchange for some suspected members of the terror group held by the authorities.
“Today, 82 more Chibok Girls were released. After lengthy negotiations, our security agencies have taken back these girls, in exchange for some Boko Haram suspects held by the authorities,” the Senior Special Assistant (Media and Publicity) to the President, Garba Shehu, said in a statement without being specific on the number of the terrorists freed.
In a press release by its National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko and Media Affairs Director, Zainab Yusuf, HURIWA called for an independent inquiry.
It specifically called for a United Nations-led independent forensic investigation of the remote and immediate circumstances that gave rise to the formation, advancement, sophistication and the sources of weapons for the terrorism in the North East region of the country.
Meanwhile, dignitaries, international partners as well as the intelligentsia have commended government for securing the freedom of the girls. The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, conveyed his message in a statement signed by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Yusuph Olaniyonu. He noted that the supplications and well wishes of Nigerians and the global community were of great help.
To the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, the news was heartwarming. A statement issued by his Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs, Turaki Hassan, commended the president for his dedication to the crusade.
Also yesterday, the President of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies (the equivalent of Nigeria’s House of Representatives), Mrs. Laura Boldrini, lauded government for the feat.
Boldrini, who spoke during a visit to the Eko Energy Estate being developed by Intels Nigeria Limited in Lagos, called for collaborations against terrorism.
Apart from lauding the move, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) urged the sect to end all grave violations against children, especially abduction as well as sexual abuse and forced marriage of girls.
In a statement in Abuja by the Emergency Communications Specialist UNICEF Nigeria, Harriet Dwyer, the organisation described the development as an important achievement in helping to protect children impacted by the conflict in North East.
But Dr. Anthony Igyuve of the Department of Mass Communication, Nasarawa State University, Keffi, said while not undermining the efforts of the Buhari government towards the rescue, the move also scored a political point.
The Executive Secretary, Centre for Crisis Communication (CCC), Air Commodore Yusuf Anas (rtd), said he was happy that government softened its stance to eventually negotiate with the terrorists.