WINDHOEK – The Nigerian High Commissioner in Windhoek has spoken of his dismay over the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls from a school in Nigeria by the ruthless Boko Haram militant group.
The high commissioner says the vast 23 000-hectare forest in which the girls are believed to be held is one of the factors hampering the rescue mission.
Nigerian High Commissioner to Namibia Biodun Olorunfemi told New Era in an exclusive interview yesterday that the vastness of the Sambisi forest is making the rescue mission difficult but he was hopeful that with “the assistance of several countries the girls can be rescued alive”.
“The insurgents are on the move within the forest which is vast and this hampers the whole process. The government has been careful because it is not a matter of fighting insurgents but the aim is to recover the girls alive. Therefore, the government is very careful not to take full military action which could lead to the insurgents using the girls as a shield,” said Olorunfemi.
The Sambisa forest, known in Nigeria as the ‘’evil forest” is home to wildlife populations such as monkeys, antelopes, elephants, ostriches and poisonous snakes.
In recent years, it has also been used as a getaway route by highway robbers and smugglers who flee into neighboring Cameroon.
Asked whether the Nigerian government should give in to the demands of the militants who are calling for the release of their members from Nigerian prisons in exchange for the abducted girls, Olorunfemi answered: “The president and the Senate have made it clear that there will be no such negotiations, that is the official stance.”
He condemned the militant group for using the “innocent girls” to settle a score with government.
The United Kingdom, United States of America, France and China already have teams helping on the ground in Nigeria.
An Israeli counter-terrorism team is also believed to be on its way.
African nations have been castigated for taking a backseat during a crisis taking place in its own backyard instead of being proactive and helping in the rescue.
Commenting on this, Olorunfemi explained: “Countries in the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), currently chaired by Ghana, have made a condemnation and gave their full support already.”
The high commissioner said although some African countries have not publicly condemned the abduction, he was certain “they are in touch with President Goodluck Jonathan to give their support to contribute where they can.”
Meanwhile, the Swapo Party Women’s Council yesterday sent out a solidarity message to the 200 girls still being held captive and their families and in the same breath urged the Islamist militant group to return the girls unconditionally to their families.
“We continue to think about them and keep them in our prayers. It is our hope that the girls will be re-united with their families soon,” the council’s secretary Petrina Haingura said yesterday at a press conference held at the Swapo Party headquarters. The conference was specially convened to make the announcement.
She said the pain caused by the abduction is immeasurable, adding: “Return the girls to their families and to their school so that they can continue with their education. Do not physically harm them as you have already destroyed them physically.”
The militants have been engaged in a violent campaign against the Nigerian government since 2009.
The kidnapping of the schoolgirls from a Christian school has triggered a huge international condemnation with world leaders and celebrities calling for the girls to be released unconditionally.
By Mathias Haufiku