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The  militant Islamic sect, Boko Haram,  has said it will  not free the  over 200 girls it abducted from  the Government Secondary School, Chibok in Borno State unless the Federal Government releases its detained members.

The group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau,   in a 27-minute  video made public on Monday, claimed that  he was commanded by Allah to kidnap the girls.

In the  video,   the girls dressed in hijab,  are shown  reciting a verse of the Holy Koran, indicating that  majority of them converted to Islam.

The  video is the first time the girls, who were kidnapped from their school hostel on April 14, will  be shown to the public.

The terrorist leader, who  dressed in military camouflage and held an AK-47 rifle  close to his chest, wondered why there was so much global outcry over the abduction of the girls.

Speaking in    Arabic and Hausa,  Shekau said  besides the  girls whose actual number he did not give, there were  many kidnapped   men and women in the sect’s custody.

He also boasted that no force  could  trace  the whereabouts  of the girls let alone their  rescue until the terror group’s condition was met.

“All I’m saying is if you want us to release your girls that we kidnapped, you must release our brethren that are held in Borno, Yobe, Kano, Kaduna, Abuja, Lagos and  Enugu. We know that you have incarcerated our brethren all over this country (Nigeria),” the Agence France Presse quoted him as saying in the video.

He added, “There are some of my brethren who have spent five complete years without seeing their wives, without seeing their children. For God’s sake, even for ensuring their release, will I not kidnap? After all Allah says I should kidnap.

“You that seized and detained my brethren for five years, you arrested and kept a woman without getting married for four, five years, you seized and hold our children.

“You did all these to us and today because we did what Allah already told us to do and you are busy making noise ‘Shekau has kidnapped this and that, he said he would sell’. Yes I will sell.

“I will sell. Those of them that have not accepted Islam, they are now gathered in numbers. They are staying with us. We will never release them until our brethren are released.”

The AP  reported that “families have  said most girls abducted are Christians but the about 100 shown under a tree in the video recite Muslim prayers in Arabic. Many are barefoot. Some appear fearful, others desolate.”

FG gives conflicting signals

There were however no clear  signs  as of 9pm on Monday  on whether the Federal Government would honour the condition given by the sect  or  not.

While the Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, ruled out the possibility of meeting the demand, his Information counterpart, Labaran Maku, said it was not what the government would give immediate  response to.

Moro, in an interview with    the  British Broadcasting Corporation,  said that it was “absurd” for a “terrorist group” to try to set conditions.

But  Maku  said,   “I have not watched the video as I am talking to you. You will also agree with me that our reaction to the matter cannot be spontaneous.”

Also on Monday, the Director-General of the National Orientation Agency, Mr. Mike Omeri,said the government   would explore all options to secure the release of the   girls.

Omeri, who coordinated an interagency  news conference in Abuja, said,    “There is a video purported to have been released by the Boko Haram leader. Security experts are studying the video.

“The government of Nigeria is going to explore all options to secure the release of the abducted girls.

“An earlier report  by a section of the media purported to have been issued by the government is totally false. This remains the official position of the Federal Government of Nigeria.”

Pressed several times to confirm whether the Federal Government was going to negotiate with the Boko Haram insurgents or exchange prisoners for the girls, he insisted that all options were open to the  government.

“I still say  all options are open. At the moment, all options are open. We are interacting with military and security experts from different parts of the world. So these are part of the options that are left for us. There are many more. If it is necessary that we use any action to get our girls, we will do it.

However, Director of Information at the Department State Security, Ms. Marylyn Ogar, ruled out any negotiation with  the terrorists.

“No government in the world will negotiate with terrorists. That is the best practice and we believe in the global best practices,” she said.

On the identity of the spokesperson for Boko Haram on the released video, Ogar insisted that original leaders of the group, Abu Kaka and   Shekau, had been “taken out” by the security agencies.

“I think we have said on several occasions that Boko Haram has become a franchise. So when you talk about Abu Kaka; when you talk about Shekau, Boko Haram has become a franchise. Anybody anywhere in the country can get up and assume Shekau and Kaka.   Kaka is no more. Abubakar Shekau is no more.

“Both of them have been taken out a long time ago.”

Another   security source however   told one of our correspondents  that   government’s position on the demand by   Boko Haram  was not likely to be made public because of its  sensitive nature.

The source,who did not want his name in print,  said   that meetings were already ongoing on the demand because it would not be ideal for the Federal Government alone to take decisions on  it (demand).

He added  that foreign experts, including specialised negotiators with terrorists, were already in the country because of the emphasis on the safety of the girls.

The source  said, “You know, technically, there are many things to that decision; you have the United Nations, the international community and other interests involved now.

“So, you can see that there are political, security and diplomatic issues involved. Nigeria cannot take a unilateral decision.

“There are specialised negotiators with terrorists among the foreign security experts. So any decision on that demand cannot be made public. You know that the bottom line here is the safety of those girls.”

Shettima orders mass production of  video

The  Governor of Borno State,  Kashim Shettima, has however ordered that the  Boko Haram video be reproduced in mobile storage devices.

The governor, in a  statement by his Special Adviser on Media, Isa Gusau, said this was to enable the parents  and guardians as well as other  pupils of the government college to identify the kidnapped girls through the video.

The statement reads in part, “Governor Shettima has directed transfer of the video into mobile storage devices under the care of some officials, including the Chairman of Chibok Local Government Area, who have been given an immediate task of showing the videos to parents, some of the freed students who know their abducted colleagues, teachers and management staff of Government Secondary School, Chibok.

“With this, we hope   that the girls in the video can be identified to ascertain if they are part of the abducted students or otherwise.

“He (the governor) is however optimistic about the video. Already, some concerned individuals in Maiduguri and Abuja are, on the request of the governor, making efforts to contact parents and relations of some of the abducted girls, who might be within reach to get feedback regarding the video.”

“Governor Shettima views the development as encouraging, especially given the fact that some of the girls said they were not harmed. The governor hopes that the girls did not speak under duress.

“While awaiting the confirmation, Governor Shettima calls on citizens of Borno State, most of whom commenced another round of fasting today(Monday) to seek divine help  by  intensifying  their  prayers for the safe release of the schoolgirls who are very precious not only to Borno but to the entire world.”

In the statement, the governor   expressed “appreciation to  the President   and his wife,  Patience,  for their efforts towards the release of the schoolgirls.”

He also lauded  other world leaders,  citizens  of  the world and  the media  whose pressure had  been of tremendous help so far.

Military doubts  video

But the military expressed doubts about the authenticity of the video which it said had thrown up a lot of questions that  the security forces were trying to resolve.

“The video has raised a lot of questions and we are resolving them. There are many angles to solving this matter and we are not leaving any one,” the Director of Defence Information, Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade, told one of our correspondents.

Olukolade,   however, said, “We are still studying  the video.”

It was also  learnt in Abuja that  security agencies had been holding a series of meetings   to respond to the latest development.

A source told The PUNCH that  the Office of the National Security Adviser hosted top military and security operatives on the  girls’ abduction saga.

It was   also  gathered that   security operatives might invite some of the girls who escaped  and their parents for a chat to verify the claim in the video.

CAN kicks against conversion of  schoolgirls 

Meanwhile, the Christian Association of Nigeria said  that the purported conversion of the abducted schoolgirls to Islam  was a declaration of  war against Christians in the country.

CAN, through its  National Director of Research, Elder Sunday Oibe, also said the    girls could not be used as an exchange for the release of any  Boko Haram  member.

“I have the consent of our national president (Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor) who is abroad to address you. First, these children are Christians and not Muslims and so they cannot be converted to a religion that is not theirs at gunpoint without conviction,”Oibe told journalists.

He added, “Is that how conversion is being carried out? All the children displayed are Christians and that is the motive behind the abduction.

“It is simple. Because they are Christians and they represent the Church in the eyes of their abductors. Secondly, it smacks of some form of religious persecution. If not why are their captors converting them to another religion? And if they say they will use them as a condition to negotiate their men in detention, our daughters are not criminals and cannot be used in any way to free their criminal fighters.

“Show us where in Nigeria you have seen Christians fighting and throwing bombs in the name of God; we challenge any one to show us where Christians have abducted Muslim children in the name of Christianity. We challenge anyone to prove to us in Nigeria where Christians have taken arms in the name of protecting Christianity or even carry out acts of genocide on helpless and defenceless Nigerians. As far as we are concerned, it is a war against Christians and Christianity.

“We are not speaking for the Nigerian state.The state will speak for itself but we cannot be forced by some people to define for us our predicament and persecution. It is a war against Christians and the Church.  We are feeling it and deeply affected. No amount of propaganda can deter us from saying the truth.

“We have said ours. It is now left for the government to expedite action and return our children to us. They are Christians, they are not slaves, they are not Muslims and it is unacceptable to us. Let the whole world see it now.”

Fact-finding committee meets UK, US, others

The Presidential Fact-Finding Committee on the abduction of the schoolgirls  on Monday interacted with officials of foreign   countries that have pledged to support efforts by the Federal Government to secure the release of the girls.

The countries include the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel, China and France.

According to a statement by the committee’s spokesman, Kingsley Osadolor, the interaction, which lasted hours, took place in Abuja.

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