The Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, has said there is no possibility that the abducted Chibok schoolgirls are still within the Sambisa Forest.
He said there were possibilities that the girls had been split into groups and taken into different parts of the country.
The minister said this on Monday just as the Northern Elders’ Forum urged the Federal Government to negotiate with Boko Haram for the release of the girls, abducted from the Government Girls’ Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, since April 14.
The NEF was commenting on a report that the sect had soft-pedaled. The sect, which initially said that its commanders should be released, is now saying that wives of its members in detention should be set free.
But the minister, who spoke on a television programme monitored by one of our correspondents in Abuja on Monday, said the area surveillance done by the security agencies did not indicate that the girls had been taken outside the country.
He said, “There are no signs that our girls are still in the forest. There are also no signs that they have been taken outside the country as being said by some people.
“Some said they have sighted them in Cameroon and Central Africa Republic. There are no proofs to show this because the air surveillance done by our combined security agencies did not show anything otherwise.”
He also explained why it was difficult to fight the members of the Boko Haram sect.
Maku said that since members of the sect lived among the people, it would be difficult to open fire on them.
He said people referring to the security agencies and the Nigeria Army as being weak should have a rethink.
He stated, “The girls may not be in the bush. This type of war is very difficult. There are no better armies in this part of the world than the Nigeria Army. It is because of the sensibility of the war we are fighting. The army is not weak.”
But NEF urged the Federal Government to accept an offer by the Boko Haram sect to exchange the Chibok schoolgirls for its detained members.
The spokesman for the forum, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, said this in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents in Abuja, on Monday.
He said what was uppermost in the minds of most Nigerians was for the girls to be reunited with their families and that no sacrifice was too much to make to get them back.
Abdullahi said, “Whatever the case maybe, whether they are asking for their members to be released in exchange for the girls or whether they are asking for family members or wives and children who are in detention to be released in place of the girls, the distinction doesn’t have to be that important.”
According to him, what is important is the fact that the insurgents have identified their people who are being held and they have expressed a willingness to have them back in exchange for the girls.
“I understand that their members in detention are in their hundreds in various detention centres. So, if they are asking for just 237, I think it is worth the effort,” he said.