In this interview with Ben Agande, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr Reuben Abati, speaks on why the Federal Government will not swap Boko Haram detainees with the Chibok schoolgirls abducted on April 14, some 50 days ago.
He, however, says government is ready to integrate Boko Haram members who lay down their arms and renounce terrorism back to the Nigerian family. Excerpts:
The President has met with several world leaders since the abduction of the Chibok girls. What have these meetings produced?
The reach out to the international community and the acceptance of offers of support and expression of solidarity by various countries and multilateral institutions has been very productive and fruitful.
The President welcomes any offer of assistance and help. What has been achieved with all these efforts: the Paris meeting, the meeting with the President of the Republic of Congo and the meeting in South Africa on the sidelines of the inauguration of President Jacob Zuma is that the President of Nigeria has been able to mobilise international cooperation.
He has been able to draw attention to how Boko Haram, supported by Al Qaeda and other foreign terrorist organisations, have tried to invade Nigeria and have tried to overwhelm the Nigerian state.
In particular, the point has been well made that terrorism is a global issue and it requires concerted global efforts to deal with the challenge. As a result of the efforts by President Jonathan, the United Nations has officially designated Boko Haram as a terrorist organisation and has imposed sanctions on Boko Haram and its elements and sponsors, wherever they may be identified or found.
Another dimension to it is the renewed cooperation and partnership between Nigeria and the neighbouring countries. At the Paris meeting, hosted by President Francois Hollande, the five neighbouring countries: Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and the Republic of Benin, arrived at far reaching decisions, which, as we have seen, have further enriched the existing cooperation and partnership amongst the countries.
The key areas of cooperation include working together to share intelligence, working together to patrol their borders, contributing troops to patrol the border and making it impossible for the terrorists to spread their network further within the region. The meeting in Paris recognised that there is a serious cross border threat.
What has been done is to ensure that there is no hiding place for any terrorist anywhere and the meeting in South Africa even recognised the need to extend this vigilance, this cooperation beyond the West African region.
You must have noticed that in the last one week, some of countries have already raised a battalion of the army that was agreed on in France, the existing cooperation in terms of intelligence sharing is becoming stronger, various countries of the world, including the United Kingdom, the United States of America, France, Canada and Israel have mobilised support for this operation and I think the message has been sent very clearly to Boko Haram and their Al Qaeda collaborators that the world has taken on this challenge as an assault against our common humanity, as affront against human civilisation and as a threat to the entire world.
Talking about cooperation with other countries, an official of the United States government was quoted as saying that there is unwillingness on the part of the Nigerian security services to confront the Boko Haram fighters. Has this concern been raised with the Nigerian government?
The point to be made clearly is that we have a very strong, committed, patriotic Nigerian Army and other security services. Before the abduction of the girls, the same security forces were able to restrict the Boko Haram to only one part of Borno State. These are terrorists who had almost taken over large portions of three different states of the federation and were going to impose their own authorities in the three states.
They had their own flags, they were well armed and were carving out their own enclave inside Nigeria. What we are talking about today is how they have been restricted to a forest. It is the same Nigerian Army that did that.
Today they are in Sambisa forest and we have no doubt whatsoever that with the support being received, with the attention being focused on this last stronghold of these terrorists, Nigerian security forces will succeed in winning the war. Talking about the criticism of their not being willing to engage, the evidence that I have given you does not prove that they are not willing to engage.
You will note that other foreign commentators on the present task of rescuing the girls that have been abducted have also made it clear that many of the countries offering assistance are not committing in troops. They are sending in security experts who will assist with logistics, surveillance and satellite imageries.
If they provide such support, the people that will go on ground to do the job if it comes to that will still be Nigerian soldiers. I have always stated that commentators and the media should desist from demoralising the Nigerians security forces. They have shown great resolve in taking on this assignment.
It is an unusual kind of war. It is unconventional and asymmetrical. You are fighting a battle where the enemy is faceless and is willing to commit suicide. It is an unconventional kind of warfare. What they have done so far is to be encouraged and not demoralised.