NIGERIA SAID IT was willing to talk to Boko Haram militants, as the United States sent its top Africa general for talks on the rescue mission of more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls.
The governor of Nigeria’s northeastern Borno state, Kashim Shettima, confirmed that all of the girls shown in the latest video released by the militant Islamist group had been identified as students in the school attacked in Chibok last month.
President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday requested a six-month extension to the state of emergency declared in Borno and two neighbouring states a year ago because of the “daunting” security situation.
Special duties minister Taminu Turaki restated the Nigerian government’s position that it was open to negotiations on ending Boko Haram’s increasingly bloody five-year insurgency.
Turaki, who last year headed a committee tasked with pursuing an amnesty pact with some of the group’s fighters, told AFP: “Nigeria has always been willing to dialogue with the insurgents.
We are willing to carry that dialogue on any issue, including the girls kidnapped in Chibok, because certainly we are not going to say that (the abduction) is not an issue.
Nigeria’s interior minister had previously dismissed a suggestion from Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in a video released on Monday that the girls could be swapped for imprisoned militants.
But the military later said it would “explore all options” to end the crisis.
Boko Haram fighters kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from the remote northeastern town of Chibok in Borno state on April 14 and 223 are still being held.
The group’s latest video purported to show some 130 girls, in an undisclosed rural location, wearing Muslim dress and praying, and said they had all converted to Islam.
A special viewing of the footage was organised for the missing girls’ parents.
“All the girls in that video were identified to be students of the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok,” Borno Governor Shettima said in Abuja.
Earlier, the leader of the Chibok community in the capital, Tsambido Hosea, said the video had stirred up conflicting emotions back home.
“I called Chibok and spoke with some of them (the parents),” he said at a protest march.
“Some are saying they are happy because they have seen their daughters. Some have their grief increased. So, there is a mixed reaction.”
US general’s visit
US, British, French and Israeli specialists have been sent to Abuja to provide specialist assistance to Nigeria. China has also offered help.
A US defence official said General David Rodriguez, the head of US Africa Command, was also in the capital “discussing US assistance for the search as well as overall cooperation”.
Rodriguez’s visit came after Washington confirmed it was flying manned aircraft over Nigeria and sharing commercial satellite imagery to help with the hunt for the kidnapped girls.
Britain said it was sending its Foreign Office minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds, to Abuja on Wednesday to discuss what further help is required.
One of Britain’s military specialists on the ground, Brigadier Ivan Jones, said there was close co-operation with the Nigerians but warned the search was difficult.
“No one should underestimate the scale and complexity of this incident and environment,” he said in a statement.