President Goodluck Jonathan has ruled out freeing Boko Haram prisoners in exchange for the release of more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls.
Minister of Special Duties Tanimu Turaki, had earlier said authorities were ready to negotiate with Boko Haram, but the President insisted yesterday that this was out of the question.
“He made it very clear that there will be no negotiation with Boko Haram that involves a swap of abducted schoolgirls for prisoners,” said British Africa Minister Mark Simmonds after meeting Dr. Jonathan in Abuja, to discuss an international recue mission for the girls, according to the BBC.
The April 15 kidnapping has caused international outrage, and foreign teams of experts are in the country to assist the security forces in tracking them down.
The United States has deployed a drone in the search for the abducted Chibok girls as Britain offered a surveillance plane and a military team to help.
The over 200 girls were abducted from their dormitories.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday in parliament: “Today I can announce we have offered Nigeria further assistance in terms of surveillance aircraft, a military team to embed with the Nigerian army in their headquarters and a team to work with United States experts to analyse information on the girls’ location.”
The UK Ministry of Defence clarified that one Sentinel plane would be sent.
Specialist teams from the United States, Britain, France and Israel are already helping Nigeria’s military in the search.
Britain last week sent a team of experts to Nigeria, including officials from the Ministry of Defence.
US surveillance planes have been scouring a vast swathe of northern Nigeria, looking for the girls.
Cameron also rejected claims that the Nigerian government had failed to do enough to help find the missing girls. He said: “This was an act of pure evil. The world is coming together not just to condemn it but to do everything we can to help the Nigerians find these young girls.”
The prime minister rejected a suggestion by Tom Clarke, a former Labour minister, who said the Nigerian authorities had failed to lift a finger to help find the schoolgirls. A group of about 130 of the kidnapped girls appeared earlier this week on a video released by the terror group Boko Haram.
Clarke, who is a respected expert on international development, asked the prime minister: “While I welcome the efforts to rescue the schoolgirls in Nigeria, will the prime minister agree that the Nigerian government hasn’t lifted a finger to protect its own citizens in the north as they were attacked by Boko Haram?”
Cameron replied: “I don’t think his description of the Nigerian government is entirely fair. They do face a very vicious terrorist organisation in terms of Boko Haram.
“They are investing in and training their armed forces in counter-terrorism abilities. We have worked with them on that and we are willing to do more work with them on that, particularly if we can make sure proper processes are in place for dealing with human rights issues.”
But the PM said Britain should be prepared to provide more than military assistance. He said: “We should help across a broad range of areas – not just counter-terrorism, surveillance and helping them find these people but also working with the global fund promoted by (Gordon Brown) in terms of protecting more schools.”
A U.S drone has reportedly joined the search. The “Global Hawk” — the U.S. military’s high-altitude, long-endurance aerial drone — flew its first surveillance mission over Nigeria on Tuesday in search of the girls, U.S. officials told NBC News.
With a wingspan of just over 130 feet, the Global Hawk’s air time is a huge advantage in surveillance operations: It can remain airborne for 28 hours with a range of 8,700 miles and has a top speed of 310 knots (357 mph), according to the Air Force.
The Global Hawk also has a variety of surveillance systems, including radar, optical and infrared sensors.
The drone joins the manned, propeller driven MC-12 surveillance aircraft which has already been conducting surveillance flights over Nigeria. The U.S. first flew the MC- 12 over Iraq then Afghanistan and is considered a low-cost workhorse in short-range missions.
. Some parents of the abducted students after identifying their girls in the video on Monday at the Government House in Maiduguri, urged the government to ensure the safe release of their children
“I thank God that I saw my daughter Aisha Zannah in the picture,” Mr Lawan Zannah, one of the parents said.
“They are our girls abducted one month ago,” he stressed and urged security agents to work towards rescuing the girls safely.
“We want our girls to return home safely now that we know that they are still alive”’ he said.
Shettima Haruna, another parent, said all the girls shown in the video were those abducted from the school.
Another parent, who spoke on condition of anonymity, wondered how the girls were able to read in Arabic.
“The lady reciting the Quran is from Kubur Bula village; she had been of a good Christian background, but I wonder what they did to her.
“Her name is Rebecca but she looked like a true Muslim in the video.”
Officials of the Borno government, however, declined comment on the issue, saying that they were yet to reach a conclusion.
“The process is still going; we have not concluded anything yet.
“I believe we should be able to conclude by tomorrow, when the commissioner for Information will be able to say something on the issue,” an official, who declined to be named, said.