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In Nigeria, Pressure Continues To 'Bring Back Our Girls'


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's go now to developments in Nigeria. It's been more than two months since more than 200 schoolgirls were abducted by the extremist group Boko Haram. People around the world campaigned to bring back our girls. Of course there was a widely used twitter hashtag campaign using that term. The story seems to have mostly fallen out of the headlights in many countries around the world. Meanwhile the Nigerian government says it has wrapped up an inquiry into the case, yet there are witness reports that more children may now be missing. Here to give us the latest is freelance journalist Chika Oduah. She's been keeping us updated since the abduction first took place. She's with use from Maiduguri, Chika welcome back, thanks for joining us once again.

CHIKA ODUAH: Thank you so much Michel.

MARTIN: We are also hearing from a representative of the government. That is Dr. Doyin Okupe, he is a medical doctor but we are hearing from him once again in his capacity as senior special assistant on public affairs to President Goodluck Jonathan, he's with us from Abuja. Doctor, welcome back to you as well, thank you for joining us once again.

DOYIN OKUPE: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: And so Doctor let us begin with you. We understand that the government's official inquiry into the whole situation has been concluded. Have you seen this report, does it shed any light on what happened or where the girls might be?

OKUPE: Yeah, a lot of those things are in the report. And it's a very good report. It's also a (Unintelligible) made to be a classified document because it contained some details that are very important to national security. But then (Unintelligible) you know, on the night of the abduction, which we believe and nobodies talked about this before, that some 119 girls (Unintelligible). And some people, their first news, their first - it was their first information. And when take that and take the number of girls that have now returned officially from that report 219 girls are yet to be accounted for. That is what the report says here in summary (Unintelligible).

MARTIN: You were telling us that the report is considered classified because it contains sensitive national security information. Well when we last spoke the government had indicated that it believed it knew where the girls were. It was understood that it was - the rescue attempts would be dangerous, is that still the case? Does the government still maintain that they know where the girls are being held?

OKUPE: That's the fact. But the (Unintelligible) option is the last option. You know, under the circumstances because of the obvious advantage that it is, it may actually lead to, you know, losing some of the girls, you know, because of the nature of the situation that they are in right now.

MARTIN: And I understand, Dr. Okupe, that more children have been taken, is that true?

OKUPE: That is not correct. You know, that is absolutely not correct at all. There is no verifiable evidence - there's nothing that can support that case we don't know where this came from. And even the governor of the state himself said on national television that, you know, from where they are, you know, they cannot verify that but I can assure you that I talked today, you know, information available to government and the people around that story cannot be verified. So what the world does not know is that there is a little polarization of Boko Haram activities and of abductions in Nigeria and people are tried to use that to block the government, block the president and make the government look bad and inept.

MARTIN: speaking of the president, that when we last spoke there was criticism that he had not yet visited the area from where the girls were taken. Has he visited the area yet? Has he gone to Chibok?

OKUPE: No he has not.

MARTIN: He has not.

OKUPE: He has not gone to Chibok.

MARTIN: Why is that?

OKUPE: Well you know I cannot tell you this is why he hasn't gone to Chibok but you know there are a lot of things are going on. The real problems we have is the concentration of these (Unintelligible) and the methodology through which we can get these girls released. This is a really major, major affair.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're talking about developments in the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls in April. I'm speaking with the Dr. Doyen Okupe, he is an advisor to Nigeria's president Goodluck Jonathan. I'd like to hear now from Chika Oduah, who's a freelance journalist who we've been turning to to keep us up-to-date on these developments. Chika, first of all may I ask how are Nigerians reacting to this inquiry, which the Dr. Okupe was telling us about. I mean the government says that this inquiry is completed but that its results are considered classified. How are people reacting to that?

ODUAH: I think for now Nigerians are trying to keep the pressure on the government to get the girls back from wherever they are. As you can see the "Bring Back Our Girls" campaign, which started in Abuja continuing strong and today makes it day 72 since the girls have gone missing. We understand that 57 girls were able to come back. They were able to escape on their own, they managed to jump out of lorries, they've managed to come through the bushes and escape. 219 girls are missing but you as of today you cannot say that the government has been able to find any of these girls. The girls who did manage to escape managed to get back on their own.

MARTIN: Reporting as Dr. Okupe disputes that there have been additional children taken, what are your sources telling you?

ODUAH: Well this story has not been confirmed and that's why it's been so difficult reporting, I do agree. And I did speak to some vigilantes who do say yes it happened but again no security officials have been able to comment. I've reached out to several branches of the Nigerian government; both state, federal, the military, the police and none of them have confirmed nor denied the story. So right now we have to wait to see what happens.

MARTIN: Because we've reached you in Maiduguri, which is in northeast Nigeria - is there something - could you just give us a sense of the area? If there something that you feel is important to understand about what's going on in that area, that we may not understand from a distance.

ODUAH: Well, Maiduguri itself - so far they've been able to keep Boko Haram away from the city and this is being done by the vigilante forces in conjunction with the civilian JTF. And of course they're working with the Nigerian military and trained vigilantes to try to keep the terrorists at bay. So they've been doing a fairly decent job at doing that. So right now you have people flocking from different parts of the North East (Unintelligible) seeking refuge. I just went to a camp this morning where there are more than 4,000 internally displaced families living there, living in the camp. They're being fed by the state government; the state government is handling their feeding and their security. And this is again something that the vigilantes have tried to do as far as keeping their city safe because many of these people say they're tired of Boko Haram coming and destroying their families, destroying their lives. So they decided to take up arms and defend a city essentially and they're doing that anyway they can. A lot of them are using bows and arrows, some of them are doing hunter rifles, machetes as well. And you can see them as you're traveling throughout Northeaster Nigeria the checkpoints, some checkpoints are manned by military, some checkpoints are manned by vigilantes and some are both. This is a space under emergency rule, so security of course is something that we have to consider very, very top priority.

MARTIN: Dr. Okupe can we get a final thought from you? When we last spoke you told us that you felt that the war between the government and Boko Haram is actually de-escalating. And you said that you felt that the abduction of these girls, which was very, you know, devastating and shocking was meant to have an impact but you felt that it was actually indicative of this group's desperation, the fact that their influence is on the wane, that they are on the run as it were. Do you still think that that's true?

OKUPE: Well, I think that it is self-evident, see because all attempts, I mean all previous efforts are attacking the (Unintelligible), has now ceased.

MARTIN: Dr. Doyen Okupe is a medical doctor. We are speaking to him in his capacity as senior special assistant on public affairs to the president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan. And we reached him in Abuja. Dr. Okupe, thank you for speaking with us once again.

OKUPE: I'm grateful, thank you very much.

MARTIN: For additional perspective we also spoke with Chika Oduah. She's a freelance journalist. We reached her in Maiduguri and she has been keeping us up-to-date on all of these developments throughout this crisis. Chika thank you so much for joining us once again.

ODUAH: Thank you Michel. It's a pleasure as always. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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