The offer was contained in a letter to Ezekwesili by the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed. She was asked to nominate three members of the BBOG to be part of the mission at the instance of the military.
The letter said the delegation that would depart the Air Force wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport tomorrow will comprise Mohammed; the Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Yusuf Buratai; Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, BBOG members and a select group of journalists. They will tour the NAF base in Yola and witness the first-hand efforts by NAF to search for the unaccounted Chibok girls by joining the day and night sorties to Sambisa forest.
But BBOG, in a reply to the invitation, yesterday, listed conditionsfor its participation in the tour. The group requested a pre-tour meeting with the government and the military. It also demanded that Buratai should withdraw his endorsement of a group he received at the Army Headquarters, who had accused BBOG of engaging in “social advocacy terrorism,” and apologise to BBOG.
The military had in the last week of December last year recorded a psychological victory when it succeeded in pushing out the Boko Haram insurgents from Sambisa Forest, their last bastion in the restive Lake Chad region.
Ezekwesili, a former Vice-President of World Bank and ex-Minister of Education, has been a strong voice leading the quest for the return of the Chibok girls from captivity, since the girls numbering over 270 were abducted from their school hostel in Borno State in April 2014.
The BBOG was very critical of the failure of former President Goodluck Jonathan to fast-track the return of the girls and equally spearheaded many protest marches in Abuja against the Buhari administration on the freedom of the girls, until 21 of them were released following a negotiated deal in October last year.
In the letter dated January 11, 2017, Mohammed noted that it was in recognition of the unwavering commitment of the BBOG group to the freedom of the Chibok girls that it was offered the invitation to join the guided tour of the North-east.
“It is our belief that this trip will avail BBOG the opportunity towitness and better understand the efforts being made by the Nigerian military to secure the freedom of the abducted Chibok girls and other victims of Boko Haram terrorism,” Mohammed wrote.
But in their reply to the federal government’s offer, dated January 13, 2017, BBOG stated, “We had an emergency meeting of our movement to discuss your invitation to embark on a ‘guided tour’ of the Nigerian Air Force Command (Yola) and Sambisa Forest with officials of the government.
“Our members unanimously agreed that the movement is open to exploring the opportunity for a visit to the North-east theatre of war as presented in your invitation. However, before proceeding with further discussions on the proposed visit, we propose a pre-tour meeting to discuss pertinent issues that will help inform our decision to proceed. We believe that this prior meeting would help provide first-hand knowledge of, and answers to questions that our movement wishes to raise ahead of the guided visit.
“We propose that participants at the meeting be the National Security Adviser to the President and the other officials of government indicated in your letter. These are: 1. The Minister of Defence, 2. The Chief of Army Staff, and 3. The Chief of Air Forces.
“Furthermore, we wish to raise a matter critical to our proposed meeting. Only two days ago, the federal government-owned News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) widely reported, through the mass media, that during a visit to the Army Headquarters by a certain group which was received by the Chief of Army Staff, our movement was attacked for engaging in ‘social advocacy terrorism.’
“It is puzzling that the said visit happened less than 48 hours before our movement received your letter asking us to travel in the company of the same Chief of Army Staff to Sambisa Forest.
“We demand, therefore, that ahead of the pre-tour meeting we haveproposed herein, that the Chief of Army Staff retracts and apologises for endorsing such slanderous attacks against our movement, #BringBackOurGirls, and, specifically, at some of our leaders. “Such a step would communicate that it is with goodwill that the federal government is asking us to entertain the visit proposed in your letter.”
BBOG had in an earlier statement challenged the federal government to raise the bar on accountability and good governance even as it fights corruption at all levels of government. The group frowned on what it called the abuse of funds meant for developmental purposes under Buhari’s watch. It added that Nigerians were not yet fully convinced that a minimum standard of accountable governance had been achieved since the president’s inauguration.
In the statement issued in Abuja and jointly signed by Oby Ezekwesili and Aisha Yesufu on behalf of the group, BBOG said “while it is important for Nigeria as a nation to recover the loot from past government officials and their cronies, it is equally important to note that the public has expectations that cases of corruption will be thoroughly investigated and speedily prosecuted and concluded and that the guilty will in reality be jailed.”