by Olalekan Adetayo
The Minister of Women Affairs, Hajia Zaynab Maina, was boxed into a corner on Wednesday during the post-Federal Executive Council meeting press briefing at the Briefing Room of the Council Chambers inside the Villa.
The briefing which was anchored by the Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, had Maina; the Minister of Works, Mr. Mike Onolememen and the Minister of Water Resources, Mrs. Sarah Ochekpe, in attendance.
While Onolememen was on hand to inform the public through the State House correspondents the progress report on the ongoing construction work on the second Niger Bridge, Ochekpe was there to also give the progress report on the Kashimbila Multipurpose Dam located in Taraba State.
Maina attended the briefing in order to inform the public of the reactions of female ministers to the recent abduction of schoolgirls from Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State. As an elderly woman, she delivered the message flawlessly. She had told journalists that female ministers expressed sentiments over the abduction during the council meeting. She said the ministers sought the prayers and support of Nigerians in the government’s bid to rescue the girls. She however did not say whether the female ministers also carried placards with the inscription “Bring Back Our Girls” as many protesters have been doing across the world.
She said, “We, female ministers, condemned in very strong terms this heinous action. We are not happy about it. We joined several groups to express sentiments. We also thanked women of Nigeria for their cooperation and their calls that the girls should be released and reunited to their families. We also thanked the international community for their support: the UK, US, France, Israel among others. We assured you all of the cooperation of Nigerian women on this matter. We also seek your prayers and support on how to rescue these girls.”
In her capacity as the Minister of Women Affairs, she played active role in a recent stakeholders’ meeting called by wife of the President, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, to investigate the circumstances surrounding the abduction. I shared with you some details of the meeting last week. While I will not bore you with the details again, suffice to say that the meeting concluded that no girl was missing.
Surprised by her new stand on the issue, I seized the opportunity of the question and answer segment of the briefing to ask the minister a simple question: since she played active role in the First Lady’s meeting that resolved that no girl was missing, has she now changed her mind that that meeting’s conclusion was wrong based on her latest position of condemning the abduction?
Whichever way mama decides to answer the question, a good story would have come out from the encounter. If she had said the meeting convened by the First Lady took a wrong decision, it would have been an affront on the “mother of modern Nigeria.” It would also have been a big ministerial blunder for her to have at that point insisted that no girl was missing at a time when the whole world was supporting the Federal Government to ensure the release of the schoolgirls.
Maku, himself a journalist, knew immediately that his colleague’s answer could cause trouble, so he ensured that the woman did not answer the question to the relief of the elderly female minister.
The Information Minister quickly came up with a lengthy advice of how journalists who have one clarification or the other to make on the abduction to approach the National Information Centre opened for the purpose of updating Nigerians of efforts aimed at rescuing the girls. It was obvious that he deliberately protected the female minister and the minister after heaving a sigh of relief would have patted him on the back away from the prying eyes of journalists for a job well done.
All now about Chibok girls
Wednesday this week made it one month since the abduction of the girls. As security agencies and their foreign counterparts are working round the clock to rescue the girls, the issue still dominated meetings and other engagements in and around the Presidency during the week.
On Monday, President Goodluck Jonathan had travelled to Congo for a consultation with President Denis Sassou N’guesso in continuation of his efforts aimed at ending insecurity in Nigeria, the sub-region and Central Africa. The meeting was held ahead of the meeting of the African Union’s Peace and Security Council.
A communiqué was released after the meeting in which the two leaders demanded the unconditional release of the schoolgirls. Apart from reiterating their condemnation of the mass abduction of the college girls, the two leaders also sought the liberation of all others being held against their will by Boko Haram. They called on African leaders, the African Union and its Peace and Security Council to intensify efforts aimed at the eradication of Boko Haram and other terrorist groups on the continent.
The President returned to the country on Tuesday to continue to coordinate the rescue process. He is also billed for Paris this weekend where he will to meet with his counterparts from Benin Republic, Chad, Niger and Cameroon. The talks will centre on how Nigeria and the neighbouring countries can strengthen and intensify collaboration against Boko Haram and other criminal organisations.
The issue always becomes a topic of discussion during any event holding inside the Villa, including visits. When the President granted audience to the British Minister for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr. Mark Simmonds, the issue came up. The issue of the missing Chibok girls was also the agenda of separate telephone discussions he had with the Prime Minister of Algeria, Abdelmallek Sallel and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan. When he received the United Nations Secretary-General’s Representative in West Africa, Ambassador Saidi Jinit, the issue was also on the agenda. It was also an item on the last FEC meeting’s agenda.
One just hopes that very soon, the girls will be rescued to the relief of the world.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Olalekan Adetayo/Punch