The federal government has said former President, Olusegun Obasanjo has unimpeded access to President Goodluck Jonathan and the necessary platform to contribute to nation building, particularly the release of the schoolgirls, without waiting for the permission of the presidency to negotiate their release.
Last week, Obansanjo had said his efforts to negotiate the release of the over 200 Chibok schoolgirls who were kidnapped two months ago by Boko Haram had been hampered by lack of support from the Nigerian government. He also said some of the girls might never return to their parents and those that do might come back pregnant.
The reaction of the federal government coincided with that of the Governing Council of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which described Boko Haram activities in North-eastern Nigeria as “war crimes and crimes against humanity”.
The Coordinator of the National Information Centre and Director General National Orientation Agency (NOA), Mr. Mike Omeri, made this clarification while responding to THISDAY enquiries on the statement credited to Obasanjo.
According to Omeri, the former president does not need anybody’s permission to embark on issues of national importance such as negotiations for the release of the Chibok girls with members of Boko Haram.
He said: “What we are saying is that ordinarily and according to our culture, if two people get in a heated quarrel, neighbours come to make peace.
“So if at his level he can make peace why not. After all, the first time he went to Borno State, he did not get anybody’s permission to go, and as a former head of state, if he has information or a strategy to get those girls back he can meet his colleagues.”
The NOA boss also said Obasanjo, contrary to what he would have the public believe, has unfettered access to the president and the necessary platform to get his message across.
Last week, the president had invited former heads of state on Boko Haram and everybody was there except Obasanjo.
According to him, these are platforms, he could actually go to and explain or seek the kind of clearance he said he needed to do the job that he had elected to do for Nigeria. “What I am saying is that if he has any challenges or difficulties, he has access to Mr. President to discuss them with him. He has the platform,” he added.
Earlier, Omeri had during the daily briefing in Abuja maintained that the former president did not need any formal clearance from Jonathan before engaging in any meaningful dialogue with Boko Haram over the release of the schoolgirls.
He said the federal government would be happy to receive suggestions from every patriotic Nigerian on how best to secure the release of the Chibok girls.
“In our last briefing, we reiterated that there were three options available to the government to find these abducted girls, and the first was that any individual with access to the sect should help the government in securing the release of the girls.
“Second is for the army, in collaboration with our international allies, to secure their release and the third is for the insurgents to voluntarily release the girls,” he said.
In the same vein, sources in the presidency questioned the sincerity of Obasanjo in the ongoing abduction saga in Borno State.
The sources said the former president was playing games with the whole counter-terrorism efforts and knew more than meets the eyes.
“The question is that all this while he knew what they (Boko Haram) were doing. Is he the one supporting and sponsoring them for him to know and talk authoritatively that some of the girls were pregnant and others would not come back again. This is something that betrays him,” the source explained.
According to the source, Obasanjo was playing politics with the insurgency, adding: “Even right now it might surprise you that Jonathan’s group are even safer taking advice from Major-General Muhammad Buhari than any other person.
“IBB (General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida) is even more professional and not involved in all this politics Obasanjo is playing. IBB is more refined and dignified than Obasanjo.”
The presidential source traced Obasanjo’s comments on the Chibok girls to his know-it-all attitude, stating: “He must know all and be all. If it’s not me, it is nobody else and that is why he is working tirelessly to undermine the administration.