The Nigerian military has found no clues as to the whereabouts of more than 200 school girls abducted nearly a year ago by Boko Haram, despite retaking several territories from the insurgent group, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Kenneth Minimah, has said.
Mr. Minimah said “mop up” operations in areas recaptured from Boko Haram have not yielded any signs as to whether the abducted Chibok girls were kept there before being moved.
“In all the liberated areas we have, we have also made enquiries but the truth is when the terrorists are running away they also run with their families”, he said. “And those we have come in contact have not made any comments suggesting that Chibok girls were there and taken away.
“But we are optimistic that as the war gets closer, the territory is becoming elusive to them (terrorists) and we will get further details on that”, the Army Chief said Tuesday, shortly after the security council meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan.
Gen. Minimah also denied that Nigeria hired mercenaries to fight Boko Haram in the Northeast.
He said the foreigners are only military advisers and instructors meant to maintain the newly-acquired military hardware.
“Whenever you have new equipment, the equipment come with contract and the contract
include maintenance and the technicians that come with them are those that we hire”, he said.
On the forthcoming general elections, the Army chief said only the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, can decide whether elections will go ahead in the recaptured territories in the North East.
He, however, warned that while the towns are free of insurgents, there is little presence of government and structure of governance there.
Mr. Minimah said at the meeting with the president, which lasted over five hours, the council passed a vote of confidence on the military following the successful anti-terrorism operations in the North East with only three local governments in Borno state remaining to be liberated from the clutches of Boko Haram.
“Council reviewed the North East operations particularly in the last three weeks and Council renewed its confidence in the Nigerian Armed Forces and commended them too”, Mr. Minimah said.
“You know Yobe and Adamawa states have been liberated completely and we look forward to the reinstatement of structures of government and governance.
“I am also sure you know that in Borno state out of the 27 local government we have three local governments remaining, Abadam, Kalabaldi and Gwoza and we [are] optimistic that with time we will liberate those local governments.
“I am not competent to speak on the elections. INEC is still there. INEC has to re-access the situation and evaluate because the areas have been liberated.
“But I can also tell you that not all structures of governance have been reinstated and they will need to be reinstated so that citizens can go back to their areas and it is then I think they can execute their rights as voters. How soon? I don’t know”, he said.
Responding to the question of whether the military operations could be concluded before March 28, Mr. Minimah said, “It is our wish and we pray God gives that to us, but war is war. War sometimes is not fought on some platforms of permutations”.