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Oby Ezekwesili, BBOG Why going to Sambisa was right decision

Forget the letters, Oby Ezekwesili and the BBOG group did the right thing by flying to Sambisa Forest.

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Former minister, Oby Ezekwesili heads to Sambisa Forest with Information Minister, Lai Mohammed on Monday, January 16, 2017. play

Former minister, Oby Ezekwesili heads to Sambisa Forest with Information Minister, Lai Mohammed on Monday, January 16, 2017.

(Abdusidiqu)

As you read this, some members of the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) group are in Sambisa Forest--the former base of Boko Haram terrorists.

Last Saturday, a letter from the office of the Honourable Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, found its way into the Pulse inbox.

The intended recipient was Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili, convener of the BBOG advocacy group.

It was as lucid, tongue in cheek and straight to the point a letter as you'd expect from Mohammed.

I should know.

I spent all of 2014 reading Lai Mohammed's press releases which always arrived my inbox every other Sunday.

At the time, Mohammed was the APC spokesperson.

play President Buhari and Lai Mohammed (Presidency)

 

ALSO READ: FG meets BBOG's fresh conditions to join trip to sambisa forest

Those press statements were always laced with jibes and jabs. The letter to Ezekwesili was classic Mohammed.

"Let me congratulate you most sincerely for the continuing interest of your group, Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) in the fate of the Chibok girls, including those who have regained freedom and those who remain in captivity", Mohammed wrote.

Other parts of the letter read as follows:

"In recognition of your unwavering commitment to the freedom of the girls, you are invited to nominate three of the BBOG members to join you on a guided trip to the North-east on Monday, 16 January 2017".

Mr. Mohammed further explained that the team to Sambisa Forest would first have a stopover in Yola to witness first-hand, the efforts being made to rescue the missing schoolgirls by the Nigerian Air force.

play BBOG group (Twitter)

 

"It is our belief that this trip will avail the BBOG the opportunity to witness and better understand the efforts being made by the Nigerian military to secure freedom for the abducted Chibok girls and all other victims of the Boko Haram terrorism".

Moments after Pulse received the letter, a top ranking government official called our newsroom to say the BBOG group had rejected the offer and bluntly declined Mohammed's Sambisa invitation.

Before you could say Sambisa, the online space had been suffused with this narrative.

I hoped and prayed that the story was untrue.

And it turned out a fib. 

Ezekwesili would confirm to Pulse a few minutes later that the BBOG group had accepted the invitation.

#Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) campaigners and parents of abducted Chibok girls denied access by police to see President Muhammadu Buhari take part in a rally in Abuja, Nigeria, August 25, 2016. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde play Aisha Yesufu leads the BBOG campaign (Twitter)

 

The acceptance was however premised on the federal government meeting certain conditions.

"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", Ezekwesili's response to Mohammed, read.

ALSO READ: FG rejects BBOG conditions for joining students' search mission

She added: "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".

BBOG also demanded for an apology.

BBOG protested that its members had been tagged as "social advocacy terrorists" by a "certain group". According to the BBOG, that group was received by the Chief of Army Staff.

"We demand therefore that ahead of the pre-tour, we have proposed herein, that the Chief of Army Staff retracts and apologizes for endorsing such slanderous attacks against our movement..."

That proposal was subsequently shot down by the federal government in yet another letter.

Former minister, Oby Ezekwesili heads to Sambisa Forest with Information Minister, Lai Mohammed on Monday, January 16, 2017. play Aisha Yesufu, Lai Mohammed and Ezekwesili head to Sambisa (Twitter)

 

And in yet another letter, BBOG accepted to board the plane to Sambisa.

And just as well.

It was a weekend of letters and we are just relieved that it's finally over.

Since 2014, Ezekwesili and her group have mounted a sustained advocacy for the rescue of the abducted schoolgirls. No other advocacy group in the history of this country has been this resilient, focused and dogged.

If they weren't out there everyday, trust me, we all would have moved on.

Last year, that resilience paid off when 24 of the abducted girls returned to their families.

Oby Ezekwesili during a Bring Back Our Girls protest at Abuja in 2016 play Oby Ezekwesili during one of the BBOG protests (Twitter)

 

In January, 2017, Pulse named Ezekwesili its person of the year for her fighting, never say die spirit.

The group has always wanted to be briefed about what the government was doing to rescue all of the girls still in Boko Haram custody.

Ezekwesili decried as much in an interview granted Pulse last year.

Past meetings between government officials, President Muhammadu Buhari and the BBOG group, yielded little.

This trip will afford the BBOG group that front-row seat they've always craved.

If they had declined the government's invitation to embark on the trip alongside select journalists, their stock would have fallen and their advocacy dismissed as an attention-seeking stunt.

Lai Mohammed - Minister of information and culture play Lai Mohammed (Guardian)

 

I'm an admirer of Ezekwesili and all she stands for. She's wanted nothing else than to see all the girls reunite with their families. It's one cause she's told me she's signed up for with all of her heart.

This isn't a game for her. It's not some publicity stunt.

It's never been.

As she flies above the vast swathe of parched land that is Sambisa Forest, Oby will realise that this was one more crucial step toward finding the girls.

Because, trust us, she loves these girls like her own daughters--wherever they may be.

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