Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari has declared that remnants of terror group Boko Haram in Nigeria’s northeast are bandits, and that his administration “will continue to treat them as such.”
The President stated this while receiving Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), at State House, Abuja.
Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, quoted Buhari as saying:
“Boko Haram has been degraded, but its members are still a nuisance around Lake Chad and surrounding islands. That is why we are cooperating with Chad, Cameroon, Niger Republic, and other countries. We are also using the Air Force quite effectively. They are bandits, and we will continue to treat them as such.”
He said the government was concentrating on repairing damaged infrastructure, rehabilitation of internally displaced persons, securing their communities, so that they can return home.
The President applauded the support of the ICRC and other humanitarian organisations, noting that the “situation of the displaced persons is very pathetic. Some children don’t know where their parents are, neither do they know where they come from.
“We are focusing on education and healthcare, along with rebuilding of infrastructure. The agency formerly under the leadership of Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (retd) and now headed by Major-General Paul Tarfa (retd) is quietly making an impression. We are dedicating lots of resources to the area.”
Buhari disclosed that significant progress has been made in disabusing the minds of people that the insurgency was religious.
“How can you kill people, and say ‘God is great.’ It’s either you don’t know that God, or you don’t know what you are talking about. God is God of justice. And the people have understood the message well, so recruiting is now difficult for the insurgents,” the President said.
ICRC President Maurer said Nigeria was the 5th largest operation of ICRC worldwide, and the organisation would continue to render humanitarian action to people affected by violence.
On the recent killing of two officials in the North East, he said: “We are shaken by the killing of our staff, but not discouraged. Humanitarian assistance should continue, and we applaud the hospitality of Nigeria.”
Maurer said the ICRC’s relationship with Nigeria will be further strengthened, adding that “the more we see activity from Nigerian authorities, the easier it is for us to add here and there.”
Maurer, speaking to State House correspondents, later praised the effort of the Nigerian government in giving succor to people displaced by the Islamist insurgency.
“I have been very much impressed and satisfied by the response of President Buhari by the appreciation for what the Red Cross does here in Nigeria and also to feel his strong support for the mandate and work that the ICRC as a neutral and impartial humanitarian organization is doing,” he said.
“My meeting with the President was also an opportunity to convey to the President and his assisting Ministers how much we appreciate our work with the Nigerian Red Cross Society whose volunteers and many officials work in many places and our first and foremost partners that work at the frontline of humanitarian delivery. We have in that sense concluded a very positive meeting with the President and I am happy for present and future collaboration between Nigeria and the ICRC,” he added.
Maurer noted with delight the steady continuous engagement between Nigeria and his organisation.
He, however, said that it is necessary to bridge the gap between needs and the number of people in need as well as the ability of the Red Cross to respond to them.
“Nonetheless, in terms of commitment I see a very strong commitment from the government of Borno State and the authorities here in Abuja, who are doing the best they can to close that gap and I assure also of our willingness to do our part to help narrow the gap and find pathways back to normal life for those who have been displaced,” he said.
He said the ICRC is giving the needed support, as a neutral partner, to ensure the release of captives of insurgency.
“The International Committee of the Red Cross, as you may be aware, has a mandate through the Geneva Convention to act as an intermediary in situations of violence and conflicts, and we do our best to keep our channels open to all sides and all arm bearers in a conflict; and it goes without saying that we do believe that any hostage taking and deprivation of civilians of their movement is something which is in contradiction with international humanitarian law but it is also our task to raise it with all sides in conflict and situations of violence. So, I would concur that there are a lot of outstanding issues, which I want to confirm the readiness and engagement on a day to day basis of my colleagues in the delegation here in Nigeria to try to trace, to look after and to ensure that dialogues take place, leading to the liberation of those who are detained,” the ICRC President said.