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Nigeria minister admits bad communication on missing girls, vows safer schools

July 3rd, 2014
01:56 PM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

The Nigerian government did not adequately communicate with the press about the nearly 300 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram, Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala admitted to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday.

“This is a very delicate situation with an unpredictable group. And I think that maybe this is one of the areas where we have not been able to communicate as well as we can.”

“The president has two daughters,” she said. “These children are our children. But we did not communicate that well.”

Critics say that far from just releasing bad information, the government released demonstrably false information.

Just days after the kidnapping in April, the Nigerian military announced that all but a handful of the girls had been released; that claim was soon disproved, and the girls are still missing.

“I don’t know how that happened,” Okonjo-Iweala said. “The issue now is not whether we are criticized or not criticized unfairly. I think we should forget about all that.”

Safer schools?

That public relations is to blame may be precious little consolation to the parents of the girls, who are still missing, but Okonjo-Iweala’s new initiative to better secure Nigeria’s schools may help.

She has come to London to announce a new “Safe Schools” initiative.

“The issue is what are we doing as a government to make things better? And this Safe Schools Initiative that has been launched with the help of Gordon Brown is one of the instruments.”

“We are trying to say to these girls: We are not just going to fold our hands. We will be working hard to get you back. But when you come back, you should find a different place.”

President Goodluck Jonathan is “trying to work with the UK, with France, the U.S., and other countries – China – to be able to get more intelligence, better intelligence, support, and support the army. Troops have been increased from 15,000 to 20,000 to try and provide better security.”

“This does not mean that you will not see incidents, because the nature of this type of insurgency is one single person can cause a problem somewhere.”

The government is leaving open all possibilities to get the girls back, she said, including negotiation with Boko Haram.

Just two weeks ago, the Nigerian military wrapped up its investigation into the missing girls, with little progress to show on returning them to their homes.

“I don’t think anyone has wrapped up anything,” she said. “You know, there are different stages of this investigation. There’s also a presidential committee that is also looking into this. There’s nothing to wrap up, Christiane.”

“We cannot wrap up anything until we get the girls back.”

The economic solution

The long-term solution to abductions like, Okonjo-Iweala said, may be economic – her bailiwick as finance minister.

“We face two problems: growing inequality, and also the lack of inclusion in these areas. And we’ve recognized that.”

“What we need to do is say, ‘What is the source of growth that can create jobs?’ Because the issue in our country is lack of jobs for our young people.”

Corruption is a huge issue in Nigeria but Okonjo-Iweala said her country is not alone.

“You cannot characterize Nigeria alone. It’s not when you mention the name Nigeria, the next word that comes up is corruption.”

“No,” Amanpour said, “but I’m talking to the Nigerian finance minister.”

“And I’m responding to you,” Okonjo-Iweala responded. “We must be more specific about the things we are doing to confront it.”

For example, she said, the government has ordered an independent investigation into billions of dollars in oil revenue that was revealed to have gone missing earlier this year.

“Of course, Christiane, there’s resistance. I mean, I’ve felt it. There is resistance. You know, there are winners and losers, and the losers can dig in, if they feel.”

“In Ekiti state, some of the reforms in education that he [the State's governor] was trying to bring, with teachers taking exams and so on and so forth – you know, in the U.S., when they [require] teachers’ exams, too, the teachers there were resistant. [And the United States] is a very highly educated state.”

Her feeling, she said, is that “communication to the grassroots” should be improved so that people recognize that reform “is really good for you and will change your future.”

“Maybe it didn’t – it didn’t go.”

UPDATE: A previous version of this post mistakenly quoted Okonjo-Iweala as saying "some of the reforms in education that I was trying to bring." In fact, she said "some of the reforms in education that he was trying to bring," referring to the governor of Eikiti State.


Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode • Nigeria
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. ak badjie jr

    boko haram is a threat to not only nigeria but west africa as a whole. so the global society must do something to put an end to this terrorist group. i sometimes doubt the capability of the nigerian armed force,

    July 3, 2014 at 3:21 pm | Reply
  2. ashok

    The Nigerian government ought to have been willing to negotiate with Boko Haram, pay a ransom, whatever, but got the girls back. It could be argued, of course, that giving in to the demands would encourage more abductions. That is a genuine dilemma, but leaving 300 innocent young girls in their captivity for an extended period of time is not an option.,

    July 3, 2014 at 4:03 pm | Reply
  3. Segun

    What's the point conducting an interview when the tough questions will not be asked? Today marks the 80th day that over 200 girls went missing, and all that Christian could ask from a representative of the Nigerian government are soft questions???

    July 3, 2014 at 5:45 pm | Reply
  4. Jeff Okoroafor

    The neary 300 abducted schoolgirls from Chibok Community, is and must be a priority, not just for the government alone, but everyone. The government must play its big role in doing everything in its power to bring them back and the people on the other hand, must be willing to come up with information, no matter how little.

    Nigeria today is under threat, a terroristic one at that, something that has never happened before in its history. I mean, suicide bombing, the open and courageous willingness to kill, not just anyone but your own people. A practice many of us only watch in movies and TV Shows, now coming to live in a country such as Nigeria. It calls for worry, great worry. Be that as it may, knowing that everything changes with time, and that we are now faced with this, the government must understanding that hide it from the people will not bring a quick solution. It must be exercise good judgement in the provision of certain, unclassified information that will help the people in gathering information that will fascilitate the recovering of the girls as well as putting an end to the menace of Boko Haram.

    Stating repeatedly the reason for the emergence of the Islamic sect called Boko Haram will not in any way, help solve the problem on ground, it's already here. The question is, how can it be solved? What are the things needed in order to help solve it fast? What countries has passed through same challenges and how did they manage to get out of it? When we put forward these questions, and work intelligently to getting answers for them, then we are on our way to breakthrough.

    Finally, no nation divided amongst itself can stand, Nigerian leaders must put aside their political differences and fight for a national course. If there's a time that Nigeria needs Nigerians to come together for its own good, the time is now.

    God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

    July 3, 2014 at 7:06 pm | Reply
  5. yanju007

    I do not want to be pessimistic or skeptical but from a neutral point of view, the chances of the missing girls being recovered is very slim for the following reasons. First, the current president seems more preoccupied about returning to power than finding the missing girls. secondly, some loyalist to the president still believe the case of the missing girls is a hoax and rather than working together and tackling the various issues head on, the current administration and the opposition are busy trading allegations of conspiracy. The issue of corruption is evident in the affairs of the current government, the dealings of the opposition even transcending to the common man but its generally being shied away from and justified. Generally, the value system of most Nigerians is wrong and until when that changes and we begin to have a less corrupt and selfless view towards life, the situation will never change regardless of the people or the political party voted into power.

    July 4, 2014 at 4:42 am | Reply
  6. oye chijioke

    i still maintain my grounds,these insurgencies should be wiped out,they are so inhuman,is it because its the children of the poor,am ashame of my president,Obasanjo can never allow such to happen to our people.

    July 4, 2014 at 9:50 am | Reply
    • Michael

      Which obasanjo?

      July 4, 2014 at 12:51 pm | Reply
  7. oye chijioke

    At that, why are we leaving in a country that have no respect for its citizenry,why are we negotiating with demons,let the government of jonathan do something and stop speaking english,its time for action,set us free,these girls are citizens,how long will it take to rescue them.Nigerians wake up and defend yourselves.

    July 4, 2014 at 9:54 am | Reply
  8. Jean

    totally ineffective leadership, no respect for women, a world shame

    July 4, 2014 at 10:32 am | Reply
  9. bency

    It is a shame for all the nations and organizations who talk about humanity & peace to keep quite such a long time without saving these innocent children from the hands of these devils. It is also shame for the nations who talk about military and intelligence and supremacy they keep their eyece closed . Hope we pray to the almity to protect and save them

    July 5, 2014 at 3:28 am | Reply
  10. KTS

    Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is an apologist for the Nigerian elite and the Government. Her antagonism toward simple questions and inability or refusal to come up with solutions speaks volumes about her complicity in the corruption that plagues Nigeria.

    July 6, 2014 at 8:34 am | Reply
  11. Obinali William-Okoro

    What is the Dr Iweala talking about? Dear Amanpout, Boko Haram requested that they General Buhari should be their Chief Negotiator IN 2012- Why has the FGN not explored this window of opportunity.America negotiated for the release of their embassy staff in Iran after 444years in captivity and 2 failed rescue attempts! even recently 1 American soldier many have termed deserter was exchanged for 5 terrorists!!

    July 6, 2014 at 10:22 am | Reply
  12. Pix

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGsJr83F0F4&w=640&h=390]

    July 6, 2014 at 9:06 pm | Reply
  13. Donald Arthur

    what we need is a divine intervention from above cos all these people we call our leaders are nothing but bad influence on us nigerians. infact i'm ashamed to identify myself as a nigerian.

    July 13, 2014 at 9:12 pm | Reply
  14. Salim

    God has given us all we needed to protect ourself and fight d enemy to a stand still but if we refuse he will not come down .we have all it takes in Nigeria

    August 22, 2014 at 3:37 pm | Reply
  15. sherry

    Just being back our girls..... Shikeno!!

    September 16, 2014 at 6:00 pm | Reply

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