Nigeria's former president Olusegun Obasanjo told media some of the schoolgirls kidnapped by militant group Boko Haram in April may never return, in the most pessimistic comments yet on their fate from a member of the political elite.
Obasanjo said President Goodluck Jonathan's administration had taken too long to respond to the mass abduction. Once Jonathan's mentor and one of his strongest political allies, Obasanjo turned against him in December.
"I believe that some of them will never return. We will still be hearing about them many years from now," Obasanjo told the BBC's Hausa-language radio service on Thursday, in comments echoed in an interview with Nigeria's Premium Times website.
The warning from Obasanjo, who stepped down in 2007 but remains an influential figure, will dismay parents who have now waited 60 days for any news of their daughters, taken from a school in the village of Chibok on April 14.
Obasanjo's criticisms underline divisions within Jonathan and Obasanjo's ruling People's Democratic Party, heightened by the government and army's failure to rescue the girls, and by presidential elections due in 2015.
"If you get all of them back, I will consider it a near-miracle . . . Do you think they [Boko Haram] will hold all of them together up till now? The logistics for them to do that, holding over 200 girls together, is too much. If the administration had acted quickly, we could have rescued them," Obasanjo said, according to Premium Times.
Obasanjo, twice president and a powerful political godfather who nurtured Jonathan's own rise to power, has progressively fallen out with the current president. In a letter leaked in December he said it would be "morally flawed" for Jonathan to seek a second term in a 2015 poll.
Meanwhile, Britain's foreign secretary William Hague has reportedly announced a new package of assistance to help Nigeria tackle Boko Haram. According to Africa Report, Hague, who made the announcement in London during the global summit to end sexual violence against women, said Nigeria's army would receive extra training, especially in counter-insurgency, while a million more children would be given schooling.
A report by The Telegraph said Britain would also provide assistance to Nigeria's regional security and intelligence co-operation. The decision was announced after Hague met with ministers from Nigeria, Chad, Benin, Niger and Cameroon on the penultimate day of the summit he is co-hosting with Angelina Jolie, the report said. — AP