OTTAWA – Canada will supply surveillance equipment to help Nigeria find hundreds of Nigerian teenage girls abducted by Islamic extremists, the Harper government confirmed Wednesday.
“Canada will provide surveillance equipment and the technical expertise to operate it,” Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said in an email.
MacDonald was responding to an earlier report out of Nigeria that said that country had asked Canada to provide surveillance equipment in the wake of the April kidnappings by the Boko Haram rebel group.
In response to a question from the NDP during Wednesday’s question period, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said any loans of Canadian military hardware to Nigeria would be accompanied by Canadian military personnel to operate it.
“We’ve offered support to the Nigerian government. If Canada has surveillance equipment that is not in the region that could provide assistance to find these young girls, we’d obviously be pleased to provide it,” said Baird.
“What we do have a concern is we will not hand over military equipment unless we can send the Canadians who can properly operate it.”
Also Wednesday, NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar called for an emergency debate in Parliament over Canada’s response to the abduction.
“These girls were taken while writing a high school physics exam, an indication of the extent to which Boko Haram terrorists seek to undermine the education of young Nigerians, particularly girls,” Dewar wrote in a letter to House of Commons speaker Andrew Scheer.
“Hundreds of young innocent lives are at stake, along with the political and social direction of a country and the region. Parliamentarians need an opportunity to discuss an appropriate Canadian response to this crisis.”
Nigerian Vice-President Namadi Sambo issued a statement Wednesday after meeting a day earlier with Canadian Development Minister Christian Paradis, local media reports said. That statement reportedly asked Canada to supply “surveillance equipment and other vital security hardware” to help Nigeria battle the Boko Haram insurgency.
Harper did not confirm the report when asked about it in the Commons by NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, but he said discussions between the two governments have taken place in Nigeria.
“We are very concerned by the growth of what is a very extreme terrorist organization,” said Harper.
“We’re willing to provide a range of assistance, and that offer remains open.”
In a follow-up email, MacDonald said: “We will work with Nigerian authorities to provide assistance in the effort to help find the missing girls.”
The militants abducted hundreds of the girls, aged 12 to 15, from a school in Nigeria three weeks ago, sparking worldwide attention.
The United States, Britain and France are also sending experts to Nigeria to help with the search for the girls.
On Tuesday, Paradis told The Canadian Press in an email that Canada was ready to assist Nigeria, but he offered no specifics.
“Canada strongly condemns the kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram,” he said. “These cowardly acts are morally appalling. We will continue to support Nigeria in their fight against terrorism.”
Nigeria has been fighting Boko Haram’s Islamic uprising for five years, during which time it has claimed the lives of thousands of Muslims and Christians. So far this year, an estimated 1,500 people have been killed.
Boko Haram wants to impose an Islamic state in Nigeria even though half of the country’s 170 million citizens are Christian.
Hundreds more were killed in an a Boko Haram attack Wednesday on a border town in northeast Nigeria, close to where the abductions took place.
In all, Boko Haram — the name translates in English as “western education is sinful” — is holding 276 teenage students. Muslim leaders from across the globe have condemned the kidnapping.
The group’s leader has threatened to sell the girls, while pledging to attack more schools and commit further abductions.
U.S. President Barack Obama has said the U.S. will do everything it can to help Nigeria find the girls.
Obama also said the crisis might finally mobilize action against Boko Haram, “this horrendous organization that’s perpetrated such a terrible crime.”