President Muhammadu Buhari’s comment that his government is ready to swap detained Boko Haram commanders with over 200 abducted Chibok schoolgirls, has aroused interest in a number of individuals and groups who have approached the Federal Government with offers to facilitate the deal, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu has said.
Shehu said multiple groups with claims of contact with the Boko Haram group had come forward with the proposal to link government up with the Boko Haram faction that is holding the girls, after the president gave the green light in Kenya last week.
Buhari had told journalists on the sidelines of the sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) in Nairobi last weekend that his government was prepared to take all the necessary measures to ensure the release of the girls.
The president said government was ready to enter into discussions with genuine leaders of the sect with the knowledge of the whereabouts of the girls.
He said such leaders could reach the Federal Government through an internationally recognised non-governmental organisation and show proof that they have the girls.
“What we said is that the government, which I preside over, is prepared to talk to bona fide leaders of Boko Haram. If they do not want to talk to us directly, let them pick an internationally recognised non-governmental organisation, convince them that they are holding the girls and that they want Nigeria to release a number of Boko Haram leaders in detention, which they are supposed to know. If they do it through the ‘modified leadership’ of Boko Haram and they talk with an internationally recognised NGO, then, Nigeria will be prepared to discuss for their release,” he said.
Though the president did not make reference to it, his comment was widely seen as a reaction to a video that was released by Boko Haram earlier in the month.
In the video, the group showed some of the abducted schoolgirls and expressed its willingness to exchange them with its fighters in government custody.
Speaking to Daily Trust on Sunday, Shehu said the Federal Government was being “prudent, careful and scrupulous” in every line of action it was taking to secure the freedom of the girls.
For that reason, he said, the nation’s intelligence agencies had been involved in scrutinising the groups that had come forward, as well as their claims. “The comments by the president have aroused interests and offers in certain quarters, from people who claim to have contacts with the group (Boko Haram). The intelligence agencies are scrutinising them. They are being careful this time around because of what happened in the past.
“Every offer is being investigated and verified. The president has always maintained that he wants to see a group that has the mandate of the sect and has a proof of possession (of the girls) and the willingness to discuss,” he said.
In addition to the groups, the presidential spokesperson said security agents who have served in the North-East were also supplying information that could aid the girls’ rescue, just as Boko Haram members currently in detention were also trying to prove their capacity to lead the way to their leaders, in order to get the girls returned.
“Nobody knows the way to the girls, but all options are being followed. Every line of action will be followed to a logical conclusion, with the hope that this time around, we will get it right. The president is very passionate about returning these girls to their parents.”
He, however, said the government would be guided by the provisions of the constitution when the need arose to discuss the release of Boko Haram commanders in exchange for the girls.
“There is nothing the government will do in releasing the commanders that will violate the constitution of the country. Everything will be done in accordance with the provision of our laws,” he said.
Why Chibok girls rescue suffers hitches
In its latest video, Boko Haram claimed that some of the girls had been killed in an airstrike while others had been ‘married off.’
In the video, a hooded man, armed with a gun and standing in front of about 70 of the abducted Chibok girls, said nobody could rescue them until certain conditions were met through an intermediary.
Apparently referring to Salkida, the man said: “The only person we know (for the mediation) is a journalist. Release our brethren and we would release your daughters. But you (President) Muhammadu Buhari, if you feel you’ve a superior might that you will deploy to rescue the girls, then give a trial and see if they would find the girls alive.
“These are the Chibok girls that have been in our custody in the past two years. This is to also tell their parents that some of the girls are still alive.
“The Chibok parents should tell the Federal Government of Nigeria to release our brethren, especially those in custody in Maiduguri, Lagos, Abuja and other parts of the country as the only condition for the release of these girls,’’ he said.
The video was released after the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group had announced the replacement of Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the Boko Haram, with Abu Musab al-Barnawi, the son of Muhammed Yusuf, the founder of the Boko Haram sect, as the new leader of its West African Province.
The development was said to have rattled Shekau and increased fears about the lives of the Chibok girls.
But on Sunday, August 14, the Shekau faction of the Boko Haram, using its original name of Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad, released a new video showing some of the schoolgirls, meaning that many of them were in the hands of Shekau.
“That was a big opportunity to cash in because the terrorists made a demand. They wanted to prove that Shekau is still alive and in possession of the girls, and since they gave a clear hint of how they could be approached, the claim by Nigerian government that there was no clear link is no longer relevant,” a security expert, retired Major Salihu Bakari, said.
But it was gathered that the situation is a bit dicey because not all those expected by the Boko Haram to be released are still alive.
According to a source, though majority of those arrested in Abuja are alive, the Boko Haram had given names of certain commanders whose whereabouts are not known.
“These were the ones that were mostly killed during operations and raids, and no known commander arrested in Maiduri is alive though very few escaped from Giwa barracks break,” the source said.
This development, it was gathered, will also make it difficult for the Boko Haram to release all the surviving Chibok girls, if the group realised that some of their commanders could not be produced.
“The greatest disservice done to the rescue of the Chibok girls is the recent declaration of activists Aisha Wakil, Ahmed Bolori and journalist Ahmed Salkida as wanted persons by the military,” a source close to the negotiations, said.
“Specifically, I am not a fan of Salkida and I don’t care whether he is a journalist or whatever, but three solid attempts were made through him at bringing back the girls, but all failed basically because of greed in the corridors of power and other quarters,” he said.
He said Salkida, who is on self-exile in Dubai, was asked by Nigerian authorities to come back home thrice, with a view to facilitating the rescue operation, but he ended up going back to his base a frustrated man.
When contacted by our reporter for a phone interview, Salkida simply said, “You have my best wishes always, but this is not the right time to say anything, let’s clear my name first.”
When pressed further to explain what transpired when he was asked by Nigerian authorities to intervene, Salkida said, “You have no idea what I am going through right now. The army has succeeded. They know I have been bullied into silence. I can hardly come out and dismiss their claims upon claims now. May the lord save our country,” he said.
On his part, Bolori had, in a recent interview, said he did not have a direct link with Boko Haram, while Wakil said in a reported interview on Wednesday, August 31, that the whereabouts of the Chibok girls would be made known in 24 hours.
Confusion cropped up when Colonel Sani Usman, the Acting Director Army Public Relations, said in a press statement on August 14 that: “There is no doubt that these individuals (Wakil, Bolori and Salkida) have links with Boko Haram terrorists and have contacts with them.
“They must, therefore, come forward and tell us where the group is keeping the Chibok girls and other abducted persons to enable us rescue them.”
Bakari said that by declaring Salkida wanted, the Nigerian Army foreclosed a big window of opportunity.
“The statement by the Director of Defence Information (DDI), Brigadier-General Rabe Abubakar, to the effect that the trio of Wakil, Bolori and Salkida were only invited to shed more light was only an afterthought; the damage to the rescue process has been done,” he said.
A source close to the administration of former President Jonathan confirmed that a concrete move at rescuing the girls was aborted more than once.
“One of the negotiations through Salkida was done during the tenure of Jonathan, but the process went awry when a certain minister at the time, and some people in the presidency blocked the chief negotiator for their selfish interests,” he said.
The agreement was reached when it was discovered that the location where the Chibok girls were kept in Sambisa and Alagarno forests along Yobe State borders were laced with bombs.
“There was no way the girls could be rescued because the terrorists were at the time using them as both bargaining chips and shield. A radius with bombs was made and any attempt to use force would mean killing the girls and their abductors,” the source added.
The rescue arrangement, it was gathered, was that with the knowledge of the military, Salkida would be given opportunity, based on the consent of the terrorists, to go to the abduction site through Gujba Local Government Area of Yobe State.
“The guy (Salkida) agreed and even went to Yobe, but, somewhere along the line, the process was shattered,” he said.
Another source said when Buhari took over, two separate attempts were made at rescuing the girls, through the same Salkida and a certain senator from the North Central.
“But again, the same problem that thwarted the efforts of Jonathan destroyed the attempt the second attempt.
“Salkida was asked to come with a proof that the girls were alive, which he did. Sadly, he was kept at bay along the line and he had to leave for Dubai.
“Similarly, the senator that was working closely with Salkida also got frustrated and ended up giving the video of the Chibok girls to the Cable News Network (CNN), which was aired on December 5, 2015.
“All the efforts failed due to the iniquities of some people that do not want the whole Boko Haram saga to end,” he said.
Prisoner swap not a new thing – Expert
An anti-terrorism scholar, Dr. Amaechi Nwaokolo, said prisoner swap deals with terrorists were a practice done all over the world and Nigeria should not be an isolation.
Nwaokolo, who spoke with Daily Trust on Sunday, said there was no better way of securing the release of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls than dialogue, adding that government should take advantage of the prisoner swap offer by the Boko Haram terrorists to secure the girls’ release.
“It is done all over the world; even Israel, which is contending with issues of terrorism and kidnappings, has been negotiating with terrorists and exchanging them even with their soldiers,” he said while also making reference to a similar instance in America when one of its soldiers was kidnapped in Afghanistan.
He said for the prisoner swap deal to be successful, the Nigerian government must involve the exiled journalist, Ahmed Salkida and two others – Ahmed Bolori and Aisha Wakil, who were wanted for their alleged connection with Boko Haram.
According to Nwaokolo, the Nigerian military had acted too fast in declaring these persons wanted, saying: “We need information from Salkida and the two others, especially with regards to the right group of Boko Haram that could be dealt with.”
He also said Nigeria should involve what he referred to as a ‘proxy nation;’ preferably from the Middle East, that would help in putting the terrorists on the negotiating table.
While asking the government to be diligent in handling the swap offer, Nwaokolo also cautioned the Nigerian military to concentrate on intelligence gathering and talk less, as according to him: “The more they talk, the more they spoil the chances of successful negotiation.”
Read more at http://www.dailytrust.com.ng/news/general/groups-offer-to-broker-boko-haram-swap-deal-presidency/161303.html#RXbHv87yBOHLjzlq.99