Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja
The anticipated return of the abducted Chibok girls suffered a major blow yesterday, with the federal government admitting glitches in the negotiations for a swap deal with Boko Haram, the terrorist group holding the girls.
The group had set a condition to government to release some of its captured fighters in exchange for the abducted girls who were taken from their school dormitories in April 2014.
Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who updated reporters yesterday, on the efforts to free the girls, said a deal was yet to be struck because the terrorist group kept making fresh demands from government that were neither bargained nor discussed.
Mohammed said after the current administration first contacted the group in August 2015, it mobilised security agencies to Maiduguri and fine-tuned details, including the number of terrorists to be swapped for the girls and location where the swap would take place.
However, in return for the release of some of these girls, Boko Haram had made some demands, including the release of some of their fighters and others who were specialists in the manufacture of locally made bomb.
But regrettably, he said, after more than two weeks of negotiation, talks broke down and stalled what would have been the first release process of the Chibok girls because the terrorist group made fresh demands which government rejected.
Mohammed also said that on November, 13, 2015, another fresh negotiation process with the group was initiated but that also did not make headway because some critical persons within the group, who played key role in August, 2015 talks were discovered to be dead during combat action or as a result of the emerging rift amongst members of the group.
”These two factors delayed the process. In spite of these, negotiation continued on new modalities. By 30th November, 2015, it was becoming glaring that the division amongst the group was more profound. This affected the swap process. By 10th December, 2015, another negotiation process was in place, but this failed to achieve results because of the varying demands by the group.
”The security agencies since the beginning of 2016 have not only remained committed but have also taken the lead to resolve the Chibok girls’ issue. In spite of the current division amongst members of the terrorist group, which has seriously affected efforts to release the girls, renewed efforts have commenced using our trusted assets and facilitators. However, this job requires diligence and ability to deal with a group that can easily change its demands without notice,” Mohammed said.
He stated that the Department of State Services (DSS) and other security agencies first opened negotiations with Boko Haram in June 2015 shortly after the election of the current administration.
He said that after his election, President Buhari assented for further negotiations on the girls in the third week of July 2015, after it was established that the girls were indeed alive.
The minister admitted that the security agencies could not then broker the release of the girls because of several encumbering factors.
According to him, the security agencies had discovered that many of the groups marauding as negotiators actually had neither veritable intelligence nor the reach to facilitate the release of the Chibok girls.
He also said the efforts were clouded by persons with very partisan interests and whose main objective was solely to score cheap political points.
”It was obvious their approach had no relevance to the release of the girls. Some informants or persons volunteering to be negotiators or facilitators saw the girls’ plight and indeed the situation as a conduit to enrich themselves; thus making the whole thing a pecuniary venture.
”As a result of the conflicting and partisan interests, issues were muddled up to the extent that reasonable and fruitful leads either failed or simply came too late for any useful action.”
Mohammed conceded that making contact with the group holding the girls through relevant intelligence had not been an easy task because of high level of mistrust between the group that abducted the girls, while government also found many approaches or contacts claiming to be in touch with them as false or unreliable.
Mohammed, who said government remained committed to ensuring that the Chibok girls are safely released, added that establishing the genuity of the contact group was an Herculean task as ”hostage taking and releasing is not like a foootball match involving Chelsea and Arsenal”.
He also said that though the law of the country allowed the citizens to protest within the ambit of the law, the recent order by the Inspector General of Police, preventing the Bring Back Our Girls protesters was made out of concern for public security.1ST JUMP