Executive Briefing

‎For the first time, the federal government admitted swapping detained Boko Haram suspects for the release of 82 Chibok Secondary School Girls. This sudden admission belies previous positions that nothing was given in return for the release of the girls in the past, writes Tobi Soniyi

Sunday morning, Nigerians woke up to the cheering news that 82 out of the 276 abducted Chiboks Secondary School Girls have been released by their captors. The girls were kidnapped in April 2014.

Apart from this being the single largest release made so far, there is also something different about the development. It is the first time government would be bold enough to admit that detained Boko Haram suspects were released in exchange for the girls. That is a radical departure from the past when government maintained that nothing was conceded to the terrorists for the release of the girls.

A statement issued by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Garba Shehu announcing the ‎release of the girls reads: “The president is pleased to announce that negotiations to release more of the Chibok Girls have born fruitful with the release of 82 more girls today.

“After months of patient negotiations, our security agencies have taken back these abducted girls in exchange for some Boko Haram suspects held by the authorities.

“The girls are due tomorrow in Abuja to be received by the President.

“The president expressed his deep gratitude to security agencies, the military, the government of Switzerland, the Red Cross, local and international NGOs for the success of this operation.

“It may be recalled that when the first batch of 21 girls were released in October last year,the president directed the security agencies to continue in earnest until all the Chibok girls have been released and reunited with their families.

“The president has been receiving full reports from the Director-General of the State Security Services at each stage of the negotiation.”‎

In October 2016 when 21 of the girls were released, government dismissed claims that something was given to Boko Haram before the terrorist group released those girls. Rather than come clean, government said that the release of the girls was, “the product of painstaking negotiations and trust on both sides.” Trust from Boko Haram! That sounded stranger than fiction.

Despite leaks from those who took part in the negotiations that some members of the terrorists group were released and that cash was also given, the government insisted nothing was given in return. The release of the 21 girls was followed by a sudden increase in attacks by the terrorist group. This led to a convenient explanation that the group was using the ransom it collected from government to buy weapons to boost its capacity to unleash attacks. This, was however denied by government.

Although, the Department of State Security Services was believed to have coordinated the release of the girls, it was the military that issued the denial. In November last year, the military spokesperson, Rabe Abubakar, issued this statement: “‎The attention of Defence Headquarters (DHQ), has been drawn to a news story alleging that ransom was paid by the government in exchange for the recently released of 21 of the abducted Chibok girls.

This unsubstantiated story, to say the least, is quite unfortunate. It is important to recall here that several statements have been issued by the military high command to clarify the issue surrounding the release of the girls, which the whole world applauded. It is therefore worrisome that some sections of the media continue to undermine this modest effort of the government, security agencies and other stakeholders. It is imperative to state categorically that the sponsors of this media campaign have a hidden agenda which is best known to them.

“‎The military and other security agencies will not be distracted and would remain focussed in achieving its objectives in the North East. The important thing is that the release has been made and circumstances surrounding this effort should not be a matter of controversy so as not to overheat the polity and jeopardising the ongoing efforts to secure the release of the remaining girls and other innocent citizens still in captivity of the terrorists.

“The insinuations that ransom was paid to the terrorists which the terrorists used to escalate the recent attacks in the North East is completely false and imagination of the author. The general public should therefore dis countenance it in its entirety.‎”

Six months after, the authority is getting clever. Rather than leave the issue in the realm of speculation, it thought it wise to volunteer the information that some members of the terrorist group were released in exchange for the girls. It however stopped short of telling Nigerians how many of them were released in exchange for the 82 girls. Was cash given in addition to the release of arrested Boko Haram members? This and other questions certainly deserve answers because they have implication for the peace and security of the country.

‎Despite efforts by the government, the story of the girls continued to be shrouded in mystery. Many Nigerians remained the unconvinced. Not entirely their efforts. The faults lie squarely with government. Those in government beginning from the time the girls were kidnapped till now continued to do a poor job managing the information.

Three years after the girls were kidnapped, people were almost given up hopes for their release. But a group, the BringBackOurGrils campaign refused to give up. At a time, the Muhammadu Buhari-led government considered the group a nuisance and did it best to rubbish members of the group. But the group persisted and refused to be intimidated.

The group had suffered similar treatment in the hands of the Goodluk Jonathan-led government. But it the perseverance of the group that brought the kidnapped girls into international limelight with Michele, Obama, wife of the then President of the United States joining the campaign.

Reacting to the news of the release of the 82 girls, a member of the group, Bukky Shonibare said: “This is a very, very exciting news for us that we have over 80 of our girls coming back again. Their life in captivity has been one that depicts suffering, it depicts the fact that they have been starved, abused, and as we have seen before some of those girls have come back with children, and some of them have also come back with news of how they have been sexually abused.”

‎Stephanie Busari was on point while reacting to the release of the 82 girls. Using her twitter handle @StephanieBusari she said: “I salute the resilience and steadfastness of the @BBOG_Nigeria led by the formidable Oby Ezekwesili along with others like Bukky Shonibare and Aisha Yesufu.

Continuing, she said, “They have been shamed, ridiculed and insulted for three years, yet they persisted with almost daily protests and became a thorn in the side of people who would rather the Chibok girls were forgotten. But for them, these girls would have become postscripts in Nigeria’s long list of terrible tragedies.”

About a hundred girls still remain in captivity. Hopefully, government will double its efforts to free them.

Quote

Six months after, the authority is getting clever. Rather than leave the issue in the realm of speculation, it thought it wise to volunteer the information that some members of the terrorist group were released in exchange for the girls. It however stopped short of telling Nigerians how many of them were released in exchange for the 82 girls. Was cash given in addition to the release of arrested Boko Haram members? This and other questions certainly deserve answers because they have implication for the peace and security of the country.