By Eric Elezuo and Ajibade Morakinyo Temilorun
Following Boko Haram’s request and President Muhammadu Buhari’s expression of Nigeria’s readiness to release Boko Haram leaders for the missing Chibok girls abducted in 2014, hope seems to be in sight for the safe return of the girls almost 29 months after.
On the sidelines of the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI) Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, Buhari said that the government is ready to dialogue with the “bonafide” leaders of the terrorist group. He said through his official spokesperson, Garba Shehu:
“If they do not want to talk to us directly, let them pick an internationally recognised Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), 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.”
The Federal Government of Nigeria’s effort in tracking down the Islamic sect, Boko Haram, has gradually turned into a game of the hunter and the hunted; a situation where each finds a way to evade and attack the other.
The activities of Boko Haram is known to have plagued the Nigeria nation and its neighbouring states for over 10 years. The Islamic group, since 2002 has perpetrated several ills in their wake, affecting the social, political, education and religious lives of the people, thereby drawing for itself world’s attention.
With the Federal Government’s massive action against the sect, they devised another strategy, and that was brought to the fore with the abduction of 276 school girls from the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State on April 14, 2014. The Chibok Girls, as they later came to be called, became a defensive mechanism for the sect as their particular location was unknown to the military.
And today, the girls are not only a defensive mechanism, but have also become a bargaining chip, which the sect is maximizing to the fullest, going by their recent demand after the latest video they released.
In the video, a certain Maida Yakubu, was recognized as one of the girls abducted over two years ago, giving the sect the impetus to initiate a swap system where members of their sect in custody should be returned in exchange for the much eluded Chibok girls. This is a follow up of videos with brief messages confirming responsibility, and threatening to sell the girls, sent by the deadly sect in the recent past.
Their activities had been calling the bluff of the world whose attention was specifically drawn to the issue by the #BringBackOurGirls campaign group, who were seen a few days ago at the Presidential Villa, where security operatives refused to allow them entry to dialogue with the President.
Perhaps, the sect’s demand in a new video, on Sunday August 14, 2016, that the only solution to bringing back the girls is to swapped its members who are detained at detention centres across the country as negotiation between Boko Haram and Federal Government seems to pick up may just be the tonic the Federal Government of Mohammadu Buhari needs to fulfill the promise they made the Nigerian electorate during the campaigns to the 2015 elections.
The sect’s demand which the Nigeria Military High Command has dissociated itself from, claiming it is a political issue, calls for caution as it is always dangerous negotiating with terrorist because in the first place, they have nothing to lose, more so, negotiating with reduces a country sovereignty to ridicule.
“While one cannot tell which negotiation will bear good fruits, it is always not adviable to negotiate with anyone who has nothing to lose, especially a criminal who is not tired of committing more crimes. So, the Boko Haram’s request to negotiate and swap prisoners is a situation that must be handled with caution,” said Barrister Adeleke, a foreign affairs analyst.
He went ahead to recount the experience of America, a country which had hinged one of its foreign policies on the non negotiation of any terms with terrorists.
“The case of the United State of America comes to mind instantly. It will be recalled that the country negotiated with terrorists during the Lebanon hostage crisis where over 100 foreign hostages were taken in Lebanon between 1982 and 1992, when the Lebanese Civil War was ‘at its height’, he said.
The hostages were mostly Americans and Western Europeans, but 21 national origins were represented. At least, eight hostages died in captivity; some were murdered, while others died from lack of adequate medical attention to illnesses. US government was under pressure to get Americans in the den of the terrorists released, and went on a deal of supplying weapons to the terrorist, in order, to swap and get its citizens back from the den of the insurgents.
Unfortunately, when the terrorists received about 1500 anti-tank missiles and got three hostages released, three more were taken in order to secure more weapons, “which is why it is a good idea not to negotiate with terrorists”.
“From a conventional point of view, swapping deal with the group is a very difficult approach to get these girls back, in terms of trust and safe recovery of the girls. Otherwise, what would prompt a sovereign nation (Nigeria) to begin to negotiate with insurgents, despite its standing army? Hence, it is important that the government of Nigeria does what is necessary to secure freedom of these school girls,” the legal expert added.
However, in the new video, it is believed that the identities of those new Boko Haram leaders are unknown. As a result, it is completely difficult negotiating with unknown set of people in such a situation. It is therefore difficult, if not impossible to enter into agreement with someone with no known identity.
Lanre Awogbemi is a human right activist, who believes that the swap action should be grabbed with both hands considering the fact that the insurgents are basically useless to the society unlike the young girls whose lives are just budding.
“But it would be unwise for anybody to say that the Boko Haram detainees should not be released in order to get the Chibok girls back, considering that the so-called detained members of the group have zero usefulness to Nigeria,” he said, querying what would it cost the Federal Government of Nigeria to swap the prisoners for the girls. He maintained that the detained members do not add any value to the society, rather are draining the financial base of the government, in terms of feeding and accommodation.
However, another rights activist, Onyekwere Orji, sees the demand of the sect as unsual, and should not be considered for any reason. He questioned the rationale behind releasing hardened criminals to the society in the name of realizing Chibok girls, whose existence, according to him, is subject to debate.
“If the Chibok girls have now turned to be the government’s bargaining chip; then it’s a big shame. Those arrested insurgents should be hanged and not returned to the crime we are trying to prevent. No reason is good enough to release those enemies of the people. They don’t even deserve amnesty, not to talk of unconditional freedom. Moreover, nothing tangible seems to prove the existence of the girls. Somebody somewhere is scamming Nigeria big time in my own opinion. That swap, wherever it originated from, is not healthy for the nation,” Orji said.
Some stakeholders however, applaud the swap idea if it can bring the girls back without confrontation or harm, knowing that some of the girls have already been murdered either by the military air raids or many other unconventional means.
They also see the swap arrangement as an avenue for bringing an end to the menace of the Islamic sect as they called on government to expand the deal beyond just swap on the group’s side and take the negotiation to a second phase.
But the questions that must be considered before negotiating with the Boko Haram sect are: What evidence does the government now have to show, after it claimed it has won the war against this group? This is as the government claim that the sect’s hide out, Sambisa Forest, still remains functional and the abode of the Chibok girls.
Again, one of the girls, Amina Ali, who allegedly escaped from the group with her so called Boko Haram husband, can be use raw investigation for the hideout of Boko haram and the girls if the army is sincere about her identity, according to Awogbemi, asking what has become of the ‘husband’ who should have assisted the military by now in finding a lasting solution.
In an interview with CNN, the senator representing Kaduna Central and former negotiator on the release of the girls, Shehu Sani, stated that impostors among some of the negotiators had been a challenge inhibiting a breakthrough and suggested that the source that facilitated the release of the video should be engaged by the government in the negotiation with the sect.
He said: “Negotiation will make it possible for these girls to be brought back home alive. What has always been the problem in the last few years has been the very fact that they are scam negotiators, who most times make claims and don’t deliver. And I think this is what we must be very careful of at this time. The very fact that we can get such a credible video from some sources, and those sources are elements that need to be utilised to be able to achieve the goal of getting these girls out.
“When President Muhammadu Buhari took over, a section of our country was taken over by the insurgence group. They hosted their flags and even unleashed their version of theocratic Islamic group. But now, with funding for the military and support by the government, the morale is high, the military had been able to push them back and most of the cities in the North-East are safe. Buhari has not been able to achieve 100 per cent success but he has made serious progress. I believe he can still achieve more. With the very fact that now, they know clearly they cannot win militarily and the only option is to go for other ways. There is no other way other than for them to agree to negotiate on the release of these girls.” He added.
But according to a Lagos based Journalist, Dominic Victoria, the swapping deal will enable the group to terrorise Nigeria the more, because if the detainees are released their strength of terrorism will increase, stressing that if swap is the only way to bring those girls back, the government should press for it.
“As soon as federal government has released Boko Haram detainees, I doubt the possibility of them not terrorizing the country the more. But it is lives of young school girls we are talking about here many of them are only child of their parents, and some of them are from the same parents. So, yes, government should go for the deal, if that’s the only way to rescue them, or if wisdom can be applied in such a way that the chibok girls are rescued and the terrorists retained still in government prison, fine, but if not, they should go for the deal.” Dominic said.
“More so, I want to believe there is still a way of bringing them back again, because this is a nation with huge security forces, and of which are capable of bringing the girls back alive. After all, we were the one who arrested the members of group at first, so we can do that again after the girls are in save hands of their parents.”
Dominic also buttressed reasons of swapping the detainees for the girls as including the pains they are exposed to through sexually agony, exposure to several diseases, and given birth through their undeveloped sexual organs.
“Going into the deal will also save the girls from diseases they have been exposed to over the years with the group, especially VVF (Viscos Virginal Festula) because they are minors who cannot withstand pain of childbirth, and of course the trauma the parents of the girls are going through presently.”
She also exposed the fact the girls are at the moment breeding a supplementary army for the sect through child birth as it is likely that all the girls are mothers today.
The fear of the government, it is believed, is hinged on whether the insurgents would fulfill their part of the agreement if government releases the detainees.
If the swap proposal is the only light that can end the long darkness, the country’s government should not allow the light to disappear, but take advantage of it to release the girls.
However, it must be noted that detainees swap for the girls is generally not an open-minded exercise. Adequate care must be taken to ensure that the right group is negotiated with, and government’s sincerity to rescuing the girls should be paramount. There should be preconditions that would guide the process, and the government should approach the process with the required seriousness to give itself a relief girls if the girls are actually there.