The Federal Government, for the first time on Friday, released details of its efforts to secure the release of the Chibok schoolgirls, who were abducted by the Boko Haram sect on April 14, 2014.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, at a press conference in Abuja, said President Muhammadu Buhari, on assumption of office, directed security agencies to locate and ensure a safe rescue of the girls.
He said that the Department of State Services on July 17, 2015 opened negotiations with the sect, which demanded the release of its bomb makers and fighters involved in major terrorist activities in the country.
The sect bombed Saint Theresa’s Catholic Church in Madala, Niger State, on December 26, 2011. In 2014, it attacked Nyanya, Abuja, twice.
Explaining the commitment of Buhari to the release of the girls, Mohammed stated that the President approved the demands of the group in spite of the implications.
The minister stated, “On July 17, 2015, the DSS opened negotiations with the group holding the Chibok girls. However, in return for the release of some of these girls, the group also made some demands. These included the release of some of its fighters arrested, including some involved in major terrorist attacks, resulting in several fatalities, and others who were experts in making locally assembled explosives.
“This was difficult to accept, but appropriate security agencies had to again inform Mr. President of these demands, and their implications. Again Mr. President gave his assent, believing that the release of the girls remains paramount.”
He said that acting on the directive of the President, security agencies, including the Army, Air Force, Navy, the police and the DSS in June 2015 commenced actions to secure the girls’ release.
According to him, the DSS in the same month established a special unit to review previous actions carried out to secure the release of the girls and establish reasons for the failure of such efforts.
Mohammed stated that the DSS’s investigations, among others, showed that “many persons or groups posing as negotiators actually had neither veritable intelligence nor the reach to facilitate the release of the Chibok girls.”
The minister stated that because of conflicting interests and unnecessary rivalry, nothing was achieved before Buhari assumed office.
Mohammed said security agencies identified people with relevant intelligence on the group.
He added that government got offers ranging from credible and non-credible on how to secure the release of the girls.
“By the third week of July 2015, a contact group was in touch with credible people who had the reach, and who attested to the fact that some of the Chibok girls were alive,” he stated.
According to him, after securing presidential approval, security agencies worked on modalities for the swap, including creating a safe place for the exchange.
He stated that between July 2015 and August 2015, the Nigerian Army and the Air Force sent their specialists to commence the arrangement for the swap.
The minister said that the officers worked out logistic details, including the number of girls and detainees to be swapped; safety of persons and the location of the swap.
How swap was stalled
According to him, the first step of negotiation began on August 1, 2015 and on August 4, 2015, the team involved in the operation was transported to Maiduguri.
He stated that at the point of securing the release of the girls, the sect gave another set of demands that were not bargained for. This, he said, stalled the release of the girls.
He stated, “This team, with the lead facilitator, continued the contact with the group holding the Chibok girls. The service was able to further prove to the group its sincerity, as it established communication channels between it and its detained members. All things were in place for the swap which was mutually agreed upon.
“Expectations were high. Unfortunately, after more than two weeks of negotiation and bargains, the group, just at the dying moments, issued new set of demands, never bargained for or discussed by the group before the movement to Maiduguri. All this while, the security agencies waited patiently. This development stalled what would have been the first release process of the Chibok girls.”
The minister said that on November 13, 2015, the government began fresh negotiations with the group.
He disclosed that it was, however, discovered that some members of the sect, who played critical role in the last negotiation had died during combat actions or as a result of rifts among members of the sect.
“By November 30, 2015 it was becoming glaring that the division among the group was more profound. This affected the swap process. By December 10, 2015, another negotiation process was in place, but this failed to achieve results because of the varying demands by the group,” he stated.
Trust us, FG tells parents
The minister said that in spite of the division in the sect, the government had commenced another negotiation aimed at securing the release of the girls.
Appealing to parents of the girls, Mohammed stated, “We feel your pains and shall not relent until we succeed in bringing home our girls and every other citizen abducted by the group.
“It is important to appeal to all those who have shown concern in resolving this matter to continue to trust the efforts of the government to deal with the situation.”
We endorse B’Haram’s demands – Chibok community
In its reaction to the government’s efforts, the Chibok community in Abuja, said it supported Boko Haram’s demands, if it would lead to the release of the Chibok schoolgirls.
The Chairman of the community, Tsambido Abana, said government should yield to Boko Haram’s demands, noting that military actions had so far failed to secure the girls’ freedom.
He said, “We are happy about it (negotiation with Boko Haram), if it is true. We endorse Boko Haram’s demand and want the government to go ahead with the negotiation, but if it is false, then it would be a great blow to the government.”
The BringBackOurGirls’ spokesman, Abdulahi Abubakar, described the move as a welcome development.
“It is a welcome development, our position has always been that the government should communicate what it had been doing on the issue of the Chibok girls. We would continue to monitor the situation and react accordingly,” he stated
I won’t believe govt until I see my daughter – Parent
But the mother of one of the abducted girls, Esther Yakubu, said she would not believe the government until she sees her daughter, Dorcas.
“For me, I won’t believe them until I have my daughter in my arms. When I was in Chibok, there was a time they (government) told us to prepare to receive our daughters, but we didn’t see anybody. I’m still prepared to receive my baby, all I want is my baby, but I won’t believe anything they say until I have my baby in my arms,” she stated.