The Nigerian government has released a concrete proof of its efforts to ensure safe return of the Chibok girls. They were abducted from their school in April 2014, by the Boko Haram sect.
Addressing a press conference in Abuja, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed said that the efforts included swap arrangements dating back to July 2015 which, however, failed for various reasons, including last-minute issuance of a new set of demands by the sect.
In spite of the failed past swap agreements, Mr Mohammed said that the government and Security agencies have not relented in the bid to ensure that the Chibok girls were released safely, in line with President Buhari’s mandate.
First swap agreement
Giving details of the first swap agreement, the most promising, he stated that it failed in the last minute because Boko Haram decided to make a new set of demands, even after all arrangements had been made to exchange some of its fighters for the girls.
”Precisely on July 17, 2015, the Department of State Services, DSS, opened negotiations process 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 their fighters arrested, some involved in major terrorist actions, resulting in several fatalities and others who were experts in manufacturing of locally assembled explosives. This was difficult to accept, but appropriate security agencies had to again, inform Mr. President of these demands and its viewed implications. He gave his assent believing that the overall release of these girls remains paramount and sacrosanct,’’ the minister explained.
”Following the above development, the government and the security agencies had sufficient leverage to work out the modalities for the swap. These included creating the safe haven, or necessary place of swap and working out the logistic details. Based on this, the DSS availed other critical sister agencies of this new situation. Immediately, the Nigerian Army and the Air Force sent some specialists to commence a detailed arrangement for the swap. This was during the last week of July 2015 and 1st week of August 2015. The officers representing the various agencies worked out the logistic details, such as the number of persons to be swapped i.e. number of girls and detainees to be exchanged, the vehicles and aircraft to be used as well as safeguards, i.e. safety of the persons, including the location of the swap.
”When it was finally agreed by all parties, Mr President gave his approval. On August 4, 2015, the persons who were to be part of the swap arrangements and all others involved in the operation were transported to Maiduguri, Borno State. This team, with the lead facilitator, continued the contact with the group holding the Chibok girls.
”All things were in place for the swap and expectations were high. Unfortunately, at the dying moments, the group 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,” he said.
The Minister also gave the details of two more swap attempts that were made following the failure of the first agreement.
”By the month of November, precisely 13th November, 2015, another fresh negotiation process with the group was initiated. This time, there was the need to discuss a fresh component in other to avoid issues that had stalled the former arrangement. There were however some problems that many may not discern, but should be expected in this kind of situation. Some critical persons within the group that played such vital role in August, 2015 were discovered to be dead during combat action or as a result of the emerging rift amongst members of the group then. These two factors however, delayed the 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 but in spite of the failures, negotiation continued on new modalities to secure the release of the girls,’’ Mr Mohammed stated.
”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,” the minister further explained.
Security agencies commended
He commended the security agencies fighting zealously for the safe release of the girls, saying that “many friendly countries and organisations have equally been very forthcoming in providing their human and technological resources to assist Nigeria in the process.”
Addressing the parents and relatives of the Chibok girls, Mr Mohammed stressed: “We are with you; we feel your pains and shall not relent until we succeed in bringing home our girls and every other citizen abducted by the group.”
He also appealed to all those who have shown concern in resolving the matter to continue to trust the efforts of the government to deal with the situation.