On a day members of the #BringBackOurGirls campaigners met with President Muhammadu Buhari, in Abuja, Boko Haram has offered to free more than 200 Chibok girls kidnapped from school on April 15, 2014 in exchange for the release of its militant leaders held by the government.
Revealing this yesterday, a human rights activist, who has been a negotiator for Boko Haram, Fred Eno, told the Associated Press (AP) that Boko Haram’s current offer is limited to the girls from the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, whose mass abduction in April 2014 ignited worldwide outrage and a campaign that stretched to other countries.
The new initiative re-opens an offer made last year to former President Goodluck Jonathan for the release of 16 Boko Haram detainees in exchange of the abducted 219 students, the activist said.
Eno, an apolitical Nigerian, who has been negotiating with Boko Haram for more than a year, told the AP that “another window of opportunity opened” in the last few days, though he could not disclose details.
He said that as President Buhari pursues a necessary military solution, he hopes he also understands the need for negotiation.
Eno said the latest opportunity comes through respected Islamic scholars and Muslim elders who were ignored by Jonathan’s people, but now have taken dangerous and courageous steps to engage the insurgents.
He said the recent upsurge in Boko Haram bloodletting, with some 350 people killed in the past nine days, is consistent with past ratcheting up of violence, as the militants seek a stronger negotiating position.
It is believed that the militants view the Chibok girls as a last-resort bargaining chip.
Boko Haram militants kidnapped the girls as they were preparing to write science exams in the early hours of April 15, 2014. Dozens of the girls escaped from captivity in the first few days, but 219 remain missing.
Presidential Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, said at the weekend that the Federal Government “will not be averse” to talks with Boko Haram, adding: “Most wars, however furious or vicious, often end around the negotiation table.”
Eno said the five-week-old administration of President Buhari offers “a clean slate” to bring the militants back to negotiations that had become poisoned by the different security agencies and their advice to former President Jonathan.
Two months of talks last year led government representatives and Eno to travel in September to a northeastern town, where the prisoner exchange was to take place, only to be stymied by the Department for State Service (DSS) intelligence agency, the activist said.
At the last minute, the agency said it was holding only four of the militants sought by Boko Haram, the activist said.
It is not known how many Boko Haram suspects are detained by the DSS, whose Director-General Ita Ekpeyong, President Buhari fired last week.
The activist said the agency continues to hold suspects illegally because it does not have enough evidence for a conviction, and any court would free them.
In May, about 300 women, girls and children being held captive by Boko Haram were rescued by Nigeria’s military, but none were from Chibok.
Boko Haram has not shown the Chibok schoolgirls since a May 2014 video in which its leader, Abubakar Shekau warned: “You won’t see the girls again unless you release our brothers you have captured.”
In the video, nearly 100 of the girls, who have been identified by their parents, were shown wearing Islamic hijab and reciting the Quran. One of them said they had converted to Islam.
There have been unconfirmed reports that some of the girls have been taken to neighboring countries, and that some have been radicalised and trained as fighters. At least three were reported to have died, one from dysentery, one from malaria and one from a snake bite.
Last year, Shekau said the girls were an “old story,” and that he had married them off to his fighters.
Lawan Zanna, whose daughter is among the captives, said recently that 14 Chibok parents have died since the mass kidnapping, many from stress-related illnesses blamed on the ordeal.