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Abubakar Alkali Sokoto. Email: alkalizai@yahoo.com
Councillors Quarters,
Runjin Sambo.
Sokoto state


 

 

 

The Way Out of The Chibok Girls Debacle

by Abubakar Alkali Sokoto
 
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Based on all available facts on the ground that are awash in both the Nigerian  and international media almost on daily basis, the window to bring back our girls is still open but may be gradually closing hence the earlier we use that window the better for our girls, our country and humanity

The ‘proof of life’ video released by Boko haram on 14th April 2016 showing 15 of the 276 schoolgirls abducted by Boko haram from Government secondary school Chibok in Borno state North East Nigeria has yet again reinvigorated hopes of a safe return home of the girls. Boko haram apparently released the video as a bargaining chip for a possible prisoner swap which they have consistently maintained as their key condition for the release of the girls. The release of the video coincided with the second anniversary of the abduction and also the capture of the Boko haram second in command, Usman Mohammed a.k.a Khaled Al Barnawi by the Nigerian security forces.

 

 

The efforts to get the abducted Chibok schoolgirls released by Boko haram has been one of the most recent unifying factors of the human race not only in Nigeria but the world over. The call for the safe return of the girls has transcended continental and national boundaries. It has gone beyond religion and race. The whole world is united in the call for the safe return of the Chibok girls to their families and loved ones. Let’s face it: The abducted Chibok girls have nothing to do with the altercation between Boko haram and the Nigerian state.

The girls are simply innocent teenage schoolgirls in pursuit of education to build a better future for themselves but somehow, somewhere, something happened and they find themselves at the thick and thin of the ongoing relentless, needless and somewhat mindless insurgency that has officially led to the loss of over 20,000 lives (possibly a figure much higher). In addition, over 5 million people are currently displaced by the Boko haram insurgency.

The abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls seem to symbolise the entire Boko haram insurgency in North east Nigeria and one factor that brought Boko haram to international limelight.

As traumatising as the kidnap of the Chibok schoolgirls is to the whole world, the pains and anguish the parents of the schoolgirls are going through is better imagined than seen. As at December 2015, 18 grieving parents of the kidnapped Chibok girls have died of heart attack and stress related illnesses. The surviving parents are under continued grief and trauma and are ever hopeful that they will one day set their eyes on their cherished daughters currently in the den of Boko haram. Some analysts even aver that there is need for some intervention from government through palliatives to the Chibok parents to cushion the effect of their trauma.

In what seems a scary scenario, the Nigerian military have said they have no clue as to where the girls are kept by Boko haram. Of course you need to first of all know where the girls are held before attempting a rescue. Air Marshal Siddique Abubakar, the Chief of air staff was clearly being honest when he said on the BBC hausa programme ‘Gani Mani Hanya’ on 23rd April 2016 that the Nigerian army command has no clue as to where are the girls are held by Boko haram. Without doubt the last administration under former President disastrously mismanaged the handling of the Chibok girls kidnapped by Boko haram. The main issue at this moment however, is to find ways to get the girls released and get on with their normal lives.

It is imperative to give a resounding salute to the legendary and exemplary movement formed to drive the campaign for the safe release of the Chibok girls: THE BRING BACK OUR GIRLS (BBOG) movement. BBOG has been relentless, committed and unreservedly determined to get the girls released and ALIVE to join their families. Oby Ezekwesili and her BBOG team must be commended and decorated for the wonderful job that they are doing as the propaganda arm of the Chibok girls rescue efforts.

Without doubt, the BBOG group has maintained its stand as the centre of gravity of the global efforts to rescue the girls and the second most important factor after our gallant military that has kept the efforts to rescue the girls alive. The BBOG group must also be commended for the constructive and disciplined manner it has carried out its activities within the ambit of the law and its strict adherence to due process.

The release of the video to my understanding (I stand to be corrected), is yet another signal to the widely held belief that Boko haram is not averse to releasing the girls but wants to use them as a bargaining chip. A fair analysis of the situation on ground will reveal that the only seemingly workable solution at the moment to the release of the Chibok girls is a PRISONER SWAP deal between the group and the Nigerian government. The group has consistently called for the release of some of their members in custody in exchange for the girls.

In September 2014 during the administration of Goodluck Jonathan, Boko haram offered to release the girls in exchange of some of their members held in detention. At the same time in September 2014 and to buttress their stand that the girls are in their custody, Boko haram released a video showing about 100 of the kidnapped Chibok girls who spoke and identified themselves.

Some of the parents of the girls later confirmed their daughters in the September 2014 video after watching the video at the government house in Maiduguri. In an apparent cementing of the group’s stand on the girls, the Boko haram leader Abubakar Shekau said I swear to almighty Allah, you will not see them again until you release our brothers that you have captured”

To make matters even out, the Nigerian government under the honest and genuine leadership of our President Muhammadu Buhari has demonstrated beyond any iota of doubt about its sincerity to rescue the girls alive. Mr President has consistently reiterated the desire of his administration to get the Chibok girls out and handed over to their families and loved ones without any unnecessary delay.

Mr President has also said at every opportunity that one thing that has found a permanent place in his heart as President is the issue of the Chibok girls and how they can be rescued. Clearly one of the greatest moments for our President will be that day he will hand over the Chibok girls to their parents and loved ones in a colourful ceremony. We continue to pray for that day!

Mr President has maintained that he is not averse to dialogue with Boko haram to get the girls released – which by my understanding means he is not totally against the prisoner swap option. However, the President has stated the need to identify the genuine leadership of Boko haram before any negotiations are initiated which is a step in the right direction and meant to avoid the pitfalls of the past.

Of course releasing a Boko haram member could be a deadly mission in itself but on the Chibok girls and to all intent and purposes, the hands of the Nigerian government seem to be tied. There has got to be some concessions on both sides because as former comrade and now senator Shehu Sani (APC, Kaduna central) has said, any military incursion to rescue the girls could put them at serious risk.

Recall that during the dying days of the Goodluck administration, quite a few people made money by posing as leaders of Boko haram (and the Goodluck administration believed them) to enter into a phantom negotiation with the government which amounted to nothing apart from waste.   

Identifying the right leadership of Boko haram could be easy as it may turn out to be difficult going by the experience of the last 4 to 5 years. Clearly, the Goodluck administration’s deliberate politicisation of the Boko haram issue is the main reason why Boko haram became what it is today: A clear danger to the corporate existence of Nigeria and the current number 1 insurgent group in the world in terms of number of fatalities.

Since the Buhari administration is genuinely ready to dialogue with Boko haram to effect the release of the girls and Boko haram is ready to release the girls in exchange for the release of some of their members, it is apparent that there is a meeting point between government and Boko haram as far as the release of the Chibok girls is concerned. What is required is a balance between the painful and the needful to apply the doctrine of necessity to get these innocent girls released to re-join their families. Clearly, for the negotiation to succeed there is the need for sincerity and genuine intentions which President Muhammadu Buhari has in abundance. You can always trust President Buhari on his words!

There were 3 seemingly clear and workable opportunities initiated by independent sources outside government during the Goodluck Jonathan administration to lay a structure of dialogue and negotiation with Boko haram but somehow, these efforts were frustrated.

First was in March 2012 when the President of the supreme council for Sharia in Nigeria (SCSN), Sheikh Datti Ahmad put in some efforts towards negotiation between the Goodluck Jonathan government and Boko haram but somehow, his efforts were frustrated. Boko haram had then giving out their terms for a ceasefire through the Sheikh Datti Ahmad mediation efforts which is the release of their members particularly women and children but the Goodluck administration was not disposed to the idea so the whole exercise came to naught.

Understandably, Sheikh Datti Ahmad had to withdraw from the mediation after the Goodluck Jonathan administration leaked some confidential information to the press after agreeing with Sheikh Datti to keep the negotiation away from the public glare. The leakage was perceived to be a deliberate attempt by the Jonathan administration to frustrate the efforts of Dr Datti.

It was reported that the then National security adviser late Gen Azazi told Dr Datti that there was NO NEED to negotiate with Boko haram because according to Gen Azazi, Boko haram have run out of weapons and will soon be completely flushed put by the Nigerian military. How soon that was! Much as it may be true to the understanding of former President Jonathan and late Gen Azazi that they will ‘soon’ flush out Boko haram, it also shows sheer hypocrisy on the part of the Goodluck administration about resolving the Boko haram problem.

The second most potent effort at dialogue with Boko haram was the Obasanjo truce move facilitated by former comrade Shehu Sani in 2011 when the former President dared the odds to visit the lion’s den at the then headquarters of Boko haram in Maiduguri and right in the house of late Boko haram leader Muhammed Yusuf to hear directly from Boko haram about their grievances.

Members of Boko haram were still operating from the heart of Maiduguri which then became their centre of gravity at the time and had not relocated to the bush. They presented Obasanjo with pictures and evidence to support some of their grievances against the authorities. Out of sheer patriotism, former President Obasanjo prepared a report in which he recommended that the government should listen to the grievances of boko haram and dialogue with the group towards a lasting solution. The Goodluck adminsitration received the report but never implemented it as the report went the way of other reports on Boko haram presented to former President Jonathan: To the dustbin!

The third effort towards negotiation with Boko haram was in February 2012 when the Boko haram spokesman, the so-called Abu Qaqa was arrested by security agencies after a failed trip for dialogue with the government. It was alleged that Qaqa was invited by the Goodluck Jonathan administration to come to Kaduna ostensibly for dialogue with the government only to be arrested by the security agencies and kept out of circulation.

Without belabouring the issue, the prisoner swap deal remains the best option to tackle the release of the Chibok schoolgirls but the government has to identify the right leadership of Boko haram. That is the first and most critical step.

The most credible option at this time is to use those respected leaders that have access to Boko haram and have initiated those talks few years back. The longer we wait to bring back our girls, the more the possibility of rescuing them shrinks. Oh hang on! It will not be a bad idea for the government to fire the first shot towards dialogue by doing some ‘test methods’ to ascertain the intentions of Boko haram towards dialogue and to smoke the group out for genuine dialogue. But this time it has to be genuine dialogue to get the girls out in the first instance and bring an end to the insurgency. 

Prisoner swap by governments with adversaries including insurgents the world over has always been used as a veritable weapon for negotiation and conflict resolution. In fact several examples abound on prisoner swaps between governments and insurgents which negates the world acclaimed and opt-repeated mantra of ‘you don’t negotiate with insurgents’. Some of these swaps are as follows:

1-    The United states swapped five Taliban commanders in exchange for one American soldier (Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl) – June 2014

2-    Iran swapped two top Alqaeda operators in exchange for one Iranian diplomat – September 2015

3-    The Lebanese government swapped the wife of ISIS leader Abu-Bakhr Al Baghdadi and 12 other insurgents for 16 lebanese soldiers- July 2015.

 

A prisoner swap and eventual release of the Chibok girls by Boko haram could set the foundation towards genuine negotiations with Boko haram to end the ongoing carnage in North east Nigeria before it spirals out of proportion to other parts of the country. At the end of the day, the war has to be sorted out on the negotiation table because no war ends on the battle field.

Although the capacity of Boko haram to launch conventional attacks has been degraded over the last 10 months as a result of the excellent work of our gallant armed forces, there is still the threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) which often times records more fatalities than conventional attacks.

Based on all available facts on the ground that are awash in both the Nigerian  and international media almost on daily basis, the window to bring back our girls is still open but may be gradually closing hence the earlier we use that window the better for our girls, our country and humanity.

 

 

 

 




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