Nigeria ready to negotiate for Chibok girls’ freedom

The government wants to begin talks with terror group Boko Haram, if it can figure out who’s in charge

by Onize Ohikere
 

"Bring Back Our Girls" co-founder Obiageli Ezekwesili, left, console Esther Yakubu, mother of one of the kidnapped school girls, after she saw her daughter in a video release by Boko haram during a briefing in Abuja, Nigeria. Sunday Aug. 14, 2016 . The mother of one of the Chibok girls kidnapped more than two years ago by Nigeria's Islamic extremists on Sunday saw the first proof her daughter is alive — a video of her begging Nigeria's government to exchange detained militants for the girls' freedom. (AP Photo/Olamikan Gbemiga)

“Bring Back Our Girls” co-founder Obiageli Ezekwesili, left, console Esther Yakubu, mother of one of the kidnapped school girls, after she saw her daughter in a video release by Boko haram during a briefing in Abuja, Nigeria. Sunday Aug. 14, 2016 . The mother of one of the Chibok girls kidnapped more than two years ago by Nigeria’s Islamic extremists on Sunday saw the first proof her daughter is alive — a video of her begging Nigeria’s government to exchange detained militants for the girls’ freedom. (AP Photo/Olamikan Gbemiga)

ABUJA, Nigeria—The Nigerian government is ready to begin negotiations with “bona fide leaders” of extremist group Boko Haram for the release of the kidnapped Chibok girls, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said Sunday.

Buhari said Boko Haram can choose an internationally recognized nonprofit as an intermediary if it does not want to work directly with the government. But Boko Haram must convince the intermediary it still has the girls and clearly state the number of Boko Haram leaders it wants Nigeria to release from prison, Buhari added.

“If they do it through the modified leadership of Boko Haram and talk with an internationally recognized NGO, then Nigeria will be prepared to discuss for their release,” Buhari said at a conference in Nairobi, Kenya.

Boko Haram released a video this month showing some of the kidnapped Chibok girls still in its custody, threatening to keep them if the government refuses to release detained Boko Haram fighters. The video raised hope some of the girls are still alive and increased pressure on the Nigerian government to act.

Any upcoming negotiations will mark the first official talks between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram since the group began its insurgency in 2009. Buhari said the federal government will not waste time and resources with doubtful sources claiming to know the whereabouts of the Chibok girls. The last Nigerian administration began talks with a group that falsely claimed to be Boko Haram representatives.

“We want those girls out and safe,” Buhari said. “The faster we can recover them and hand them over to their parents, the better for us.”

Islamic State earlier this month announced Abu Musab al-Barnawi as the new leader of its West African affiliate, Boko Haram. But the group’s former radical leader, Abubakar Shekau, claims he’s still in charge. Martin Ewi, a counterterrorism expert with the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, said the Nigerian government should keep the internal split within Boko Haram at the forefront of its negotiations.

“Who are we going to negotiate with?” Ewi said. “Does one group have the girls, or did they split them between the two groups? These questions should be answered before we put the negotiation cap on the table.”

Source: Onize Ohikere
Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital.