The federal government hinted yesterday that it had on three occasions negotiated with the Boko Haram sect in a bid to swap the over 200 Chibok girls abducted by the insurgents with some of the sect’s commanders.
It noted, however, that the talks broke down as a result of cracks within the terrorists group as well as some difficult demands made by the sect.
Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed who disclosed, while briefing journalists in Abuja noted that three negotiations were approved by President Muhammadu Buhari between July and December 2015.
According to him, among the the things demanded of Boko Haram sect was the release of their fighters arrested, especially some involved in major terrorist actions, resulting in several fatalities, and others who were experts in manufacture of locally assembled explosives.
The minister went on to state the federal government has not foreclosed negotiation in order to secure the release of the Chibok girls, adding that because of competing interests and unnecessary rivalries, nothing was achieved by the immediate past administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan before the 2015 handover date.
Mohammed explained that based on leads from some international bodies and countries, relevant security agencies were able to strike a chord which made the Buhari administration to open talks with Boko Haram.
He said, “Precisely on 17th July, 2015, the 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 including some involved in major terrorist actions, resulting in several fatalities, and others who were experts in manufacture 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. Again Mr. President gave his assent believing that the overall release of these girls remains paramount and sacrosanct. Meanwhile, following the above development, Government and the security agencies had sufficient leverage to work out the modalities of 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, 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 was again informed that the preparations were concluded, and the first step for the swap would commence on 1st August, 2015. Mr. President robustly gave his approval.
“On 4th August, 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.
“The Service was able to further prove to the group its sincerity, as it established communication contact between it and its detained members. All things were in place for the swap which was mutually agreed. Expectations were high.
“Unfortunately, after more than two (2) 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.
“It may be important to note that in spite of this setback, the government and the security agencies have not relented in the bid to ensure that the Chibok girls are released safely.
“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, who 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 delayed the process. In spite of these, negotiation continued on new modalities.
“By 30th November, 2015 it was becoming glaring that the division amongst the group was more profound. This affected the swap process.
“By 10th December, 2015, another negotiation process was in place, but this failed to achieve results because of the varying demands by the group.”
Assuring that the federal government has not given up on the release of the girls, he said, “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.
“Officers and men have sacrificed their time and energy, and some have already paid the supreme price since the abduction of the Chibok girls, fighting for the safe release of the girls.
“Many friendly countries and organizations have equally been very forthcoming in providing their human and technological resources to assist in the process. They are still doing so. We cannot as a nation ignore these sacrifices.
“The Government and its security agencies remain committed to ensuring that the Chibok girls are safely released in fulfillment of the Presidential mandate.”