More than one month after Boko Haram insurgents kidnapped more than 200 Nigerian girls, the sect appears to be playing a hide-and-seek game with federal government authorities as a strategy to divert attention from the real issue
| By Olu Ojewale | May 26, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
THE mood in the country for most of the week still remained sombre as efforts were being intensified to rescue more than 200 girls abducted by Boko Haram insurgents from a Federal Government Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State, on April 14. Even as global outrage over the abduction increased in intensity, the recalcitrant Islamic sect appears unwilling to let go its prized captives yet. In the face of international mobilisation of military and intelligence might to free the girls, the leadership of the Islamic fundamentalist sect has devised various strategies to distract the federal government. It craftily threw a ball into President Goodluck Jonathan’s court by saying it would be willing to release the girls in exchange for its members that were being held by government either in prison or those still facing trial in various courts in the past five years.
In a 17-minute video clip released by the sect, the predominantly Christian girls were seen wearing Muslim hijab and reciting Quran verses. Two of the girls confirmed that they were Christians but had converted to Islam. One of the girls who appeared to be very calm, said they had not been harmed. Abubakar Shekau, leader of the sect, who was also shown in the video, confirmed the conversion of the girls to Islam and threatened not to release them except the federal government released members of his sect who had been kept in detention for four to five years. He said the girls would be held until all imprisoned militants had been freed. “These girls, these girls you occupy yourselves with,… we have, indeed, liberated them. These girls have become Muslims. We will never release them (the girls) until after you release our brethren,” Shekau said. Even though initially, the federal government seemed to be speaking in forked tongue on this issue, public opinion is still divided as to whether the offer should be accepted or rejected outright.
Apparently trying to arm-twist the federal government to key into the olive branch offer, the sect leader also boasted that no matter how much the international military coalition tries, it would not locate him and the whereabouts of the girls. Despite the boast, an unconfirmed report in a foreign media has quoted a source close to the sect as planning to name an Islamic cleric to negotiate on its behalf with the federal government on its offer. The sect was also quoted as planning to announce a list of key militants that it would want released in exchange for the girls. According to The Telegraph, a British newspaper, the Islamic cleric would be named on Wednesday, May 14. It quoted the source as saying that the sect would seek a freed prisoner for every one of the kidnapped girls. But up till the filing in of this report, the cleric’s name had not been made public.
Apparently yielding to international opposition to the proposed swap, the federal government has ruled out any deal that would involve freeing the Boko Haram prisoners in exchange for the release of the 200 kidnapped schoolgirls. President Jonathan revealed the thinking of the government when he met Mark Simmons, British minister on African affairs, on Wednesday, May 14. Confirming the decision, Simmons said in a BBC interview: “He made it very clear that there will be no negotiation with Boko Haram that involves a swap of abducted schoolgirls for prisoners.” Earlier, Tanimu Turaki, minister of special duties, had given an impression that the government was to negotiate with Boko Haram sect for the release of the girls.
Perhaps, to further demonstrate the government’s resolve in tackling the terrorists issue, President Jonathan on Tuesday, May 13, sent a letter to the National Assembly, seeking its approval for another six months’ extension of the emergency rule in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states. Jonathan’s letter which was read at the plenary session by Ike Ekweremadu, deputy Senate president, was the third in the series of such requests. The two previous ones were approved by the Senate. In a letter to Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, speaker of the House of Representatives, and dated May 5, Jonathan said that despite the heavy presence of security forces in the affected states through the imposition of an emergency rule, the situation remained daunting.
Jonathan, in the letter entitled: “Re: Extension of the Period for the Proclamation of a State of Emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States” noted that the security situation in the three states still remained daunting. The letter reads in part: “May I respectfully draw your attention to the State of Emergency Proclamation 2013, in respect of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States, which was approved by the National Assembly. By virtue of the provisions of section 305(6)(c) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended, the Proclamation aforementioned would have elapsed after six months from the date of approval of the National Assembly. However, after due consideration of the representations made of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to that effect, while substantial progress had been made to contain situation that necessitated the proclamation of a state of emergency was yet to abate…
“The security situation in the three states remains daunting, albeit to varying degrees, in the face of persistent attacks by members of the Boko Haram sect on civilian and military targets with alarming casualty rates. In view of the foregoing, I most respectfully request distinguished Senators to consider and approve by resolution, the extension of the Proclamation of the State of Emergency in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe States by a further term of six months from the date of expiration of the current term.”
Before commencing debates on the president’s letter, the National Assembly chose to invite the service chiefs and the inspector-general of police to appear before both the Senate and House of Representatives to brief them on the security situation in the troubled states. Even then, the request does not appear to please a good number of the legislators, especially those from the North. Operating under the aegis of the Northern Senators Forum, NSF, after holding a three-hour closed-door meeting on Wednesday, May14, vowed to frustrate moves for the extension of emergency rule in the three North-East states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe.
The campaign against the extension actually started in the Senate. Ahmed Lawan, a senator representing Yobe North, and secretary, Northern Senators’ Forum, in opposing the request, said although the military required more hi-tech equipment to fight the Boko Haram insurgents, it would be wrong to extend the state of emergency in the three North- East states Lawan said: “The state of emergency had been operated for 12 months now and will end on the 19th of this month. I think that should be the end. The Senate President, David Mark, who spoke on our behalf last week, told President Goodluck Jonathan that the Senate was prepared to approve supplementary budget to further equip the military and boost the morale of the soldiers. Therefore, I am completely opposed to the extension of the state of emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States, but I support further funding for the military operation in the area.”
Similarly, Aliyu Sani Madaki, a member of the House of Representatives from Kano, expressed the same sentiment while speaking under Rule 47 of the House (personal explanation), opposed the president’s request. But Tambuwal asked Madaki to put his explanation in writing. In the same vein, Aminu Suleiman, another legislator from Kano, told reporters that the state of emergency had so far achieved nothing. “One year after, has the situation changed? What have they done with the huge sums budgeted for it? These are a million Naira questions that they need to answer. They need to justify the amount spent so far. They may have to explain to us why it should be extended,” Suleiman said. But Kaka Kyari Gujbawu, a member from Borno State, said the president’s request was in order. “If not for the state of emergency, only God knows the state we would have been in now. It would have heightened and gone out of hand, so I support the extension and sustenance of emergency,” he said.