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.
Realnews learnt that opponents of the extension were aggrieved because the Presidency has been using the excuse to deduct as much as N300 million each from the revenue allocation to the states. They argued that this was not the case in Niger Delta where the federal government was responsible for prosecuting the conflict and peace in the area. Apart from that, the state governors claimed that they were also made to fund the military from their meagre allocations. According to information, Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State, was said to have claimed that he had spent more than N2 billion to help the military in his state since the crisis started. Besides, they are not also happy because they have been denied the control of the security apparatus in their states. All these, perhaps, caused Governor Shettima to burst out a couple of months ago that the Boko Haram insurgents were better armed and motivated than the Nigerian military.
Indeed, some soldiers seemed to have had cause to vent their anger on one of the generals on Wednesday, May 14. The soldiers were reported to have opened fire on the official vehicles of Abubakar Mohammed, a major-general and the General Officer Commanding, GOC, 7 Division, Nigerian Army, after he had addressed them at the Maimalari Barracks in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital. This was said to have happened after local villagers succeeded in repelling a Boko Haram attack, killing about 200 of the sect members in the process, on Tuesday. Reports said the soldiers rebelled because of many unresolved issues such as exposure to ambush by Boko Haram insurgents because of uncoordinated information; insufficient food (one meal per day), use of obsolete equipment, limited arms and ammunition to fight insurgents, alleged short-payment of accruing allowances and non-rotation of troops which is standard practice thereby leading to diminishing returns.
The soldiers were said to have vented their anger on the GOC when some of them who had gone to Chibok returned to Maiduguri with the corpses of four of their dead colleagues. The dead soldiers had been killed in an ambush, which could been avoided if there had been adequate information. “When the soldiers saw the bodies of their colleagues, tempers rose and they revolted against the GOC. They attributed the killings to misleading information. Some locals had provided clues which could possibly lead to the location of the abducted girls. But while following the clues, the troops were ambushed by Boko Haram and killed. The soldiers claimed that unverified clues from locals by the military hierarchy had been leading to needless killings of soldiers,” a source was quoted as saying about the incident.
Although the incident was quickly brought under control, the military command has promised to investigate the matter and issues raised by the rebelled soldiers. However, a source said: “The report available indicated that the soldiers only shot sporadically into the air in protest; they did not attack the GOCﾅThe mutiny was not about allowances because these had been paid to date.”
A statement signed by Chris Olukolade, a major-general and director of information, the Defence on Wednesday, May14, said: “The 7 Division of the Nigerian Army is to institute a military board of inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the conduct of soldiers who fired some shots today while the General Officer Commanding was addressing troops in Maimalari Cantonment, Maiduguri. The incident occurred when the corpses of four soldiers who died in an ambush while returning from patrol duties in Chibok were being conveyed to the morgue. There is calm in the cantonment and all normal operations activities are ongoing.” Realnews learnt last Thursday that M. Y. Ibrahim, a brigadier-general, has since been posted to replace Mohammed as the new GOC, 7 Division.
In the meantime, the federal government has promised to do everything in its power to get the kidnapped girls released. Labaran Maku, minister of information, who was answering questions from State House correspondents at the end of the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting presided over by President Jonathan, said: “Government has made it very clear that we are ready to go to any length to secure the release of these our daughters that have been in captivity. That is the statement we have issued and we stand on that statement.” He said the government was still studying the video clip released by the sect on Sunday, May 11.
Also studying the video clip, apparently, are foreign military experts that have decided to help Nigeria in rescuing the girls. Specialist teams from the United States, Britain, France and Israel are already helping Nigeria’s military in the search. Britain last week sent a team of experts to Nigeria, including officials from the ministry of defence. Both the US and Britain have promised to deploy their military surveillance planes to go in search of the girls. David Cameron, British prime minister, said in parliament on Tuesday: “Today I can announce that we have offered Nigeria further assistance in terms of surveillance aircraft, a military team to embed with the Nigerian army in their headquarters and a team to work with United States experts to analyse information on the girls’ location.”
With the conglomeration of the military experts from various countries, it is believed in many quarters that the time for the rescue of the girls will no longer be long.