Chibok girls: Split in Boko Haram threatens swap deal

There were strong indications on Monday that the Federal Government was in a dilemma over the faction of the Boko Haram sect, it should hold talks with.

It was gathered that the Federal Government had in the past four months been holding talks with members of the sect with a view to securing the release of the Chibok girls.

It was, however, learnt that the matter came to a head two weeks ago with the factionalisation of the sect.

A top government official, who confided in The PUNCH, said that contrary to the belief of many people, the release of the girls was uppermost in the mind of President Muhammadu Buhari.

He admitted that there had been offers by some members of the sect to release the girls, but the government was being careful.

The source stated, “We do not want to make the mistake the past administration made when its negotiation with the sect did not lead to the release of the girls. We are still in a dilemma on which of the two factions should we negotiate with. We must confirm that the offers are genuine.”

The sect had on August 3 split with the ISIS naming Abu Musab al-Barnawi as the new leader of Boko Haram.

In an interview with al-Barnawi in its Al-Naba online weekly magazine, ISIS introduced him as Boko Haram new leader.

But a few days later, following the new appointment, the erstwhile leader, Abubakar Shekau, released an audio message in Arabic and Hausa languages accusing al-Barnawi of trying to stage a coup against him.

Shekau dismissed el-Barnawi “as an infidel who condones living in an un-Islamic society without waging jihad.” He also claimed to have been tricked by some of his followers.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed,  in an interview with State House correspondents after a workshop organised for top security chiefs on how to respond to emergency situations such as terrorism and flood inside the Presidential Villa, Abuja on Monday, said the government must first ascertain the authenticity of those it was talking with.

He said, “The government’s position is clear that we are in touch with them. We are just being careful and cautious to ensure that we are talking to the right people especially with the news that there is a split in the leadership. But what is important is the safety and security of these girls.

“The thrust of my statement (on Sunday) was to assure the nation that we are on top of the situation. We are not even just reacting to the video, we have gone far beyond the video in talking to the group already. Until you are able to ascertain the authenticity of those you are talking to, you don’t go into details,” he said.

The minister said the position of government was that there could not be an end to the issue of terrorism until the abducted girls were rescued.

On the reported plan by the BringBackOurGirls coalition to again match on the Presidential Villa, Mohammed said, “We appreciate their commitment to the return of these girls but there are few things we need to do behind the scene. What we are saying is that the government is committed to doing everything to rescue these girls.

“We are engaging them. By saying we are talking to them, I am talking from a point of knowledge. It does not matter what other people say. I know that the government is in touch with the group…

“Until the release of this video, the effort is not attracting any attention. But every day, the Office of the NSA and others concerned are working on it.

“For us, it is not just because of the release of the video but because of our belief that there will be no final closure to Boko Haram until we are able to resolve the issue of these girls.”

On his part, the Chief of Defence Staff, Lt. Gen. Abayomi Olonishakin, also in an interview with journalists at the event, said the demand that the Federal Government swap detained Boko Haram members for the Chibok was a political decision that would not stop ongoing military operations.

The BringBackOurGirls group and the parents of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls had on Sunday demanded that the government heed the call for a swap following the video of the girls released by the sect on Sunday.

Olonishakin told reporters that he would not stop the ongoing military operations against the insurgents which he said were going on smoothly.

“That (call for the swap of the girls with Boko Haram fighters) is a political decision to be taken. The military decision is that we are going ahead with our operations. The operation is being conducted appropriately,” he said.

The CDS however promised to analyze the video with a view to taking a position on it soon.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Army has interrogated two of the three people it declared wanted on Sunday over a Boko Haram video showing the Chibok girls.

While a woman lawyer,  Aisha Wakil, was quizzed at the Defence Headquarters, Abuja, Ahmed Bolori was interrogated at a military barracks in Maiduguri.

It was gathered that Wakil was interrogated at the Directorate of Military Intelligence at the Defence Headquarters.

The Acting Director, Army Public Relations, Col. Sani Usman, said on the telephone on Monday that Wakil had reported to the military authorities to shed more light on what she knew about the Chibok girls.

When asked whether Wakil was to be detained at the Directorate of Military Intelligence, he said that the issue had to do with getting more information from the lady and not detention.

He said that it was the view of the Army that the three persons who were declared wanted on Sunday were not saying all they knew about the truth concerning the Chibok girls.

The Acting Army spokesman said that it was wrong for some persons to withhold information on the girls for pecuniary benefits.

Usman also denied the claim by Wakil that the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, refused a request from her to meet him with some commanders of the Boko Haram as part of the efforts to resolve the crisis.

He said, “She (Aisha Wakil) has reported to the military. Nobody told you about detention. No. The thing is that she should come and shed more light on the things they know. From all indications, they are not saying what they know.”

Bolori on his facebook page on Monday said that he reported at the military barracks in Maiduguri at 10am.

According an online medium, The Cable Wakil had earlier in a statement on Monday said that the military knew where to find her.

She   said that she was surprised that the army took the action despite knowing where to find her, adding that she knew the Boko Haram boys.

Wakil, in her statement, said she once met “the Chief of Army Staff and   offered to bring along Boko Haram commanders for dialogue, but the army “chose to do things their own way.”

The third person, Salkida said in a statement made available to an Abuja based media consultant outfit to security agencies, the PR Nigeria, that if the Army buys him a ticket, he will visit Nigeria to honour the invitation.