Indications have emerged that Boko Haram may start a gradual release of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls.
This followed secret talks in which it changed its demands for the release of top commanders in exchange for the girls, to a swap of the hostages with family members in custody.
According to a report published in the London-based Telegraph yesterday, Boko Haram is willing to conduct a, “gradual” release of the over 200 kidnapped schoolgirls in return for the release of families of Boko Haram members in custody.
The newspaper report stated that in a significant concession, the group has abandoned demands for its top commanders to be released, seemingly aware that this would be politically impossible for the Nigerian Government.
The Telegraph, last Tuesday, first reported details of Boko Haram’s offer of an imminent prisoners’ exchange, when sources close to some of the militants’ families said that a senior Islamic cleric from the North would be appointed to mediate on its behalf in talks with the government. A former aide to one of the group’s founders has since joined the cleric. Neither man has been named, possibly for their own safety.
While the Federal Government has insisted that it is not willing to enter prisoners’ swap negotiations, the source claimed that dialogue had been going on in secret for several days.
“Contrary to the public rejection of any swap deal by the Federal Government, there are some on-the-ground talks taking place,” the London Telegraph quoted a source as saying.
“An agreement was reached about two or three days ago in principle to start releasing some prisoners,” the source told the newspaper.
He said that among the prisoners that the group wanted released would be wives and families of Boko Haram fighters, some of whom have been taken into custody by the Federal Government.
“The group also has a list of lower-level fighters that it wants released as well, but they are not high-profile ones,” the source told the London Telegraph.
He said that in exchange, Boko Haram was willing to start a “gradual” release of around 100 of the girls, possibly beginning as early as this week.
“Depending on how the other side responds, the girls will be released in small groups. They will be left at a certain safe location and the authorities will then be told as to where they can pick them up from,” the source told London Telegraph.
At the weekend, Nigeria and its neighbours, including Cameroon, Benin, Chad, and Niger, had declared, “war” on Boko Haram after an international summit in Paris hosted by the French President, François Hollande.
The offensive will involve co-ordination of surveillance efforts aimed at finding the girls, the sharing of intelligence, the tightening of border controls and a regional counter-terrorism strategy with Western help.
At the summit, the countries agreed to forge a regional counter-terrorism strategy with expertise and training support from Britain, France, the European Union and the United States.
The countries also agreed to push for United Nations’ sanctions against the leaders of Boko Haram and another Nigerian Islamist group, Ansaru. America has already designated the leaders of both groups as terrorists.
Britain will host a follow-up meeting to discuss the Boko Haram crisis next month. It is suspected that the kidnapped schoolgirls were being held somewhere in either North-East Nigeria or across the border in Cameroon.
Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, demanded the release of his “brethren” in a video last week, in which the kidnapped schoolgirls were paraded. In a related development, the Chinese embassy in Cameroon confirmed that 10 of its workers had gone missing on Friday at a site near the town on Waza, 12 miles from the Nigerian border and close to the Sambisa forest, a Boko Haram stronghold.
Lu Qingjiang, the embassy’s political counsellor, said that one Chinese worker was also injured in the attack, China’s Xinhua state news agency reported.
Ten vehicles belonging to China’s state-run construction company, Sinohydro, which is repairing roads in Cameroon, were also taken, Xinhua said.
Lu called on the Cameroonian authorities to, “not put the lives of Chinese nationals missing in danger in case actions of liberation be launched,” Xinhua said.
Friday’s incident began when power was cut in the evening. A five-hour gunfight followed, a guard at the Waza National Park told Reuters.
“Some of us decided to hide in the forest with the animals,” said the guard.
Cameroon state radio said that a Cameroon special force’s soldier was killed while four others, including two soldiers were seriously wounded. It stated that with at least 10 vehicles, the rebels took a container of explosives belonging to the Chinese company.
Boko Haram has staged several attacks in northern Cameroon. Last month, it attacked a police post killing two people.