Some powerful Nigerians are sabotaging the efforts of the Federal Government and other concerned citizens to ensure that the over 200 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram are set free.
This was disclosed by the President, Civil Rights Congress, Mr. Shehu Sani, in an exclusive interview with SUNDAY PUNCH last week.
Sani, who has been involved in efforts to get government and Boko Haram to discuss the fate of the girls in the past, said some powerful individuals, whom he refused to name, ensured that the talks derailed.
Sani’s disclosure came even as SUNDAY PUNCH learnt that government had begun fresh talks with the group to secure the release of the girls.
Reports have claimed that the girls who were kidnapped from the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, have been sighted in camps inside Sambisa Forest, in some border towns near Cameroon and in the Central African Republic.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo; Sani; and a United Arab Emirates-based Nigerian freelance journalist, Ahmad Salkida, who had communication channels with Boko Haram, had offered to mediate between the government and the sect. But none of these efforts have yielded fruits.
There have been speculations that recently President Goodluck Jonathan and Obasanjo held a meeting to discuss how to negotiate the release of the girls.
Sani, who is one of the negotiators facilitating the current talks, confirmed that government and the sect had started another round of talks for the release of the girls. However, he expressed fears that the powerful Nigerians who sabotaged earlier talks might derail the ongoing talks if care was not taken.
“What I want to tell you is that something is being done about it but I’m not disposed to making it public. Most times, publicising these issues always lead to sabotage by those who do not want the girls freed. I will not mention the names of these Nigerians.
“However, I can tell you that real and genuine moves are going on, which I am a part of. The claim that the girls have been abandoned is not true. There are genuine efforts by government and some individuals, who are discreetly making efforts toward getting their (pupils’) safe return home.”
The human rights activist noted that the girls could only be freed either forcefully or through dialogue and negotiation.
He added that the foreign intervention sought by some Nigerians had not produced results.
The United States, the United Kingdom, France, China and Israel had offered to assist Nigeria in rescuing the school girls.
Both the US and the UK had sent security experts and technology to locate the abductees and secure their release. While the US claimed to have located the girls, France had specifically opposed negotiations with the sect.
Speaking on efforts made by these countries so far, Sani said, “I am not aware of any serious efforts made by any foreign country. I am not aware of what is happening on the side of the US forces. From the side of dialogue or negotiation, I have not seen any serious intervention or involvement of these countries.”
Similarly, the Convener, Coalition of Northern Politicians, Academics, Professionals and Businessmen, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, said some powerful forces had been frustrating efforts to free the girls
The Second Republic lawmaker said, “Powerful forces have proceeded to stall the negotiation over certain political gains.”
Confirming the negotiation plan, the President, Kibaku Youth Association of Nigeria (a community in Chibok Local Government Area), Mr. Moses Zakwa, told SUNDAY PUNCH that the Federal Government engaged the services of an Australian negotiator.
He, however, said he was not aware if any Nigerian was engaged by the government for talks with the sect.
Zakwa said, “Some weeks ago, we understood that the Federal Government hired a private negotiator who has been working in regards to the release of the Chibok girls. Every person in Chibok and Borno State knows too well that a former governor of the state is the founder of Boko Haram. Everybody sees him like a semi-god that cannot be touched by any authority.”
Zakwa also revealed that the Chibok community had resolved to protect itself against further attacks from Boko Haram. He also dropped hints that the community might take the fight to the Islamic sect.
He said, “What I want to assure you is that the community and its indigenes are ready. We want to take the bull by the horn. Whatever it will cost us, we are fully ready to face members of Boko Haram. I want to assure you that an earthquake will soon happen and Nigerians will be happy with what we plan to do.”
However, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Pan Chibok Youths Association, Dr. Allen Manasseh, told our correspondent that he was not aware of any ongoing talks between the government and the sect.
He said, “I am not aware of any negotiation because I am not privy to that information yet. As I am speaking to you, I am in Chibok and I don’t know when negotiation started or how far they have gone with the negotiation. But if they have started negotiation with Boko Haram, then it is okay by us.”
Manasseh, however, expressed doubts about the Federal Government’s resolve to rescue the girls. While describing the ongoing efforts as belated, the Chibok youth leader said the government had had enough time to rescue the girls.
He said, “That is where my scepticism will come in because the girls in captivity are over a hundred and if the Federal Government is willing to negotiate with whoever is holding them captive, then it has taken too long for them to do that.”
The Northern Elders Forum had on August 11, 2014, given President Jonathan up to October to produce the schoolgirls or forget his 2015 presidential re-election bid.
An ex-Speaker of the Plateau State House of Assembly, Mr. Solomon Dalung, at a press briefing on behalf of the forum said the failure of the President to produce the Chibok girls and tackle other security challenges in the land, amounted to the forfeiture of his rights to ask for another mandate to lead Nigeria beyond 2015.
“In the light of our firm conviction that the insurgency and related security challenges pose threats to the 2015 elections and the survival of our nation, we strongly advise President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to bring an end to the insurgency in all its manifestations and produce the Chibok girls before the end of October 2014,” Dalung stated.
But Jonathan had reacted through his Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, saying he was already working on how to rescue the abducted girls.
“President Jonathan does not require any threat or ultimatum from any group of persons to be alive to his responsibilities to the Nigerian people,” Okupe had said.
Efforts to get the Presidency to confirm the said negotiation on Friday proved abortive.
Several calls made to the telephones of both the Senior Special Assistant to the President on the Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, and the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, were not picked. Also, they did not respond to a text message sent to them.
Last Monday, a United States-based journal, Foreign Policy, listed the girls’ rescue as one of the missions that had been “forgotten” by the US government.
According to the magazine, the rescue of the girls is one of ‘The Pentagon’s top five “forgotten missions.”’
In a report titled ‘Forgotten Mission,’ which was published on Monday, the journal said there was no end in sight for the US mission in Nigeria to free the schoolgirls.
The abduction had called global attention, especially through a social media campaign with the hash tag, #BringBackOurGirls.
Foreign Policy recalled that President Barack Obama’s administration had deployed manned and unmanned aircraft to find the girls.
“It also dispatched advisors from the State and Defence departments, as well as the FBI. In late May, 80 troops (were) deployed in Chad to support and maintain unarmed Predator drones providing the mission with surveillance,” Foreign Policy added.
The journal further said, “Approximately 60 girls have escaped but the rest remain missing. Other missions said to have been forgotten by the US government included the hunting down of Joseph Kony of the LRA in Central Africa; destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons; NATO air policing; and the US operations in Afghanistan.