Friday, September 16, 2016 6:03 pm
Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture on Friday narrated how different efforts to rescue over 200 girls kidnapped in Chibok, Borno State by Boko Haram insurgents initiated since the inception of President Muhammadu Buhari administration have failed.
The press conference was obviously organised to counter criticisms that the Buhari administration has failed to live up to its campaign promises of rescuing the Chibok girls since its assumption of office.
Mohammed told journalists that the President mandated security agencies to urgently fashion out strategies to trace locate and ensure the safe and successful release of the Chibok girls immediately he assumed office.
In tune with this directive, the Minister said the security agencies, comprising of the Nigerian Army, Air Force, Navy, Police and the DSS, commenced action in June 2015.
He added that the Department of State Service, DSS also established a special tactical unit to review the gamut of actions that have been carried out to secure the release of the girls in the past and why such actions have not been successful.
The Service also draw up a road map for possible success of the fresh initiative.
The Minister said in the process, it was discovered that many of those who claim to have contacts with the Boko Haram in the past or groups posing as negotiators actually had no veritable intelligence nor the reach to facilitate the release of the Chibok girls; that they were clouded by persons with very partisan interests or see the situation as an opportunity to enrich themselves.
Thus, the Buhari administration, according to him, had to walk through the maze of distrust and conflicting information to determine which of the many groups claiming to have contacts with the Boko Haram faction holding the girls is credible.
The Information Minister added that by the third week of July 2015, a contact group was in touch with credible assets who had the reach, and who attested to the fact that some of the Chibok girls were alive.
He narrated how the efforts failed: “Mr. President was then briefed of these assets and intelligence and he gave his assent for further negotiations on the Chibok girls.
“Precisely on 17th July, 2015, the DSS opened negotiations process with the group holding the Chibok girls. However, in return for the release of some of these girls, the group also made some demands.
“These included the release of some of their fighters arrested including some involved in major terrorist actions, resulting in several fatalities, and others who were experts in manufacture of locally assembled explosives.
“This was difficult to accept, but appropriate security agencies had to again inform Mr. President of these demands, and its viewed implications. Again Mr. President gave his assent believing that the overall release of these girls remains paramount and sacrosanct.
“Meanwhile, following the above development, Government and the security agencies had sufficient leverage to work out the modalities of the swap. These included creating the safe haven, or necessary place of swap and working out the logistic details.
“ Based on this, the DSS availed other critical sister agencies of this new situation. Immediately, the Nigerian Army and the Air Force sent some specialists to commence a detailed arrangement for the swap. This was during the last week of July 2015 and 1st week of August 2015.
“The officers representing the various agencies worked out the logistic details, such as the number of persons to be swapped i.e. number of girls and detainees to be exchanged, the vehicles and aircraft, as well as safeguards, i.e. safety of the persons, including the location of the swap.
“When it was finally agreed by all parties, Mr. President was again informed that the preparations were concluded, and the first step for the swap would commence on 1st August, 2015. Mr. President robustly gave his approval.
“ On 4th August, 2015, the persons who were to be part of the swap arrangements and all others involved in the operation were transported to Maiduguri, Borno State. This team, with the lead facilitator, continued the contact with the group holding the Chibok girls.
“The Service was able to further prove to the group its sincerity, as it established communication contact between it and its detained members.
“All things were in place for the swap which was mutually agreed. Expectations were high. Unfortunately, after more than two (2) weeks of negotiation and bargains, the group, just at the dying moments, issued new set of demands, never bargained for or discussed by the group before the movement to Maiduguri.
“All this while, the security agencies waited patiently. This development stalled what would have been the first release process of the Chibok girls,” Alhaji Mohammed said of how that effort failed.
He added that in spite of the setback, the government and the security agencies did not relented in the bid to ensure that the Chibok girls are released safely.
Thus, on 13th November, 2015, another fresh negotiation process with the group was initiated.
“This time, there was the need to discuss a fresh component in other to avoid issues that had stalled the former arrangement. There were however some problems that many may not discern, but should be expected in this kind of situation.
“Some critical persons within the group who played such vital role in August, 2015 were discovered to be dead during combat action or as a result of the emerging rift amongst members of the group then. These two factors delayed the process. In spite of these, negotiation continued on new modalities.
“By 30th November, 2015 it was becoming glaring that the division amongst the group was more profound. This affected the swap process,” said the Minister.
He added that by 10 December, 2015, another negotiation process was in place, but this failed to achieve results because of the varying demands by the group.
In spite of these failures, the Minister said the security agencies since the beginning of 2016 have not only remained committed but have also taken the lead to resolve the Chibok girls’ issue.
The Minister however said though the division in the leadership of Boko Haram has made the job of negotiating with the insurgent group for the release of the Chibok girls difficult, the government remained committed to freeing them from their captors.
“In spite of the current division amongst members of the terrorist group, which has seriously affected efforts to release the girls, renewed efforts have commenced using our trusted assets and facilitators.
“However, this job requires diligence and ability to deal with a group that can easily change its demands without notice.
“Officers and men have sacrificed their time and energy, and some have already paid the supreme price since the abduction of the Chibok girls, fighting for the safe release of the girls. Many friendly countries and organizations have equally been very forthcoming in providing their human and technological resources to assist in the process.
“They are still doing so. We cannot as a nation ignore these sacrifices.
“The Government and its security agencies remain committed to ensuring that the Chibok girls are safely released in fulfillment of the Presidential mandate,” Mohammed assures Nigerians.