President Goodluck Jonathan is currently under pressure from some prominent Nigerians and some of his influential aides to accept the prisoner swap offer made by Boko Haram to release the over 200 schoolgirls it abducted from their school in Chibok on April 14, The PUNCH’s investigation has revealed.
The leader of the sect, Abubakar Shekau, had in a recent video asked for the release of Boko Haram members detained by security agencies across the country in exchange for the abducted girls.
Although the Presidency had ruled out what it called “trade by barter” in securing the release of the schoolgirls, some top government officials, including the Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, had at different times said the government would go to any length to ensure that the girls were brought back to safety.
But it was learnt on Sunday that the President was being pressured by some prominent Nigerians to accede to the demands of the sect.
Their argument, it was gathered , was that what Nigerians and the international community were interested in at this time was the release of the girls and not the process leading to it.
“Some prominent Nigerians are already reaching out to the President on the need for him to change his stand on the matter and do anything that can lead to the release of the girls. They are of the view that the release is the most important thing now,” a source close to the Presidency said in Abuja.
He did not name the prominent Nigerians whom he said had reached out to Jonathan on the matter.
The source added that some of the President’s top aides were also of the view that inasmuch as the girls were still in the abductors’ den, Jonathan’s goodwill among Nigerians and on the international scene would continue to dwindle.
This, they argued, would not do the President and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party any good as election year approaches.
Our source said If the President finally yields to the pressure, the release of the Boko Haram members in detention would not be made a public issue like when their wives and children were freed last year.
The source said this was to avoid the moral burden of justifying the release of criminals in exchange for innocent girls.
He added that once the decision was finally taken, the sect members who had already been convicted by courts might not benefit from the arrangement.
The source was not sure whether Shekau would also enjoy the luxury of naming his members who should benefit from the exchange or not.
He said, “Some of us are on the same page with these prominent Nigerians on this matter. Government should not be seen to be too rigid on this matter if we must get result.
“The way it is going, if the pressure is sustained, I see the President giving up on the matter in coming days and processes leading to the consummation of the agreement will be done behind the scene.
“This is why some government officials have been saying that the government will explore all options. It is our belief that this should be done as secretly as possible because of those who do not see the sense in government releasing criminals in exchange for the innocent girls.”
The Northern Elders’ Forum had said no sacrifice was too much to bring back the girls, even if it included releasing Boko Haram prisoners.
The forum’s spokesman Prof. Ango Abdullahi, had told SATURDAY PUNCH that, “every sacrifice is worth making to get these girls released from wherever they are kept.”
Jonathan had in May last year directed the Defence headquarters to release some Boko Haram members in its custody.
The decision was said to have been in furtherance of the Federal Government’’ position in response to requests by the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Reconciliation.
The Spokesman for the President, Reuben Abati, had at that time said Jonathan’s directive was evidence of his government’s multi-dimensional approach to tackling the security challenge in some parts of the country.
B’ Haram may release half of the girls
A London-based newspaper, The Telegraph, reported on Sunday that Boko Haram had dropped its demand for the release of its top commanders.
It quoted sources as saying that the sect was prepared to start “gradual” release of half of the schoolgirls in coming days.
The newspaper first reported details of Boko Haram’s offer of an imminent prisoner exchange last Tuesday, 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 with the government.
It added that the cleric had since been joined by a former aide to one of the group’s founders. Neither of the negotiators had been named, possibly for their own safety.
While the Federal Government has insisted that it is not willing to enter prisoner swap negotiations, The Telegraph source claimed that dialogue had already been going in secret for several days.
Insurgents kill 40 in fresh attack
Members of the militant Islamist group again invaded another Borno village, killing at least 40 persons and injuring several others.
News of the killings in Dalwa-Masuba, Damboa Local Government Area spread on Sunday as irate youths took to the streets of Maiduguri protesting the killing of a roadside trader by a stray bullet fired by a soldier.
The Boko Haram insurgents were said to have also burnt down the entire Dalwa-Masuba village and three pickup vans loaded with firewood on Saturday night.
A member of the security vigilante in the village , who gave his name as Abbas Gava, told journalists on the telephone that no security personnel had reached the community as of 3pm on Sunday.
“We heard about the attack from some of people who fled the village and we had to drive there in our own patrol van. The entire village was set on fire and about 40 persons were lying dead all over the place. Three pickup vans carrying firewood were also set ablaze,” he said.
Attempts to confirm the attack yielded no result as the spokespersons for the relevant security agencies could not be reached on the telephone.
Protest in Maiduguri
There was also a breach of the peace in Maiduguri on Sunday when a stray bullet fired by a soldier at one of the numerous checkpoints in the city missed its target (a commercial tricycle operator) and killed a trader.
The commercial tricyclist was said to have refused to stop when ordered by the soldiers on guard at the West End area of the town.
It was gathered that the soldiers suspected him to be a suicide bomber and therefore fired when he refused to stop.
But instead of hitting him, the bullet killed the roadside trader, thereby triggering off the protest by hundreds of angry youths.
An eyewitness, Mallam Mohammed Bukar, told journalists that the youth chased away the soldiers with stones before barricading and making bonfires on the major roads in the area.
“People were angered because after the shooting, the soldiers did not show any sign of remorse. The youth who came to the area started protesting the killing,” he added.
He said the soldier who fired the killer shot was injured in his head by youths before he was ferried away by his colleagues.
UK spy jet arrives for rescue mission
Meanwhile, a RAF spy plane has flown from Waddington in Lincolnshire, United Kingdom to Nigeria to help the international efforts to find the schoolgirls.
The Sentinel R1 plane will comb swathes of northern Nigeria to try to find the girls who are believed to be held in forest hideouts.
The plane is a modified executive business jet, fitted with ground mapping radars to build up detailed 3D images of terrain.
Intelligence analysts onboard scan the images for activity and suspicious movement. The planes have been used widely in Afghanistan.
The Sentinel left RAF Waddington on Sunday morning and will be based in Accra, Ghana.
Jonathan betrayed Nigerians –APC
The All Progressives Congress on Sunday said by failing to visit Chibok, Jonathan had betrayed Nigerians who voted him into office.
The party said the cancellation of the allegedly planned visit was indicative of the Jonathan administration’s policy flip-flop in the fight against Boko Haram.
It said in a statement by its Interim National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, that the Jonathan administration had bungled the fight against the sect and exhibited cluelessness in handling the abduction of the schoolgirls.
The statement reads in part, , ‘’With his utterances and actions or inaction, President Jonathan has deepened the pains of the parents and guardians of the girls, and indeed that of the whole nation, when he should have been the consoler-in-chief at such a difficult time for a nation he leads.
“A President and Commander-in-Chief, who is afraid to visit any part of his country, has betrayed the very people who voted him into office. In the case of Chibok, he has shown that the residents of the town should not expect to be seen as compatriots by their own President; hence they are on their own.”
APC accused Jonathan’s administration of lying to Nigerians, by saying the President never planned to visit Chibok, even when it was widely reported that his advance team had landed in Maiduguri.
The party described the President’s explanation that he did not go to Chibok because the girls were not being held there as pedestrian.
It said, ‘’This statement shows that President Jonathan does not understand the demands of his office, and that in good/bad times, he is to be seen and heard as the lead celebrant/lead consoler for his compatriots. His statement is the most pedestrian justification of a presidential faux pas ever.
“As usual, a trip – belated as it were – that could have gone a long way in redeeming the battered global image of the Jonathan administration in the handling of the abduction issue has turned out to be another albatross for the President. Again, a President who is demonstrably averse to success has snatched defeat just when he was on the cusp of victory.’’
APC said the President was in denial of the girls’ abduction until world attention forced him to act, adding that the same approach had led to the sect growing to the level of striking at any time and place it chooses.
How B’ Haram can be defeated –Shettima
Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima has said that deploying a combination of military, socio-political and economic strategy was the best way to end the Boko Haram insurgency.
The governor, who said his administration had started deploying this strategy, explained that poverty and unemployment were the two major causes of insurgency.
He spoke at the send off for 50 indigenes of the state for a course on irrigation agriculture in India on Saturday.
The governor, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media, Isa Gusau, said he had since discovered that in addition to misguided beliefs, Boko Haram had over the years been recruiting and paying salaries to its foot soldiers.
He added that the sect paid willing and poverty-stricken youths as little as N5,000 to set schools ablaze or spy on soldiers.
The governor said he believed that “Boko Haram can best be contained through a combination of military, socio-political, and economic solutions.”
Shettima added, “Besides those driven by spiritual motives, there is also the economically-induced Boko Haram . This can be seen where some youths were paid as low as N5,000 to burn down schools and spy on our security men. So that goes to show that Boko Haram is not only propelled by evil spiritual motive but also by economic motives.”
He maintained that while the state would continue to support the military and volunteers, focus must also be accorded to social re-orientation to de-radicalise citizens and provide jobs for majority of them.
“So long as people can be recruited, the group can always grow,” the governor said, adding that if the 67,000 hectares of the state’s irrigation land were properly harnessed, an end to Boko Haram insurgency could be in sight.
He said, “Land rather than oil is the most precious of all natural resources. Borno is the largest state in Nigeria even though some records say Niger is bigger than Borno. Borno is 20 times bigger than Lagos. Nigeria spends nearly $20bn annually on imported food stuff. We are the greatest food importing nation.
“Borno has the singular advantage of diverting so much of the funds Nigeria spends on food importation, we are the only state bordering three countries and this makes agricultural trade easier. We can use that to take people off the streets and fight insurgency.”
DHQ warns against unauthorised visits
The Defence headquarters has warned foreign journalists and other visitors against unauthorised movements in the mission areas, especially Borno and Adamawa states.
The Director of Defence Information, Maj. Gen Chris Olukolade, said in an electronic mail on Sunday that such movements were a threat to the lives of the foreigners involved.
Olukolade also said that movements of foreign journalists, tourists and other individuals in the areas were also causing undue obstruction to the ongoing operation.
He said, “The DHQ has noted the presence of a large number of tourists, journalists and adventurers of diverse interests moving about in areas where security operations are currently ongoing especially in Adamawa and Borno states without the necessary security cover or clearance.
“This trend constitutes unnecessary risk to the persons especially the foreigners involved. It is also an undue obstruction to operations.” the statement read in part.
He said that while the military did not have anything to hide, it was important for people to recognise the status of the places under military operation.
He said that those violating instruction on movement without requisite security coverage were doing so at their own risk.