14 May 2014

Nigeria: Chibok Schoolgirls - Confusion As Nigerian Officials Contradict Selves Over Negotiation With Boko Haram

Photo: Vanguard
Citizens advocate for talks with Boko Haram (file photo).

It is difficult to determine what direction the government would head as officials make a series of contradictory statements to the media regarding the conditions spelt out by Boko Haram for releasing the girls

In the last two days, the senate president, two ministers, and another senior official, have disagreed openly on the government's line of action- whether to accept a proposal for talks with Boko Haram, or to stick to the use of force.

The senate president, David Mark, said Tuesday the government will never negotiate with Boko Haram, as doing so would embolden other terrorist groups.

His comments aligned with those of the interior minister, Abba Moro, who had vowed Monday that the government would not accept Boko Haram's proposal to swap the kidnapped girls with the sect's suspected members detained by the Nigerian authorities.

But the special duties minister, Taminu Turaki, and the director general of the National Orientation Agency, Mike Omeri, hinted at the government's willingness for talks with the group that has killed thousands of Nigerians in its five-year old insurgency.

Mr. Turaki told the BBC Tuesday that the government was set for dialogue while Mr. Omeri said all options remained on the table as the government, backed by an international specialist team, attempts to locate and rescue the girls.

The girls were kidnapped on the night of April 14 from their dormitory as they prepared for their final examinations. The United States is leading an international effort to help Nigeria rescue the girls.

The U.S. said Monday it has started flying manned surveillance mission in the northeast to gather intelligence about the location of the girls.

The Nigerian military has not offered any insight whether it would welcome the proposed talks with Boko Haram or not.

Defence spokesperson, Chris Olukolade, did not respond to PREMIUM TIMES' enquiries Tuesday.

The Nigerian government has been under intense international scrutiny for its sloppy response to the kidnapping after it took President Goodluck Jonathan three weeks to address Nigerians on the the abduction.

Many Nigerians have accused the government of lacking a clear strategy to responding to the attack and the entire Boko Haram insurgency. Critics also view the government's ongoing rescue effort as a mere response to the overwhelming international pressure.

But the conflicting claims by the officials between Monday and Tuesday again put to the fore concerns about the government's capacity, or willingness to deal with the abduction; and how it plans to do so. They also raise questions about whether the government has failed to put its own house in order even in the face of foreign assistance.

Interior Minister, Abba Moro, was first to lay out a clear line of action for the government Monday. Responding to a video released by Boko Haram, in which its leader, Abubakar Shekau, offered to release the abducted girls only when jailed Boko Haram fighters are released.

Mr. Moro said the government was rejecting the demand altogether.

Late Monday, the Director General of the National Orientation Agency, Mr. Omeri, however said the government remained open to all options- implying negotiations and possibly the use of force against the kidnappers hadn't been ruled out by government.

Special Duties minister, Taminu Turaki, re-echoed Mr. Omeri's position by Tuesday morning, contrasting the interior minister.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr. Turaki said the Nigerian government was ready for talks with Boko Haram, urging the Islamist group to send in representatives for talks with the government if they were sincere.

Mr. Turaki, who heads a panel set up by President Goodluck Jonathan to explore ways of negotiating with the group, was quoted by the BBC as saying the government was set for negotiations in bringing the crisis to an end and that "an issue of this nature can be resolved outside of violence".

Yet, on Tuesday, the Nigerian senate president, Mr. Mark, repeated the interior minister's vow that Nigeria would not negotiate with Boko Haram or any other terrorist group.

Speaking in China, Mr. Mark said the Nigerian government would ensure the safe return of the abducted girls.

"Nigeria will not negotiate with terrorists under any circumstance," he said. "If we negotiate with them, they will get a few more people and then we begin to negotiate again."

"You do not negotiate with criminals; you do not negotiate with terrorists. We are going to bring the girls back safe and sound, every effort will be made to rescue them.

"For a criminal to parade himself and be asking for negotiation, I think that is the height of insult on any nation," he said.

Mr. Mark said the insurgency had persisted because government initially took the insurgents for granted.

"We had assumed that they were just Nigerians and so we treated them with kid gloves. We perhaps didn't realise on time that they had international connection.

"It is clear to everyone now that they are not just restricted to Nigeria."

He argued that since the terrorists had declared war on Nigeria, no effort should be spared in dealing with them.

He said the National Assembly would review the anti-terrorism laws, spelling out tougher penalties for terrorists.

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