This Day (Lagos)

9 July 2014

Nigeria: Boko Haram Insists On Prisoners-for-Girls Swap

A man claiming to be a member of Boko Haram has maintained that the federal government must release its members detained in numerous facilities nationwide before the terrorist group releases the 219 Chibok schoolgirls it has held in captivity for almost three months.

This came as the National Council of State (NCS), at the end of its meeting yesterday, assured the Nigerian public that schoolgirls will be rescued very soon but failed to give detail as to how this would be achieved.

The federal government had given the same assurance Monday when the Coordinator of the National Information Centre, Mr. Mike Omeri said the girls would soon be freed.

Speaking on the BBC World Service, the man whose voice was disguised in order to conceal his identity, said he was a teacher or scholar in the sect and joined the group in 2004.

He told the BBC that the girls were in "a state of amnesty", healthy and eating well, adding that the Christians who refused to convert to Islam were not forced to do so as it is anti-Islamic.

The Boko Haram member maintained that the girls were taken for a specific reason and reiterated the condition for their release, adding that the girls would be released once the federal government met the terrorist group's demands for a prisoner exchange deal.

"Today, if the government releases our members, tomorrow or the next day, we promise you can see all of them. As our leader Abubakar Shekau promised to the media, if the government releases our members, we will release them."

On the condition of the girls, the Boko Haram teacher said: "I am telling a fact, they are in a state of amnesty, they don't have a problem. Some of them have belief in Islam, some of them said they will not convert to Islam, but we did not differentiate. We are not forcing them or putting them under any pressure.

"Those who agreed to convert to Islam have been converted and those who refused we left them, we said stay. There is no forced conversion in Islam. Allah commands us to treat everyone equally. We are not differentiating them; we treat all of them equally. "They all are healthy. They are feeding well. If you see them now, you will see that they don't have any problem."

He added that under the Islamic faith the killing of women and children was unacceptable except they are the aggressors, but pointed out that some of them might get caught in the crossfire in the event of bombings or attacks.

"Under Islam, killing women and children is not acceptable. But if they are fighting you, then you must fight them. But if they don't attack you, you leave them. Killing children and women is not accepted at all. We only go after those who give information to our enemy... But if we bomb somewhere or make arrest somewhere, it will affect them but killing women and children is not accepted," he said.

Despite the revelations made by the Boko Haram "teacher" the Council of State, which met yesterday reiterated the position of the federal government that the abducted schoolgirls would soon regain their freedom, urging the public to be patient as the government works to wipe out terrorism.

Briefing State House correspondents at the end of the meeting the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio, said the security of the nation topped the agenda, adding that President Goodluck Jonathan and the National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) were briefed on the steps that were being taken to rescue the abducted schoolgirls.

He said military authorities also confirmed that efforts were being made and very soon there would be good news.

"It was also heartwarming to note that the issue is not whether we can rescue the girls, but the issue is how can we can rescue them in a way that we can ensure their safety so that we don't end up in the attempt to rescue them we endanger their lives.

"What also came out is the need for Nigerians to be patient because terrorism is a new challenge in Nigeria and it is not something that goes away immediately and we have to be meticulous in our approach and make sure that we take the best steps forward to reduce and minimise the possible loss of lives in an attempt to curb the insurgents.

"We are very satisfied the security agents know very well where the girls are located and they are on top of the situation.

"The other issue was the appointment of certain commissioners in the National Population Commission (NPC) and the states that have not filled their quota were today ratified and approved.

"The council was duly consulted in line with the constitutional provision for Ekiti, Yobe, Jigawa Zamfara and Kebbi States whose commissioners were ratified and approved by council.

"The other issue was the general security of the nation and this is to assure the public that the military authorities working in concert with the governors of various states of the federation are on top of the situation and that we require patience and cooperation in order to bring the situation to an end.

"What also came out of the discussion was the need for every person to be vigilant in which ever part of the country you are in because security is everybody's business. You have to know your neighbour and understand your environment and report any suspicious movement to security agents.

"We commended the security agents who are on top of the situation and we are happy that very serious efforts are being made, all the necessary equipment that will enable us bring this insurgency to an end are being procured by the federal government and council was satisfied that Mr. President is on top of the situation and he is taking this issue of the insurgency very seriously and sooner rather than later, Nigerians will see an end to this problem," Akpabio said.

Also speaking during the briefing, the Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, said: "On security, we came to recognise the fact that a few years back, most of us would have sworn that there was no Nigerian who would have been a suicide bomber, Nigerians enjoy life. But we now know that there are some of us who are willing to play the role of suicide bombers.

"This act of terrorism is completely new and the armed forces have not had that many years of experience in dealing with internal insurgency, so it's far more complicated than dealing with an opponent that you can define by location or uniform.

"The terrorist can be your neighbour, he could be living in your village and you may not know them, but the good news is that the army is on top of the situation and we are satisfied that they are doing their best and they are paying a huge price for which Nigerians should be appreciative and commend them for the sacrifices they are making," he said.

He further pointed out that the council was unanimous that the media should put the country first and newspaper headlines and stories should be cast in such a way that they are informed by Nigeria's national interest.

The governor said: "If we celebrate terrorism, then we are giving incentives to the terrorists. In reporting, the editor must know what to report and censure because when there is no country, there is no media or politician.

"We as politicians, we should be more sensitive to national security; when it comes to national security, partisanship should give way to all hands being on deck as speaking with one voice in denouncing terrorism would ensure that we are on the same page.

"It is not a partisan issue, because if there is no Nigeria, political parties become irrelevant and all of us can do better, so we should change our language.

"Also there is the role of religious leaders, as it is not helpful for any religious leader to seek to rationalise this act by suggesting that these people belong to one religion or that their target is another religion and that the entire thing is based on religion.

"It is clear that these are just criminals that are masquerading in whatever name they choose to call themselves. No genuine Christian or Muslim would think that God needs help to kill anyone."

Past heads of state in attendance included General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd), Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, General Yakubu Gowon (rtd), Alhaji Shehu Shagari, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd) and Chief Ernest Shonekan. Former military Head of State Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) was absent.

Also at the meeting were state governors, including the embattled Adamawa State Governor, Murtala Nyako. None of the governors from the South-west was in attendnace, but Ogun and Ondo States sent their deputies.

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