Hours after a United Nations report presented to the UN Security Council revealed Nigeria paid ransom to free scores of female students kidnapped in Dapchi, Yobe State, Nigeria's Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, has insisted no ransom was paid.
Over 100 girls were kidnapped from the Dapchi school by a Boko Haram faction in February this year with about 105 of them later released by the terrorists. One of them, Leah Sharibu, who reportedly refused to denounce her Christian faith, is still with the abductors.
Upon their release, Mr Mohammed told Nigerians that no ransom was paid for the girls. He said the kidnap "became a moral burden on the abductors."
However, a report submitted to the UN Security Council showed that a "large ransom" was paid to free the girls.
"In Nigeria, 111 schoolgirls from the town of Dapchi were kidnapped on 18 February 2018 and released by ISWAP on 21 March 2018 in exchange for a large ransom payment," the report stated.
The report said such ransom and the predominance of cash economy was providing oxygen for the insurgency around the Lake Chad region.
The UN report described as the 22nd Report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team related to Resolution 2368 (2017) regarding Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant - ISIL - (Da'esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals and entities.
Excerpts of the report were published by the News Agency of Nigeria, which stated that the report was signed by Edmund Fitton-Brown, Coordinator, Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, who said the report was "comprehensive and independent", and Kairat Umarov, Chair, Security Council Committee.
In its reaction to the report, the Nigerian government through Mr Mohammed said it stands by its statement that no ransom was paid.
It described the UN report as a "mere conjecture."
"It is not enough to say that Nigeria paid a ransom, little or huge. There must be a conclusive evidence to support such claim. Without that, the claim remains what it is: a mere conjecture," the minister was quoted as saying in a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES by his spokesperson, Segun Adeyemi.
The UN Security Council and indeed the UN does not have the culture of engaging Member States like Nigeria in a public debate and is not expected to reply Mr Mohammed's claim.
Although the government hardly admits it pays ransom to terrorists to free kidnapped civilians, public officials including those of the ruling All Progressives Congress have in the past admitted such ransoms are paid.
In its report, the UN also identified that such ransoms help fund terror groups like Boko Haram.
"Meanwhile, Boko Haram (QDe.138) and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) have had a similar impact in their areas of control, including the Lake Chad basin.
"The predominance in the region of the cash economy, without controls, is conducive to terrorist groups funded by extortion, charitable donations, smuggling, remittances and kidnapping," the report stated.
The Boko Haram activities in Northern Nigeria have caused about 100,000 deaths, according to the Borno State Government.
The efforts of Nigerian security forces have in the past three years limited the terrorists to three North-eastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. The group is, however, still able to carry out attacks on civilians and military formations in those states.