May 12 (GIN) – Attempts to broker the return of the missing school girls held in a rebel camp somewhere in northern Nigeria were apparently quashed today when a government minister forcefully rejected any deal.
The offered deal, from Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Boko Haram rebel group of kidnappers, would have released the girls in exchange for prisoners being held by the Nigerian government. Minister Abba Moro gave thumbs down to any exchange.
Shekau made his offer in a video, obtained by a French news agency, which is believed to be the first to show the missing girls alive. In long gowns or “chadors” worn by Muslim women, the girls are sitting silently or in prayer lead by the kidnappers who also claim to have converted the girls to Islam. Most of the girls, between 14 and 16 years of age, were Christian.
Thousands of Boko Haram suspects –including women and children – have been jailed over the years by security forces since fighting intensified between insurgents and Nigerian soldiers back in 2011. Human rights groups call the jail conditions “atrocious.” After a prison break earlier this year by Boko Haram fighters, more than 600 people, most of them unarmed recaptured detainees, were summarily killed by the military, according to “credible sources” cited by Amnesty International.
The Nigerian government has now reportedly made “indirect contact” with the terrorist group. The official response to the kidnapping – delayed for almost 3 weeks – infuriated Nigerians and sympathizers all over the world who responded with the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. Rallies continue to be held in Nigeria and in Washington, including a televised appeal by Michele Obama.
Meanwhile, the watchdog group Amnesty International has gathered testimonies to confirm that Nigerian security forces knew that a convoy of Boko Haram fighters was approaching the town of Chibok four hours before the kidnapping and did nothing to stop them.
Nearby military commands in Damboa and Maiduguri were repeatedly contacted with warnings by both security and local officials.
Armed Boko Haram fighters on motorbikes and trucks were seen by locals, some of whom also raised the alarm. In the village of Gagilam, local civilian patrols alerted officials, including the Borno State Governor and senior military commanders based in Maiduguri. One resident of the area said he made several calls to local officials and was promised by the security people that reinforcement was on its way.
Two senior officers in Nigeria’s military confirmed to Amnesty International that the military was aware of the planned attack even before the calls received from local officials.
An urgent, independent and transparent investigation is clearly essential. But the first priority for Nigeria’s security forces is to achieve the rescue of the schoolgirls.