ABUJA – THE release of more than 100 schoolgirls, including 82 the militant Islamic sect released last week, kidnapped northeastern Nigeria over three years ago has put the government in a quandary and incited a vicious cycle of terror.
While on front, it is fighting the militant Islamic sect that has kidnapped the Chibok schoolgirls and thousands other civilians, the government finds itself negotiating with the same sect its military is fighting.
Terrifyingly, during the controversial negotiations which have been hastily been welcomed as a relief, an unspecified number of Boko Haram kingpins have been freed in exchange of the girls.
Boko Haram, which is seen by analysts as holding an upper hand in the negotiations, initially released 21 of the 276 girls it abducted at gunpoint in April 2014 at their dormitories at the government school in the Borno State.
The government of Switzerland and Internal Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reportedly played a crucial role in the mediation exercise that free the schoolgirls on both occasions.
The Red Cross, which is Swiss-headquartered, is among organisations involved in the humanitarian crisis that is a direct consequence of the years-long militancy by the Boko Haram terror group.
As the issue assumed new dimensions with the said brokers of the deal distancing themselves from the breakthrough, security experts this week raised concern the release of militants in exchange for the girls held hostage had set a bad precedent and would embolden the militants.
Assessment Capacities Project (ACAPS), an organisation dedicated to improving assessments of humanitarian needs in complex emergencies and crisis through the provision of context-specific information and analysis, noted the arrangement was a double-edged sword.
“The success of negotiations between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram could be a promising sign for de-escalation of the conflict, peace and reduction of the humanitarian toll of wartime violence,” said ACAPS analysts Shirley Igbinedion and Daniel Sneddon.
However, the analysts raised concern this might encourage the terror group to perpetuate more kidnappings as a bargaining chip for the release of more suspects.
“This will have a detrimental humanitarian impact.”
Rochas Ikpeazu, the Lagos-based analyst, accused the government of “pandering to the whims of terrorists.”
“Government and the military claim to have defeated the Boko Haram with such actions as Operation Lafiya Dole (Peace by Force),” argued the expert.
“However, we see a government that has claimed victory going down on its knees to the Boko Haram. This will boomerang badly,” Ikpeazu said.
This week, Switzerland and ICRC distanced themselves from widely-circulating reports they had “brokered” deals for the release of the Chibok girls.
“Please note that the ICRC did not broker any deal but acted as a neutral intermediary at the request, and with the agreement of both parties,” Aurélie Lachant, public relations officer and Africa spokesperson,” told CAJ News.
“We were not involved in any negotiations that led to the handover of the young women. Our involvement was limited to transporting them to the Nigerian authorities (and the same was done in October 2016),” Lanchant explained.
Contacted for comment if the negotiations with Boko Haram and the release of militants would not exacerbate the insecurity, Switzerland government officials said the country had intervened upon request.
“At the request of the Nigerian government, Switzerland facilitated negotiations to enable the release of the Chibok schoolgirls, kidnapped by the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad (commonly referred to as “Boko Haram”) in April 2014,” Carole Wälti, Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson said.
She said Switzerland’s commitment was motivated by humanitarian concerns.
“Switzerland’s engagement in this operation was guided by the principles of strict neutrality and non-interference. The facilitator does, as a matter principle, not comment on the content of a negotiation.
Switzerland calls for the liberation of the Chibok girls who are still in custody by Boko Haram as soon as possible.”
Reacting to the dialogue with the Boko Haram sect, Minister of Women’s Affairs and Social Development, Aisha Alhassan, insisted talks would “seriously” continue in order to secure the release of the remaining girls and others held hostage.
“We will not relent until all are back,” Alhassan said.
Meanwhile, victims previously held by the Islamic militant sect face a torrid time reintegrating to their communities.
Families and communities treat the returning members with suspicion and skeptism fearig they have been radicalized and could carry out attacks within these communities.
“The release of the Chibok girls will afford them the opportunity to reunite with their families which will, for those involved, bring some respite to the conflict. It is unlikely to be without difficulties, as it is well known that women and girls associated with Boko Haram are stigmatized and they do not always receive adequate psychosocial support to deal with the trauma,” the ACAPS experts stated.
A group of United Nations human rights experts said the government and other stakeholders must ensure that the services these girls need, including psycho-social and other health services and information on livelihood opportunities, as well as access to remedies, were available.
UN Population Fund pledged to provide the services in partnership with the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development.
The newly-released girls will also be part of a similar rehabilitation programme that was set up for the 21 Chibok girls who were released last October.
“The programme is tailor-made to meet each girl’s specific needs of counseling, to help overcome the trauma endured after being held under captivity for more than three years,” a UNFPA spokseprson stated.
Aisha Buhari, wife of the president (Muhammadu Buhari) urged the freed girls to put their ordeal behind them and revive their education.
She encouraged the released girls to be strong and “try to forget” their travails.
– CAJ News