A hostage negotiator has moved to broker a deal between the government and Boko Haram for the safe release of the more than 200 girls abducted by insurgents from their hostel in Chibok, Borno State.
A United Kingdom -based television station Channels 4 News which disclosed this on Tuesday did not say if the negotiator is acting on his own or on behalf of the federal or Borno State Government.
Although the station quoted him as saying that the girls’ release was “within reach,” he also warned that their fate rested on a knife-edge because of the fear by the insurgents that the military might try to forcibly free them.
“The girls, we believe, are alive but they have been moved from the location to which they were originally taken,” he said.
“It would not be hard to engineer a deal. It looks like they want to release them. They want a way out, “added the intermediary, whom Channel 4 News credited with having a long experience of dealing directly with Boko Haram in previous hostage crises.
The negotiator, who wanted to remain anonymous for reasons of personal security, said the group was demanding a ransom but added, “we are hoping they will soften their stance.”
The kidnappers had warned, however, that attempts by the military to use might to secure the girls’ freedom “may result in the death” of many of them.
He stated that some members of the sect group were arguing over what to do with the girls, who were forcibly married off with a bride price of just N2,000 after they had been converted to Islam.
The negotiator stated that “the danger now is that the military will get involved and that can only end badly.”
“They have a problem. They have over 200 captives and moving them around cannot remain hidden. There is good, reliable, local knowledge as to their location. The military knows where they are,” he stated.
He added that the hostage-takers had been asked for a list of the girls’ names as proof-of-life.
There were reports on Tuesday that the insurgents had taken the girls to Chad and Cameroon.
The headteacher of the government secondary, Mrs Asabe Kwambura, had said on Tuesday that 10 more girls had been “recovered.”
“For now, the total number of girls we have recovered is 53 while many others are still missing,” Kwambura said.
When one of our correspondents contacted the Director of Defence Information, Maj.Gen .Chris Olukolade, for his comment on the issue, he referred him to the Presidency and the Federal Ministry of Information.
He said, “Please you can direct your inquiries to the Presidency or the Ministry of Information.”
But efforts to get reactions of the Federal and Borno State governments on the engagement of the negotiator did not succeed.
The Minister of Special Duties and Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North, Alhaji Taminu Turaki, did not pick calls to his mobile phone neither did he respond to an SMS sent to him.
Attempt to speak to the Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, proved abortive as calls to his mobile phone and that of his media aide were not picked.
Also, calls to the Special Adviser to the Borno State Governor on Media, Mr. Issa Gusau, did not go through.
• Mark leads 21 senators to Jonathan
Meanwhile, the Senate President, David Mark, has raised a 22-member team to meet with President Goodluck Jonathan over the Boko Haram activities, especially the abduction of the schoolgirls.
Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi had during Tuesday’s plenary by the Senate, suggested that a delegation be sent to the President on the disturbing phenomenon.
The idea was unanimously adopted by the senators in view of the local and international reactions to the girls’ abduction.
Mark, on resumption of plenary on Wednesday, read out names of the 21 senators.
They include Boluwaji Kunlere, Babafemi Ojudu, Zainab Kure, Alkali Jajere, James Manager, Helen Esuene, Chris Anyanwu, Ali Ndume, Ahmed Zannah, Mai’na Ma’aji Lawan, Nenadi Usman, Mohammed Magoro, and Emmanuel Bwacha.
Others are Ahmed Lawan, Barnabas Gemade, Sola Adeyeye, Bindowo Jibrilla, Ehigie Uzamere, Bello Tukur, Bukar Ibrahim, and Eyinnaya Abaribe.
Mark said, “You will all recall that we agreed to a suggestion by one of the distinguished senators during our debate on the motion on the abducted girls yesterday (Tuesday) that a delegation of the Senate should meet with Mr. President on the issue.
“I have called the president on phone and he said we should come by 10pm today(Wednesay). I will suggest that those concerned should come to my residence so that we can go to the Villa in a bus or two.”
It was learnt that the meeting would, among others, enable the Presidency and the Senate to exchange ideas on how best to free the girls.
It is also expected that senators from the affected states in the North-East would seize the opportunity to open up to Jonathan on the real situation in their zone.
• Parents want Jonathan to lead search team
However, two of the parents of the abducted schoolgirls have called on Jonathan to lead the military search team for their children in Sambisa Forest.
They said they were making the call because it had become very glaring to them that nothing serious had been done by the government to free the girls.
According to them, the best way for Nigerians and the rest of the world to know that the country had not yet given up on the search was for the President to get directly involved.
One of the parents, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “The President should learn the act of motivating his citizens. Let him first visit the school where the girls were abducted and then wear his military uniform as the Commander-in Chief of the nation’s armed forces and lead a team to search for our children.
“Some women the other time told Nigerians that they were willing to storm the Sambisa Forest in search of the abducted schoolgirls and the rest of the nation applauded their courage.
“ The First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, should also get involved, What stopped her from volunteering to lead the search party.
“Let her stop all this adverts on the television portraying her as “Mama Peace” and lead by example by leading the women who she claimed to be leading to look for their daughters.”
Another parent said, “If I am the President, I will wear my military uniform and lead the military into the Sambisa Forest.”
Two other parents, who spoke on the telephone, said they were fast losing hope that their daughters might return to them.
One of them, said, “It is now 15 days after the incident and we are still in the dark as to the efforts being made to get our children freed. All we have been hearing is that they have been married off and sexually maltreated.”
Another parent asked, “Do we have government in this country at all that could be relied upon to protect all of us?”
“My daughter and over 200 others are in the hands of a couple of hoodlums in a specified forest for 15 days now and we pride ourselves as having one of the strongest armies on the African continent.
“How strong does a military need to be to free over 200 schoolgirls from the arms of a couple of disgruntled ragtag militants?” she asked.
• Soldier backs parents’ call on President
A soldier, who spoke anonymously with journalists in Maiduguri said he was in support of the call by the parents on Jonathan to get directly involved in rescuing the girls.
He said, “His (Jonathan) presence even in Maiduguri let alone Chibok could do some magic as the troops will definitely know that they are on an important mission for fatherland and will be ready to even sacrifice their blood.”
“If the President now go the extra mile and wear the military camouflage even to the periphery of Sambisa Forest, the entire Armed Forces will not be under any illusion that this is a sectional battle but a war that the country must win.
“This will equally tell the service chiefs and all heads of security agents that there is no more hiding place and that the President mean action.”
• We’ll free the pupils, CDS vows
The Chief of Defence Staff, Air Vice Marshal Alex Badeh, has however vowed that the military would get the abducted children.
Badeh, who spoke at the Defence Headquarters while playing host to the board of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency in Abuja on Wednesday, described the activities of Boko Haram as “pure madness.”
He said, “What is happening in our country, most especially in northern Nigeria is pure madness, and we are killing the future of that region. It’s a pity. All of us here should sympathise with those of us who come from that region.
“We are hoping, and while we are fighting we are also praying so that we can get over this madness. It is unfortunate that those girls were kidnapped. It is not about the number that really matters but the fact that people’s children have been kidnapped.
“Where we are told that they are, we can’t go there with our armoury otherwise we will go and kill them. If you go and kill them, then you will not have achieved anything. But I know we will get those girls. I know we will get them.”
Badeh assured the NOSDRA delegation that the defence ministry would support the agency in its fight against oil spill in the country.
Earlier, the NOSDRA Board Chairman, Maj. Lancelot Ayanya (retd.), said given the sophistication of terrorist groups, it was time to confront them.
He deplored the antics of those who seek to draw political benefits from the crisis by denigrating the services of the armed forces.
Ayanya stated that the visit to the defence headquarters was based on the need to device new strategies in combating oil spillage and illegal crude oil refineries in the country, specifically in the Niger Delta.
He said, “Oil is the machinery of progress of the people. But that progress comes at a great cost to the people and communities, especially where pipelines are vandalised, including the damage of the ecology.”
The Director-General, NOSDRA, Mr. Peter Idabor, called on the defence headquarters to assist the agency in preventing illegal crude oil refineries in the Niger Delta.
According to him, the activities of some criminals had continued to increase the danger of oil spillage in the region and other parts of the country.
Idabor informed the CDS of the need for a Memorandum of Understanding that would see to the establishment of a joint oil response military base between NOSDRA and the armed forces in preventing oil spillage and illegal activities in the Niger Delta