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In its bid to convince Nigerians of President Muhammadu Buhari’s commitment to the safe return of the Chibok schoolgirls, who were abducted from their school in April 2014 by Boko Haram insurgents, the Federal Government has released proof of its efforts to secure their release.
Giving an insight into why the efforts have not yielded the desired results, Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, while addressing a press conference in Abuja yesterday, said the efforts included swap arrangements dating back to July last year, which failed for various reasons, including last-minute issuance of a new set of demands by the insurgents.
He said in spite of the failure of the past swap agreements, the government and security agencies have not relented in efforts to ensure that t girls are released safely, in line with the mandate given by the President, who on the assumption of office, directed security agencies to urgently fashion out strategies to trace, locate and ensure their safety and successful release.
Giving details of the first swap agreement, which he said was the most promising, Mohammed said: “Precisely on July 17, 2015, the DSS opened negotiations process with the group holding the Chibok girls.
“However, in return for the release of some of these girls, the group also made some demands. These included the release of some of their fighters arrested, including some involved in major terrorist actions, resulting in several fatalities, and others who were experts in manufacture of locally-assembled explosives.
“This was difficult to accept, but appropriate security agencies had to again inform Mr. President of these demands and its viewed implications.
“Again Mr. President gave his assent, believing that the overall release of these girls remains paramount and sacrosanct.”
The minister noted that as a result, government and the security agencies had sufficient leverage to work out the modalities of the swap, including creating the safe haven or necessary place of swap and working out the logistic details.
“Based on this, the DSS availed other critical sister agencies of this new situation. Immediately, the Nigerian Army and the Air Force sent some specialists to commence a detailed arrangement for the swap during the last week of July 2015 and 1st week of August 2015.
“The officers, representing the various agencies, worked out the logistic details, such as the number of persons to be swapped i.e. number of girls and detainees to be exchanged, the vehicles and aircraft, as well as safeguards, i.e. safety of the persons, including the location of the swap.
‘’When it was finally agreed by all parties, Mr. President was again informed that the preparations were concluded and the first step for the swap would commence on 1st August, 2015. Mr. President robustly gave his approval.
“On 4th August, 2015, the persons who were to be part of the swap arrangements and all others involved in the operation were transported to Maiduguri, Borno State. This team, with the lead facilitator, continued the contact with the group holding the Chibok girls.
“The Service was able to further prove to the group its sincerity, as it established communication contact between it and its detained members. All things were in place for the swap, which was mutually agreed. Expectations were high.
“Unfortunately, after more than two weeks of negotiation and bargains, the group, just at the dying moments, issued new set of demands never bargained for or discussed before the movement to Maiduguri. All this while, the security agencies waited patiently.
“This development stalled what would have been the first release process of the Chibok girls,” he recounted.
Mohammed also detailed how two more swap attempts were subsequently made.
“On November 13, 2015, another fresh negotiation process with the group was initiated. This time, there was the need to discuss a fresh component to avoid issues that had stalled the former arrangement.
“There were, however, some problems that many may not discern, but should be expected in this kind of situation. Some critical persons within the group who played such vital role in August 2015 were discovered to be dead during combat action or as a result of the emerging rift amongst members of the group then. These two factors delayed the process.
“By November 30, 2015, it was becoming glaring that the division amongst the group was more profound. This affected the swap process. By December 10, 2015, another negotiation process was in place, but this failed to achieve results because of the varying demands by the group,’’ he said.
Mohammed assured that in spite of the failures, negotiation continued on new modalities to secure the release of the girls, adding that since the beginning of the year, security agencies have not only remained committed, but also taken the lead to resolve the issue, irrespective of the current division among members of the sect, which has seriously affected the efforts.
He commended the security agencies for sacrificing their time and energy, with some even paying the supreme price while fighting for the safe release of the girls.
“If one of them has been given an appointment, does that mean that we have dropped some? We did not use anybody and dumped them.”