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FG rejects B’Haram’s prisoner swap offer

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The Presidency has ruled out the possibility of engaging in what it called “trade by barter”  in securing the release of the  over 200  schoolgirls abducted from the  Government  Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, by Boko Haram insurgents  on April 14.

It said that in asymmetrical warfare, dialogue could also be difficult because the enemies  were usually  faceless.

Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, said this in an exclusive interview with The PUNCH  on Wednesday.

He was responding to a question on whether President Goodluck Jonathan would set up a committee to negotiate with Boko Haram for the release of the   girls since the Federal Government had  said it was open to dialogue on the matter.

Boko Haram Leader,  Abubakar Shekau, had in a video released on Sunday, said the sect was prepared to swap the girls for its members detained by security agencies across the country.

But Abati stressed that  what government had said was that it had always adopted all options in dealing with the security challenge in the country.

He  added that there were  already ongoing processes and standing committees to that effect.

The  presidential spokesman explained that government had been adopting what he  called soft approach to insecurity alongside the military operations.

Part of the product of that approach, he said, was when the President released some detainees, including women, children and young persons   who were in detention sometime last year.

Abati said, “While the Chibok issue has brought up the matter of whether the government is going to hold dialogue or whether the government is going to buy back the girls, I don’t see government planning to engage in any action that amounts to trade by barter, or treatment of the girls as items of merchandise, or anything that remotely over-privileges crime against humanity.

“In this kind of asymmetrical warfare, even dialogue can be difficult because the enemy is faceless.

“Nonetheless, what government has said is that it has always adopted all options in dealing with the security challenge and there are already ongoing processes and standing committees. Government has said clearly, however that any Boko Haram member who is ready to lay down his arms and repent, the door is open to such members.

“The key word that government has ever used is dialogue and that is dialogue with stakeholders and possibly repentant insurgents.

“In this regard, it is worth recalling that there are existing committees that have been saddled with the responsibility of operationalising what the National Security Adviser once described as the soft approach in the country’s counter-terrorism strategy.

“This soft approach includes dialogue particularly with repentant Boko Haram extremists. There are at least two distinct platforms.

“First, we have the presidential committee on dialogue that is saddled with the responsibility of looking into the matter of extremism in the North-East.

“That standing committee has since submitted a report and the report has led to a number of actions by the President, including the Presidential Initiative in the North-East known as PINE, an economic recovery programme.

“You will also recall that at a point, the President released some detainees, including women, children and young persons belonging to Boko Haram who were in detention.

“That was also a product of that soft approach. So when government says all options are open in dealing with this issue, government is talking about that soft approach in addition to other measures.

“Recently also, the President set up the presidential fact-finding committee on the Chibok abduction. Part of the mandate of that committee is to visit Chibok, relate with the parents of the girls, relate with stakeholders and try to see how assistance can be given to the girls who have been released and also their families and what useful information can be collated.

“All of this involves dialogue,   looking at many options. I don’t think government will come up again and set up a special negotiating committee. There is a soft approach that is already in place and it is going on simultaneously with the military operation.

“It is also important to note that the Presidency  is not relying solely on a whole of government approach. Government is combining whatever it does with a whole of society approach. So there is that soft approach which includes dialogue, talking to stakeholders.”

We’ll go  any length to rescue the  girls 

Before Abati spoke,  the Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, had reiterated that  the Federal Government would  go to any length to ensure that the schoolgirls  were rescued.

Maku  said this while  fielding  questions from State House correspondents at the end of the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting presided over by President Goodluck Jonathan.

The minister added that  the government was still studying the video clip released by  Boko Haram  and its  accompanying statement.

He said since an information centre had been opened to provide the public with daily development on the rescue operation, information coming from any other persons or groups on behalf of the government should be discountenanced.

The minister  also appealed to all Nigerians to leave sentiments and emotions aside and concentrate on  collective efforts    to  rescue the  girls.

Maku said, “We have seen the video clip, we are studying it to be sure of its content. We are also looking into the statement that accompanied the clip.

“Government has made it very clear that we are ready to go to any length to secure the release of these our daughters that have been in captivity. That is the statement we have issued and we stand on that statement.

“Other statements that have been made from different groups should be discountenanced. This is a clear position of government that has been announced through the centre on daily reporting of events on the rescue effort and state of emergency in the North-East.

 “There has been a lot of pollution and information that may not be correct. We want to cut off Chibok from politics and that is why we are streamlining information.”

His  Women Affairs counterpart, Hajia Zaynab Maina, said female ministers expressed sentiments over the abduction during the council meeting.

She said the ministers sought the prayers and support of Nigerians on the government’s bid to rescue the girls.

She said, “We, female ministers, condemned in a very strong term this heinous action. We are not happy about it. We joined several groups to express sentiments.

“We also thanked women of Nigeria for their cooperation and their calls that the girls should be released and reunited with their families.

“We also thanked the international community for their support: the United Kingdom, the United States,   France, Israel, among others.

“We assured you all of the cooperation of Nigerian women on this matter. We also seek your prayers and support on how to rescue these girls.”

  Boko Haram to name negotiator

A London-based newspaper has reported that Boko Haram   is to authorise an Islamic cleric to  negotiate on its behalf with the Federal Government  on its offer.

 The sect  is  also   to announce a list of key militants that it wants released in exchange for  the   girls, The Telegraph,   quoted unnamed sources as saying  late on Tuesday night.

The newspaper however said      the Islamic cleric would be named on Wednesday (yesterday). It  quoted the sources as saying that the sect would seek a freed prisoner for every one of the kidnapped girls.

As of 9pm on Wednesday, the cleric’s name had not been made public.

The group, according to The Telegraph,  will give the cleric “clear terms of reference” for how it wants the negotiations to be conducted. It   will also spell out the practical details of how it would set the girls free.

Apart from senior commanders, the list of prisoners  the group wants   freed is expected to include a number of militants’ relatives.

One of the sources told The Telegraph that, “The group  is about to name a cleric who they will mandate to talk to the government.

“They will give him clear terms of reference, including a list of the members they want released, and details of how they will free the girls.

“The list will include personal relations who have been detained, but also top members of the group. In total, the numbers to be released will probably be equal to the number of the girls currently held.”

One senior militant currently in jail is Kabiru Sokoto, who was sentenced to life with hard labour last year for masterminding the bombing of a church outside Abuja that killed 44 people on Christmas Day in 2011.

Another group of detained Boko Haram suspects is a gang accused of the kidnapping and killing of Chris McManus, a British engineer, who was abducted along with an Italian, Franco Lamolinara, in May 2011.

In the past, a dialogue and amnesty committee set up by the Federal Government has brokered the release of a number of Boko Haram detainees, mostly relatives of fighters still at large.

Among those released last year were  Abubakar Shekau’s wife and children, who were detained during a raid in December 2012

Fact-finding committee meets security chiefs

 The Presidential Fact-finding Committee on the  abducted  girls   on Wednesday met with security chiefs in continuation of its assignment.

Those met by the committee led by Gen. Ibrahim Sabo (retd.) included  the Minister of Defence, Gen. Aliyu Gusau (retd.);  the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, Amb.  Ayo Oke; and the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Muhammed Abubakar.

A statement by the committee’s spokesman, Kingsley Osadolor, quoted Gusau,   as describing as unfortunate,  the mass kidnap of the schoolgirls.

He was said to have decried the advent of Boko Haram, noting that the sect should have been dealt with a long time ago.

Article Credit: Punchng

Updated 4 Years ago

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