The Nation is carrying credible reports of negotiations between the Jonathan administration and Boko Haram that would swap the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls for nineteen Boko Haram “commanders.” The negotiations will resume after the Eid-el-Kabir holiday, October 4. The sticking point appears to be that Boko Harm wants to release thirty girls — fifteen Christians, fifteen Muslims – to test Abuja’s commitment while the government is insisting that all of the girls be released at once.
According to The Nation, the government’s negotiating team is led by Shehu Sani, the president of the Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria, “a former Minister of Information,” and a Geneva-based human rights activist. Boko Haram has a two man delegation. In addition, there are two other participants, identified as “close to the sect’s leadership,” and a “Peoples Democratic Party leader.”
The Premium Times is also publishing stories of a similar, but failed, negotiation in July. Initially, it reports, Boko Haram asked for only ten of their commanders in exchange for the girls. But while the government was seeking to locate the ten, there may have been a Boko Haram internal struggle: the ten were all Kanuri, to which the Fulani may have objected. So, a hypothesis is that the demand was upped to sixteen. The Premium Times identifies the negotiation’s facilitator as the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). That facilitator insisted that all individuals involved in the swap had to agree. That meant that the ICRC would visit the girls in captivity. The Premium Times reports that Boko Haram agreed, that “it would help dispel the claims that the girls were being maltreated or that they have been forced into marriage which will shock many people when the girls return.” Yola, the capital of Adamawa state, was to be the venue for the handover. It did not occur because the government’s heavy-handed security presence in effect waved off Boko Haram.
It is likely that the current negotiating team is the same on the government side as in July. The Premium Times identifies the negotiators in July as former Minister of Information Edwin Clark; two civil rights leaders, Fred Eno and Shehu Sani; a Maiduguri-based lawyer Mustapha Zanna, and PDP chieftain Kaka Bolori. Present from Geneva were three ICRC officials.
These reports of negotiations are credible. Early on, Boko Haram said that it was holding the Chibok girls in exchange for Boko Haram operatives held by the government. The government publicly had refused such a bargain, and with good reason: ten, or sixteen, or nineteen “commanders” could be a significant augmentation of Boko Haram’s strength. The fact that Boko Haram has upped the ante, so to speak, is an indication of its increasing strength. I have heard whispers that an impediment to the negotiations has been that some of those on the Boko Haram list to be released have already been extra-judicially executed. The Premium Times published the list of sixteen “commanders” to be swapped in July. But, I have seen no equivalent list for those under negotiation now. ICRC facilitation in July and now would be congruent with that organization’s humanitarian mandate.