The fate of the 219 school girls Boko Haram kidnapped in 2014 has become a feature of the “face” of Nigeria abroad and also increasingly at home. On April 15, for the first time, the Nigerian Senate asked the relevant security agencies for a briefing on the Chibok girls. This is in response to the release of a ’proof of life’ video depicting the girls.
A recent report in the Daily Telegraph (London) claims that Boko Haram is seeking a ransom of $50 million. According to the Daily Telegraph, the sources for the story are “close to the group.” The ransom demands allegedly were made during “secret contacts” with the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, who has previously said that he would negotiate for the girls.
However, Lai Mohammed, the information minister, denies that the government is negotiating with Boko Haram. He says the government will not negotiate until it can “credibly establish the nature of” Boko Haram’s leadership; that is, identify those who can represent Boko Haram. And, he does not believe the video is a credible, current ’proof of life’.
The Buhari government, plausibly, says that it does not know the whereabouts of the Chibok school girls. And, presuming they are alive and kept in identifiable groups, who is holding them, and whom might be a legitimate interlocutor on the Boko Haram side has yet to be determined. So Lai Mohammed’s denial that negotiations are taking place is credible. So, too, is his skepticism over the most recent video.
Kidnapping, political as well as purely mercenary, is endemic in Nigeria. Violence associated with Boko Haram, and in some areas with ethnic and religious strife, is ongoing. Nigerian concern about the Chibok school girls, a specific group of victims among many, while real is probably not as intense as outside of Nigeria, where the girls are, among other things, a cause célèbre.