The Federal Government Friday admitted that it has negotiated thrice with Boko Haram on how to swap the abducted 215 Chibok girls with some commanders of the insurgents.
The three negotiations were approved by President Muhammadu Buhari between July and December 2015. The government however said the talks broke down because of cracks within Boko Haram and some difficult demands made by the sect.
He said the demands of Boko Haram included the release of their fighters arrested, especially some involved in major terrorist actions, resulting in several fatalities, and others who were experts in manufacture of locally assembled explosives.
But the government said it has not foreclosed negotiation in order to secure the release of the Chibok girls.
The Minister of Information, Alh. Lai Mohammed gave insights into what the government has done at a special briefing in Abuja. He said because of competing interests and unnecessary rivalries, nothing was achieved by the immediate past administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan before the 2015 handover date.
He said following leads from some international bodies and countries relevant security agencies were able to strike a chord which made the Buhari administration to open talks with Boko Haram.
He was however silent on the leaders of Boko Haram who the Federal Government discussed with in order “not to jeopardize negotiation.” But he said the efforts were coordinated by the Department of State Security Services (DSS) in conjunction with other intelligence agencies.
Mohammed said: “Precisely on 17th July, 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.
“Meanwhile, following the above development, Government and the security agencies had sufficient leverage to work out the modalities of the swap.
“These included 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. This was 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 (2) weeks of negotiation and bargains, the group, just at the dying moments, issued new set of demands, never bargained for or discussed by the group 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.
“It may be important to note that in spite of this setback, the government and the security agencies have not relented in the bid to ensure that the Chibok girls are released safely.
“By the month of November, precisely 13th November, 2015, another fresh negotiation process with the group was initiated. This time, there was the need to discuss a fresh component in other 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. In spite of these, negotiation continued on new modalities.
“By 30th November, 2015 it was becoming glaring that the division amongst the group was more profound. This affected the swap process.
“By 10th December, 2015, another negotiation process was in place, but this failed to achieve results because of the varying demands by the group.”
Mohammed said the Federal Government has not given up on the release of the girls.