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Published On: Mon, May 12th, 2014

Abducted schoolgirls: Discordant tunes over Boko Haram’s prisoner swap offer

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Abducted schoolgirls
  • Shettima orders analysis of video footage
  • Parents of abductees express delight

From Mustapha Isah Kwaru, Maiduguri & Maryam Garba Hassan, Abuja

There are discordant tunes within government circles yesterday on whether or not it (the government) will accept the proposal by Jama’atu Ahlul Sunna lid Da’awati wal Jihad, popularly known as Boko Haram in a new video, for exchange of the abducted girls with detained members of the sect.

Minister of interior, Patrick Abba Moro, told two international media outlets in separate interviews yesterday that the government was rejecting the offer outright.

But Director General of the National Orientation Agency (NOA), Mke Omeri, said at a press conference at the government’s National Information Centre yesterday in Abuja that the government was “considering all options that would facilitate the rescue of the abducted schoolgirls.

Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, had released a new video made public earlier yesterday, showing almost 130 girls purporting to be part of the 276 students of Government Girls Secondary School (GGSS), Chibok, abducted from their school on April 14.

The video footage showed that the girls, all dressed in black and grey hijab, have converted to Islam, as they recite the first verse of the Holy Qur’an.

In a less than two-minute accompanying message read by Shekau before the recitation by the girls in the same video, the Boko Haram leader indicated that the hostages would be released once the Nigerian government frees all the sect’s members being detained.

However, Moro said although dialogue between the federal government and Boko Haram was a key factor in trying to secure the release of the school girls, the government cannot accept the group’s ultimatum because the sect is regarded worldwide as a terrorist organisation.

“By accepting the offer made by Boko Haram, government is recognizing the sect and in support of its action”, the minister told both AFP and Hausa service of the BBC in separate interviews.

But in what appears to be a strong contradiction of Moro’s position prisoner swap proposal by Boko Haram, Mr. Omeri, said the government is considering all options towards freeing the girls and reuniting them with their parents.

“The federal government has seen the online video reportedly issued by the Jama’atu Ahlul Sunna lidda’awati wal Jihad (Boko Haram sect) of the abducted Nigerian school girls who have been in captivity since April 15, 2014.

“Government is reviewing the content of the video and the accompanying statement issued by the sect.

“Government will continue to explore all options for the release and safe return of our girls back to their homes”, the chief orientation advocate stressed.

In what appeared to be a tacit denouncing of Moro’s position, Omeri said: “An earlier report n a section of the media purported to have been issued by Government is totally false”.

Although the NOA chief tactically avoided making reference to Moro, it was all too obvious the government was denouncing the interior minister who was the only official reported extensively to have announced the rejection of the Boko Haram offer by the authorities.

Speaking in Arabic and Hausa languages, Shekau said he was “seriously shocked by the outrage around the world” over the kidnapping, which he claimed was ‘commanded’ by God.

“All I’m saying is if you want us to release your girls that we kidnapped; you must release our brethren that are held in Borno, in Yobe, in Kano, in Kaduna, in Abuja, in Lagos, up to Enugu. We know that you have incarcerated our brethren all over this country (Nigeria).

“There are some of my brethren who have spent five complete years without seeing their wives, without seeing their children. For God’s sake, even for ensuring their release, will I not kidnap? After all Allah says I should kidnap.

“You that seized and detained my brethren for five years, you arrested and kept a woman without getting married for four, five years, you seized and hold our children.

“You did all these to us and today because we did what Allah already told us to do and you are busy making noise ‘Shekau has kidnapped this and that, he said he would sell’. Yes I will sell. I will sell.

“Those of them that have not accepted Islam, they are now gathered in numbers. They are staying with us. We will never release them until our brethren are released,” he said.

Also, reacting to the new development, the Borno state Governor, Kashim Shettima, who said he watched the video clip with very keen interest, expressed optimism about the video.

Consequently, the governor directed the transfer of the video into mobile storage devices under the care of some officials, including the Chairman of Chibok local government area, who have been given an immediate task of showing the videos to specific individuals.

Shettima, in a statement issued by his spokesman, Isa Umar Gusau, said the video should be re-produced and distributed to parents of the abducted girls, some of the freed students who know their abducted colleagues, teachers and management staff of their school, so that the girls in the video can be identified, to ascertain if they are part of the abducted students or otherwise.

“Already, some concerned individuals in Maiduguri and Abuja are, on the request of the governor, making efforts to contact parents and relations of some of the abducted girls who might be within reach, to get feedback regarding the video.

“Governor Shettima views the development as encouraging especially given the fact that some of the girls said they were not harmed. The governor hopes that the girls did not speak under duress”, the statement said.

Some parents and relations of the abducted schoolgirls also expressed delight yesterday over the new video clip released by the insurgents.

They said with the release of the purported video, their sleepless nights occasioned by worries and uncertainties over the fate of their daughters would drastically reduce.

One of the parents who spoke to newsmen on phone, Malam Awana Babagana, said with the release of the video, they now believe their daughters are still alive.

“I have not watched but I hope they are the ones. It gladdened my heart when I heard that they showed the video on BBC; that means they are still alive. I call on the federal government to do everything possible to secure their release; we also call on you and other Nigerians to join us in praying for the safe release of our daughters.

“The video has seriously reduced our cries and pains over the condition of our daughters. Initially, we thought some of them might have been killed or hurt. But we are now convinced that they’re indeed alive,” Babagana said.

Another parent, Mr. Bitrus Musa, said although he was unable to identify his daughter in the video, but said he is happy now to know the girls are still alive.

“I watched the video but I couldn’t identify my daughter. I hope they are the ones, we will keep on praying until they are released,” he said.

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