Fresh revelations yesterday indicated that the Boko Haram sect is willing to release the over 200 abducted Chibok schoolgirls in exchange for 70 of its members currently in detention.
The sect also maintained its earlier request for amnesty to its members.
The revelation was made known to Aljazeera English by a lawyer close to the terrorist group, Hajiya Aisha Wakil.
She said the sect told her that the request is the only conditions for release of the abducted girls.
Peoples Daily recalled that sect in April kidnapped over 200 female students in Government Secondary School Chibok, Borno State.
Out of the hundreds of girls lured into the insurgents’ vehicles, some managed to escape as they were being driven away while others later escaped from their captives’ den. The total number of escapees has been put at 57.
However, despite outcry from well-meaning Nigerians and international organisations, the sect remained adamant.
Hajia Wakil, who is also known as Mama Boko Haram, because of her closeness to members of the sect, said: “And they want to be given amnesty, rehabilitated, and allowed to come back home and move freely. I told them not to hold the girls as ransom and to give me the sick ones – and that was where we ended up. The girls are a growing burden to them, and if the demands are not met…”
While speaking on her relationship with the sect, the lawyer said: “I don’t agree with what they are doing, but I speak to them because I am their mother. Sometimes they call me Um el Salam [Arabic for mother of peace]. These are Nigeria’s lost boys. My hope is that the government listens to them.
“I’m still with them after all these years because I didn’t betray them. I didn’t betray the government. I didn’t betray the military – I’m just in the middle grasping for peace”.
On how the schoolgirls were being treated, Hajiya Wakil said: “I know that Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’ awatiwal-Jihad (original Boko Haram fighters led by Mohammed Yusuf) don’t touch women or elderly ones”.
But she added that Boko Haram had evolved over the years and the girls were abducted by members, who deviated from the sect founder’s original teachings.
“I have spoken to them about the girls and the situation to plead for their release. When this first happened, they told me the girls were well but some sick. They need medication. They are giving them antibiotics but they cannot buy food to feed them. They are attacking villages for supplies”.
Hajia Wakil, who was a member of the Sheik Ahmed Lemu-led Presidential Committee on Conflict Resolution, said she knew many members of the sect, especially those born in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.
“I know all the boys from here. I held them when they were born”.
Meanwhile, the Nigeria’s security agencies are hoping to cash in on the fast-approaching month of Ramadan to secure the release of the kidnapped schoolgirls.
Ramadan, expected to start by June 28, is the holiest month in Islamic calendar during which all Muslims are expected to be sober and exhibit more religious piety, a senior military officer told TheCable on Monday.
In the insurgents since their operation hardly struck during Ramadan. “We know the location of the girls. That is not the problem. The real issue is if we carry out any military operation to rescue them, it would be tragic,” he added. He said the Ramadan period offers a “rare opportunity” to secure the release of the girls who were abducted while writing their final exams.
The source did not expatiate on how the government hopes to use the Ramadan window to get the girls released ─ the official position is that there will be no negotiation with terrorists ─ but he hinted at some concessions being granted to the third party negotiators.
The government has been engaging with third-party or “back channel” negotiators to discuss with the Boko Haram leaders, according to various reports.
It was recently reported that President Goodluck Jonathan had initially agreed that some non-combatant Boko Haram sympathisers should be released in exchange for the girls but pulled the plug at the last minute. The story was neither denied nor confirmed by the federal government.
An Australian, Dr Stephen Davis, also said recently that he was involved in the negotiation for the release of the girls. He said the signs were encouraging, but there has been no progress reported since then.