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Published On: Wed, May 28th, 2014

Chibok girls: Obasanjo ‘in talks with Boko Haram’

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  • Cameroon sends 1,000 troops to Nigeria border

By Lawrence Olaoye, with agency reports

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has begun talks with people perceived to be close to the Boko Haram with a view to negotiating the release of the over 200 girls abducted in Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno state.

This is coming even as reports indicate that President Goodluck Jonathan has received a video wherein the kidnapped girls were begging him to accept the insurgents’ offer of prisoner swap for their release.

A source close to Obasanjo’s negotiation effort told Agence France Presse (AFP) that the meeting took place last weekend at Obasanjo’s farm, Ogun state and included relatives of some senior Boko Haram fighters as well as intermediaries.

According to the report, “The meeting was focused on how to free the girls through negotiation”.

Obasanjo, according to a related report, is deeply worried by the negative image that the abduction and the federal government’s glaring failure to free the girls was giving Nigeria.

“Mr. Obasanjo is very worried that this kidnapping is casting Nigeria in a bad light, and is also uncomfortable with Nigeria inviting other outside nations to assist,” another source told The Telegraph, a British newspaper.

Obasanjo, had previously sought to negotiate with the insurgents in September 2011, after Boko Haram bombed the United Nations (UN) office in Abuja.

That time, he flew to Maiduguri, then a stronghold of the Boko Haram to meet relatives of former leader of the sect, Mohammed Yusuf, who was killed in police custody in 2009.

The 2011 talks did not help stem the violence and some at the time doubted if Obasanjo was dealing with people who were legitimately capable of negotiating a ceasefire.

Spokesmen for the former head of state, who remains an influential figure in Nigerian politics, could not be reached to comment on the latest reported Boko Haram talks.

But a source told AFP that Obasanjo had voiced concern about Nigeria’s acceptance of foreign military personnel to help rescue the girls.

Meanwhile, a source close to the insurgents told The Telegraph that a video clip of the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in which they beg Jonathan to spare their lives through a prisoner swap has been sent to the president.

The video was said to have been handed to the president’s office by an intermediary who started a dialogue with the group two weeks ago. The intermediary, a Nigerian journalist, allegedly obtained the video as a way of proving to the president that he had authentic lines of communication with Boko Haram’s leaders.

In a related development, Cameroon has announced deployment of some 1,000 troops and armoured vehicles to its border region with Nigeria as it steps up its military presence to counter a rising threat from Boko Haram, a spokesman for that country’s defence ministry said yesterday.

Lieutenant Colonel Didier Badjeck said about 1,000 Special Forces of Cameroon’s rapid intervention brigade (BIR) left the capital on Monday. Several new generation armoured vehicles were deployed three days earlier, he said.

“Their mission will be to carry out reconnaissance and be ready to respond with enough fire power,” Badjeck told Reuters by telephone from Yaounde. “They are patrolling in northern region at the moment”, he added.

Badjeck said the deployment was part of Cameroon’s effort to increase its military presence in the border region. It had already deployed an additional 700 troops under a joint regional effort to fight Boko Haram, announced in March.

Nigeria has in the past complained that Cameroon was not doing enough to secure its Far North region which it said is being used by Boko Haram militants to shelter from a Nigerian military offensive and to transport weapons.

Leaders of Nigeria and neighbouring Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin met in Paris on May 17 with Western officials to flesh out a plan to coordinate their actions against the militant group, which they said threatens the security of the whole region.

Boko Haram is suspected of attacking a Chinese workers camp in northern Cameroon this month. Ten Chinese workers are still missing following the attack.

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