Nigeria Ready to Hold Talks with Boko HaramMay 14, 2014 in Nigeria
Despite previously indicating that the Nigerian government would not negotiate with Boko Haram militants, on Tuesday, cabinet minister Tanimu Turaki stated that Nigeria is ready to talk to the Islamist militants in a bid to release the more than 200 schoolgirls who were abducted one month ago. The decision comes just one day after a video of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau was released. In the 27-minute video, Shekau states that captured girls who had not converted to Islam could be swapped for jailed fighters.
As the schoolgirls begin their second month in captivity, Nigeria’s cabinet minister Tanimu Turaki, who is the special duties minister and chairman of a committee established by President Goodluck Jonathan and tasked with finding ways of reaching an agreement with Boko Haram, stated Tuesday that if Shekau was sincere, he should send people he trusted to meet the standing committee on reconciliation. He has added, “dialogue is a key option” in bringing the crisis to an end and that “an issue of this nature can be resolved outside of violence.”
Tuesday’s announcement by the government’s cabinet minister demonstrates that the Nigerian government appears to be changing its stance in relation to dialogue with the militant group. The Nigerian government had initially suggested that there would be no negotiations with Boko Haram, however with increasing national and international pressure to locate the girls, who are believed to have been split up into smaller groups, it appears that the government is now looking at all the options in a bid to secure their release.
In terms of a possible prisoner swap, such arrangements have been organized before. In July 2013, one of the wives of Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau was released, along with the wives of other top commanders. Nigerian authorities have jailed several commanders, thousands of alleged fighters as well as wives and children fighters, all of which could be used to negotiate the release of the girls.
On Monday, a new Boko Haram video emerged, showing about 130 of the girls wearing hijabs and reciting Koranic verses. The governor of northeastern Borno state, Kashim Shettima, has indicated that those seen in the 27-minute video have been identified as the abducted schoolgirls from Chibok Secondary School.
While the more than 200 schoolgirls on Wednesday began their second month as Boko Haram hostages, lawmakers in Abuja are set to debate a request from President Goodluck Jonathan for a six-month extension to a state of emergency, which was first imposed in three northeastern states exactly one year ago. Given the apparent lack of progress in curbing the violence, after the state of emergency was imposed on 14 May 2013, President Jonathan is currently facing calls to explore a negotiated settlement. Despite initial gains from a surge of troops in the states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, tighter security along with measures including curfews and cutting the mobile phone networks appear to have been lost. Attacks have increased in the rural areas of the northeast, resulting in mounting civilian casualties. This year alone more than 1,500 civilians are estimated to have been killed. The Nigerian government has now been urged to improve its counter-insurgency tactics, including an increase in the use of intelligence, instead of just conventional means to defeat the militant fighters. Sources have also indicated that the head of the US Africa Command, General David Rodriguez, met with Nigeria’s top brass in Abuja on Monday in order to discuss the search as well as the overall military cooperation.