Abduction of Nigerian schoolgirls becomes hostage stalemate situation
Experts from the US, Canada, Britain and China are assisting Nigerian authorities in the search for more than 200 school girls abducted a month ago by the militant Islamist sect, Boko Haram. The dynamics are complicated by the military’s own record of human rights violations. But while foreign and domestic officials focus on military action as the solution, the Nigerian government also has the option of dialogue with the militants. Sam Olukoya reports.
The search continued this week for hundreds of girls who were abducted from their dormitories at the government secondary school in the town of Chibok, in North Eastern Nigeria’s Borno State, with the United States deploying surveillance aircraft. Intelligence officials believe the girls are being held in the Sambisa forest which covers almost 40,000 square miles. If the girls are indeed held in the dense forest, a military rescue would be difficult without endangering the girls’ lives.
Child rights activist Betty Abah opposes a risky rescue operation when another option is on the table. “The government should do all that is necessary even if it seems like a form of compromise to ensure that these girls are first of all free before obviously they go for the jugular of Boko Haram,” she told FSRN.
In a video released Monday, a Boko Haram spokesperson offered to release the girls in exchange for its members held in both military and criminal detention. Tanimu Turaki, Special Duties Minister and head of a presidential committee set up last year to dialogue with Boko Haram, says past experience has made him skeptical of peace offers involving the release of the sect’s members from detention.
Turaki cites as an example a request made by Boko Haram for the government to release certain detainees ahead of coming to the negotiating table. “The committee made a presentation to government and then Mr. President immediately directed that all women and children that were then being held should be released and they were released,” recalls Turaki. “Did that bring an end to the issue of insurgency? No.”
Boko Haram backed out of last year’s negotiations after authorities released the detainees, mostly relatives of Boko Haram members, who were taken into custody as a pressure tactic.
Amid suspicion of Boko Haram’s willingness to keep its said of a hostage deal – and the risk of harm to the hostages in the event of military action – the situation seems to be stuck in an agonizing stalemate for the girls and their families.
French President Francois Hollande has offered to host a security summit in Paris over the weekend. Nigeria and its neighbors are expected to attend the summit which will focus on the Boko Haram insurgency.