Published On : Monday, September 19 2016
DAKAR, Senegal — Two and a half years after more than 200 girls were kidnapped from a school in northeastern Nigeria, the government on Friday described for the first time the failed efforts to negotiate for their release.
Nigerian officials revealed that talks had been underway since July 2015 between the government and Boko Haram terrorists to gain the release of the girls taken from a school in Chibok. The talks began shortly after President Muhammadu Buhari took office.
Three times the negotiations were derailed, in one instance at the last minute even after the president agreed to free imprisoned Boko Haram fighters, according to a government statement. Another time, talks failed because key members of Boko Haram’s negotiating team were killed.
Mr. Buhari has been criticized by family members of the girls and by others who support them for failing to free the captives despite an offensive against Boko Haram that has killed numerous militants and forced others into hiding. The government’s decision to describe the attempts to free the girls appeared to be intended to quell criticism of its efforts on their behalf.
Activists had staged a two-week campaign to protest the government’s failure to keep them and family members informed about rescue efforts. On Friday, some activists said they were heartened by Mr. Buhari’s description of negotiation attempts.
“We welcome the communication, specifically factual communication, and hope this signals a period of continuous feedback,” said Aisha Yesufu, chairwoman of the strategy committee of the Nigerian advocacy group Bring Back Our Girls. “Every day we expect that is the day our Chibok girls will come back. And if they are not back, we expect the government to come out and tell us what they are doing.”
For years, Boko Haram’s insurgents have been waging a guerrilla war throughout parts of northern Nigeria and bordering countries that has killed thousands and displaced more than two million people. Though other groups of children have been kidnapped and massacred by the militants, the abduction of the Chibok girls gave rise to a social media campaign that drew international attention and attracted many well-known supporters, including Michelle Obama.
A few dozen girls escaped shortly after their capture in April 2014, and one more, Amina Ali, has been found since then. She is now being kept in protective custody in Abuja, the capital, government officials have said.
On Friday, Mr. Buhari’s government announced that it had opened negotiations with Boko Haram in July 2015.
Boko Haram demanded the release of prisoners involved in “major terrorist actions” and others who were explosives experts, the government said. Mr. Buhari agreed to those difficult demands, the government’s statement said, “believing that the overall release of these girls remains paramount and sacrosanct.”
On Aug. 4, 2015, the prisoners were taken to Maiduguri, a major city near the area where Boko Haram is active, to be in place for the handoff. But the plan fell apart.
“The group, just at the dying moments, issued new set of demands, never bargained for or discussed by the group before the movement to Maiduguri,” the statement said.
A new round of talks in November also broke down. A month later, renewed talks were thwarted by Boko Haram’s demands, which the government did not specify.
The government’s statement assured families of the girls that officials were still working for their release and appealed for their trust.
On Friday, some family members said they were skeptical of the descriptions of attempts to free their daughters.
“There’s been such promises since Day 1 of the abduction up till today,” said Esther Yakubu, the mother of Dorcas Yakubu, one of the kidnapped girls. “They have not done anything. If I see my baby back, I hold her arms, we embrace each other, then fine. But for now, I don’t think so.”