Obasanjo initiates contact with Boko Haram to help #BringBackOurGirls

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo

A former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, has commenced efforts to reach out to the extremist Boko Haram sect, in a series of attempts at negotiating with the sect to free over 250 school girls it abducted more than a month ago from Chibok, in Borno State.

A source close to the former leader told PREMIUM TIMES Tuesday that Mr. Obasanjo has contacted a go-between, who assisted him in his unsuccessful attempt at mediating with the Boko Haram group in 2011.

The go-between, a lawyer, was led by a prominent civil rights activist, Shehu Sani, to meet with Mr. Obasanjo weekend in his Otta farm in an “exploratory” effort, our source said.

Mr. Obasanjo’s 2011 attempt at negotiations with the deadly sect ended on a bloody note with the murder of Babakura Fugu, the man who received him and made effort to establish a link between Boko Haram and the former president.

The effort was reportedly not at the instance of the federal government, officials said at the time.

Mr. Fugu, a brother-in-law of the slain leader of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf, was shot to death shortly after Mr. Obasanjo’s departure from Maiduguri, Borno State, where he had flown to seek peace talks with the group.

The attack ended one of the best known efforts at reaching out to the deadly sect, which is responsible for thousands of deaths.

Since 2011, the group has killed thousands more, and recently drew the outrage of the international community with the abduction of hundreds of girls from their dormitory in Chibok, Borno State.

After more than a month, the Nigerian military said Monday the locations of the girls have been established. The defence chief, Air Chief Marshal Alex Madeh, however ruled out the use of force to free the girls, citing the risk.

But the Nigerian government has insisted it will not negotiate with Boko Haram, which has asked to trade the abducted girls with detained members of the group.

Government insiders however say the administration is pushing for talks behind the scenes to free the girls. A spokesperson, Mike Omeri, who heads the National Orientation Agency, had also said all options were open to the government.

The source said government’s push is different from the move by Mr. Obasanjo.

He said Mr. Obasanjo is deeply disturbed by the insurgency and has recently come under local and international pressure to act and help free the girls.

Mr. Obasanjo wanted to first ascertain the whereabouts and availability of the lawyer who put him in touch with Mr. Fugu in 2011, and whether he would be willing to help.

Mr. Sani however helped tracked the lawyer down and then travelled with him to Abeokuta, the Ogun state capital for a meeting with Mr. Obasanjo.

Our source said the lawyer promised to help. But Mr. Obasanjo, who planned to brief President Goodluck Jonathan on his moves, requested the intermediary to establish preliminary contact and begin exploratory talks with the sect.

The former president requested the lawyer to provide him with regular feedback so he could brief Mr. Jonathan of his initiative and progress so far made on his return from a London trip.

When contacted Tuesday, Mr. Obasanjo declined comments on the matter. He only said, “What do you want me to do? Do you want me to fold my hands why this insurgency continue? How do you expect me to sleep well when these innocent girls are being held by their abductors?”