The failed high level negotiations between Boko Haram leaders and the Nigerian government team, led by a former Minister of Information, Edwin Clark, would have seen the country swapping 16 detained terrorists for 220 Chibok girls, PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively report today.
The names submitted for the swap are said to contain mainly the sect’s middle commanders who are being detained in various detention centres across the country.
3 Baba Gana Mongunu
4.Mallam Bashir Kachallah
6. Mallam Baba Gana
7. Mallam Baba Mala
8. Mallam Abakar
9. Mallam Ibrahim
10. Mallam Awana
11. Mallam Yarema
12. Mallam Albani Jos
13. Mallam Tuja.
Sources close to the negotiation said there are three other insurgents whose names were communicated through telephone calls, during later discussions, directly to representatives of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, who facilitated the talks.
Two names were initially sent but shortly afterwards, one more was called in making a total of 16.
As we reported Thursday, after weeks of tough negotiations, the government and Boko Haram sides finally accepted to what famously came to be dubbed the “prisoner swap” of the Chibok girls with some commanders of the Boko Haram fighting forces.
Insiders to the talk said the insurgents were “initially modest in their demands, asking for just 10 of their field captains who appear to have a holding grip on the imagination of the fighting forces.” At this time, this was against the whole abducted girls.
While the security forces were combing detention centres, shopping for the 10 detainees, our sources say something strange happened, suggesting internal struggles in the camp of the insurgency forces.
Our sources understood the “happening” to be a factional disagreement on the ethnic composition of the 10 names tabled for the swap. “They were all of Kanuri nationality and it appeared the Hausa/Fulani faction protested this.”
The result of this disagreement was about one week delay in the negotiations after which a “new list of 15 was tabled, and then it was increased to 16”.
The ICRC was then working with security forces to identify the names on the list. In this period, it wasn’t clear if security forces had all the names in demand, a situation that triggered a new frustration in the talks, according to our sources. Were they never captured or were they killed in battle or extra-judicially?
Our sources said some of those identified insisted that although they were being held by Nigerian security forces based on allegations of being Boko Haram members, they were not terrorists or members of the sect and would never agree to a release based on prisoner swap arrangement with the deadly group.
This development, according to one of our sources, led discussions along a frozen path. “We almost lost 10 days again to this but after a meeting at the Kuje prisons, near Abuja, where Mustapha Umar, one of the commanders on the list was held, the government team saw a new ray of hope.”
However, distrust was now building and the team of two Boko Haram negotiators switched the terms of demand from 16 sect commanders for all the girls, to only 30 girls.
But Mr. Clark, according to our sources, told them there was no realism in their demands and that if they so cherished their compatriots, the smartest deal for them was to release all the girls. At any rate, Mr. Clark reportedly argued that such a deal would put President Jonathan at the butt of a new wave of criticism and provide fodder for the opposition. So this was not acceptable, he reportedly insisted.
“Swap is not our idea but the idea of the government,“ the Boko Haram negotiators initially argued, trying to insist on the high road, but they later deferred to the age of Mr. Clark, according to our sources.
At this point also, the ICRC team clarified the terms of their engagement, insisting that before the swaps, they would need clear commitments from the abducted girls and the detained fighters. “Prisoners and the girls must offer consent before the deal can be closed” ICRC insisted. To get the consent of the girls the ICRC said they were prepared to risk going into the enclave of the insurgency.
The Boko Haram negotiators reportedly said they were comfortable with this, and that it will also help “dispel the claims that the girls were being maltreated or that they have been forced into marriage which will shock many people when the girls return.”
With the Abuja negotiations sealed, Yola, the Adamawa state capital, was agreed as the point of swap. Government negotiators favoured a discreet arrangement where they would sneak into Yola, the Red Cross would take custody of the girls, and in turn yield the Boko Haram detainees to them and conclude the swap.
The management of the Yola episode, according to our sources, put paid to the whole arrangement. The government, in an exuberant show of enthusiasm chartered a Boeing 737 jet to convey the girls to Abuja from Yola. What was thought to be a discreet arrangement turned into a fantasia and loud orchestra show. Moreover, “when we arrived Yola, half of the airport was covered with security forces” noted one of the insiders to the deal.
“Then they moved negotiators to the presidential lounge for a two-hour wait…then 48 hours in the hotel…but Yola had been infiltrated by these people and the security presence sent a wrong signal…clearly these people didn’t trust the arrangement and they never showed up.”
Apart from Mr. Clark, others who participated in the negotiation were two notable Nigerian civil rights leaders, Fred Eno, and Shehu Sani, Maiduguri-based lawyer, Mustapha Zanna, and PDP chieftain, Kaka Bolori, along with three top officials of the International Red Cross headquarters office in Geneva which served as the “interface” negotiators, and two field captains of the Boko Haram sect.
When contacted Wednesday, some of the principal actors in the collapsed negotiation declined to provide details, saying it’s still premature to divulge “sensitive details”.
“The whole thing is unfortunate, but hopefully we can revive the negotiations,” one of the negotiators, Fred Eno, told PREMIUM TIMES. “The president desperately wanted the girls released, but politics of positioning stood in the way of progress.”
The President of the Kaduna-based Civil Rights Congress, Shehu Sani, insisted he was not comfortable discussing the matter at this time, suggesting that it was irrelevant talking about what worked and what didn’t work at least until the girls are rescued.
Mr. Clark did not answer or return calls made to his telephone on Thursday morning. He also did not respond to a text message sent to him.
Benoit Matsha-Carpentier, the Senior Media Officer for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, was also unavailable Thursday morning. He is yet to return calls made to him.
Spokespersons for the Nigerian presidency were also unavailable to provide insight regarding why the administration acted the way it did in the final minutes of the negotiation. Reuben Abati, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, as well as Doyin Okupe, the senior special assistant on Public Affairs, didn’t answer or return calls Thursday morning.
The over 200 girls, mostly teenagers, were kidnapped from their secondary school in Chibok, Borno State, on April 14.