PREMIUM TIMES has obtained more details of the negotiations that led to the release of five kidnapped aid workers in Borno State
This newspaper broke the news of the release of the victims by a Boko Haram faction, ISWAP, on Wednesday.
The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, however, said only three of the five victims were aid workers. They were abducted on December 22.
Mr Kallon, who heads the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Nigeria, said he was “deeply relieved that some civilians, including three aid workers, who were abducted by non-state armed groups” last year, were released and are now safe.
Findings by this newspaper show that the two other civilians were private security officials working as consultants for some NGOs.
An official had earlier on Thursday explained to PREMIUM TIMES that the two men hid their identity and claimed to be working for IOM and Red Cross, to save their lives.
“It has been the tradition of Boko Haram not to spare the life of any security worker, be them from the military, police or private security guards,” the source said.
“They don’t have mercy on security operatives. They don’t even welcome any ransom payment, even if it was generously offered. They kill them at once.”
A top security official in Borno involved in the negotiations told PREMIUM TIMES that the negotiations were led by the State Security Service (SSS, also called DSS) and involved other security agencies and organisations.
“It was a multilateral collaboration by the security, a private negotiator and the humanitarian organizations whose staff were involved.
“Of course the DSS played a major role as a Nigeria security outfit that organised and supervised the deal to free the abductees,” the source said.
“But the actual negotiation process and how the five abductees were eventually released and picked from a bush location to Maiduguri is credited to one freelance, named Ahmad Salkida, ” the source added.
Mr Salkida, a Nigerian journalist, is known to have close contacts with the Boko Haram. He has written exclusive stories and reports about the sect’s activities and has been involved in past negotiations with the sect. But his relationship with members of the sect has also put him in conflict with security agencies, causing him to flee Nigeria at some point. Mr Salkida has however always stated that his relationship with the Boko Haram members is strictly professional, that of journalists and their sources.
Our security source also revealed that Wednesday’s release of the humanitarian workers would not have been feasible without the commitment of one of the international NGOs, Action for International Medical Alliance (ALIMA).
Two of ALIMA’s officials, Jennifer Samuel and Asabe Cletus, were among the released victims.
The source declined comments on whether ransom was paid.
He said ALIMA did not stand for only its two female staff but all five victims.
“Apart from the two men that that feigned being staff of IOM and Red Cross, the other male abductee works with Solidarity International as a watchman. So, basically, the negotiations were done because of the two females who would have been condemned to a life of slavery if the deadline given for the release had elapsed.”
Meeting the freed aid workers
The source said they had to allow Mr Salkida to embark on the trip alone as the insurgents insisted on no security escorts.
“You see, after all, was agreed, journalist Ahmad Salkida was trusted to go alone in an SUV to take delivery of the five abductees at a location mentioned by the insurgents.”
The source said though Mr Salkida was a bit afraid about his safety, being asked to drive alone, he had to be assured that military signal has been sent to all the military points on the way to allow the vehicle he was driving unfettered access on the highway.
“We understood the insurgents said the pickup location of the five humanitarians would be somewhere around Magumeri village,” the source said.
Magumeri is about 51km from Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.
“The insurgents had spelt it out that no security escort should be involved during the entire process of the negotiation up to when the release is carried out,” the source said.
“That was why we encouraged and allowed Salkida to go alone after they had assured us of his safety as well.
“It was a huge risk taken by the negotiator, Salkida, who is just a civilian. But he must see it as a patriotic service done to the country.”
When contacted, Mr Salkida appeared unwilling to speak on his role in the rescue, rather focussing on his profession.
“I’m primarily a journalist which is a noble profession with time tested heritage of professional ethics. I try in all my professional conduct to be very mindful of the ethical requirements of what I do.
“So, in effect, I’m afraid that I have nothing further to add to your request,” he said in reply to an enquiry by this reporter.
But our source said the journalist returned to the office of the SSS in Maiduguri at about 3 p.m. with the five released abductees all looking dishevelled and traumatised.
The source said from the debriefing of the five released abductees by officials of the SSS, it was learnt that the insurgents kept them at remote locations were other earlier abducted humanitarian workers were also kept. He said it took hours of driving to get to the point Mr Salkida picked them up.
The source said the freed humanitarian workers confirmed that two other female humanitarian workers, Grace Taku and Alice Loksha, a nurse, are still with the insurgents, have been converted to Islam and have taken Muslim names.
“It was shocking to hear that one of the female UNICEF medical personnel that was abducted in 2018 has been condemned to slave status and has been forced to head the medical team at the camp. They said she now provides medical care to the insurgents, like a medical doctor and sometimes she would be forced to perform cesarian sessions on women in labour,” the source said.
The senior security personnel said for “ISWAP or Boko Haram insurgents abducting female medical personnel is a win-win situation for them. They keep them for their medical service needs. Whether the government negotiates their release or not, they really do not care. But for any other non-medical professional, when the government fails to negotiate they kill them.”
The official also commended the negotiation tactics of the SSS.
“You see, the current negotiating platform which the present leadership of the DSS has created aligns with the military targets and objectives…it is not all about giving a huge amount of money,” he said.
The spokesperson of the SSS, Peter Afunnaya, did not respond to PREMIUM TIMES enquiry.
However, a Chinese news agency, Xinhua, quoted Mr Afunnaya as saying the rescue was done in “collaboration with other critical stakeholders in military and intelligence services.”
According to the narrative of the rescued aid workers during their debriefing, the ISWAP arm of Boko Haram waylaid them on their way to Maiduguri from Monguno in December.
“They said the insurgents were well dressed in full military uniform and kits,” the source narrated.
After asking where they were heading, the insurgents who spoke in English asked for their ID cards.
“It was when they began to show IDs that trouble started. Those that were found to be security personnel, both military and private were shot dead. Those working for NGOs were asked to standby.
“However, two other persons working with private security outfits hid their ID cards and pretended to work with Red Cross and Solidarity International.
“We understood that they had to do that to survive because the chances of survival are 50 over 50 when an abductee says he or she is a staff of an INGO,” the source said.