Violence jeopardises release of girls

A wave of violence hours after Nigeria’s government announced a truce with Boko Haram raised doubts yesterday about whether more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist militants will be released, deflating the hopes of their parents.

Nigeria’s armed forces chief Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh announced the ceasefire on Friday to enable the release of the girls, who were abducted from the remote north-eastern village of Chibok in April.

However, Boko Haram has not confirmed the truce and there have been at least five attacks since — blamed by security sources on the insurgents — that have killed dozens of people. Talks were scheduled to continue in neighbouring Chad today.

“We were jubilating. We had every reason to be happy... but since then the ceasefire has been broken in quite a number of places already,” said Lawan Abana, a parent of the one of the missing girls.

He added that there were doubts about the credentials of the reported Boko Haram negotiator Danladi Ahmadu, who was unheard of before.

“Can we trust him that he can deliver on this promise of releasing the girls when he has not delivered on the promise of the ceasefire?” Abana said.

The government says the attacks may not have been by Boko Haram but one of several criminal groups exploiting the chaos of its insurgency. Analysts point out that Boko Haram is heavily factionalised, so what matters is whether the faction the government is talking to has control over the girls’ fate.

“Boko Haram is deeply fractured,” risk consultancy Stratfor said in a note on Saturday. “The Nigerian government has had a difficult time identifying a Boko Haram representative who could make compromises and guarantee the entire group will observe them.

“It is quite possible that Abuja has reached an agreement with a legitimate representative of a specific cell that holds the kidnapped schoolgirls captive.”

Boko Haram, whose name translates roughly as ‘Western education is sinful’, has massacred thousands in a battle to carve an Islamic state out of religiously mixed Nigeria.

Its only known method of conveying messages is via videotaped speeches by a man claiming to be Abubakar Shekau, its leader, whom the military last year said it had killed.

Ahmed Salkida, a Nigerian journalist who was once close to Boko Haram and shared a jail cell with its founder, Mohammed Yusuf, in 2009, tweeted that, whoever Ahmadu is, he is not a member of Boko Haram’s senior Shura council nor does “he speak for them, as far as I know”.

A swift release of the girls would bode well for the campaign of President Goodluck Jonathan for February 2015 elections.

Jonathan has faced relentless criticism for failing to protect civilians in the north-east or resolve the kidnapping issue.


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