Deal on missing girls in doubt as Nigeria truce is breached

Boko Haram’s intentions unclear after fresh violence, but talks to continue

Nigerian newspapers with various front-page headlines on the Chibok girls and their possible release are displayed at a news stand in  the Nigerian capital, Abuja,  at the weekend.  Photograph: Reuters/Stringer

Nigerian newspapers with various front-page headlines on the Chibok girls and their possible release are displayed at a news stand in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, at the weekend. Photograph: Reuters/Stringer

 

A wave of violence soon after Nigeria’s government announced a truce with Boko Haram has raised doubts as to whether more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist militants will really be released.

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 northeastern village of Chibok in April. However Boko Haram has not confirmed the truce and there have been at least five attacks since, killing dozens. Security sources have blamed the insurgents for the deaths. Talks were scheduled to continue in 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,” 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, of whom he had not been heard before.

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

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

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 method of conveying messages is through videotaped speeches by a man claiming to be its leader, Abubakar Shekau.

A swift release of the girls would bode well for the campaign of President Goodluck Jonathan in the February 2015 elections. Mr Jonathan has faced relentless criticism for failing to protect civilians in the northeast. He is expected to declare he is running for a second elected term soon and the opposition is keen not to allow him to capitalise on efforts to free the girls.

Boko Haram is seen as the worst threat to the future of Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy and oil producer. However the military has scored some successes against Boko Haram over the past two weeks, wresting back territory near the northeast border with Cameroon.

Oby Ezekwesil, whose “Bring Back our Girls” campaign has highlighted daily protests in the capital Abuja, said she was “cautiously optimistic” but “extremely anxious, not knowing what the details of this ceasefire really are”.– (Reuters)