Optimism grows over Nigerian ceasefire deal with Boko Haram

Move could pave way for release of more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls

A student who escaped when Boko Haram rebels stormed a school  identifies her schoolmates in  a video released by the Islamist rebel group last  May. File Photograph: Reuters

A student who escaped when Boko Haram rebels stormed a school identifies her schoolmates in a video released by the Islamist rebel group last May. File Photograph: Reuters


People in the home town of more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls are cautiously optimistic about a ceasefire with the Islamic extremists who abducted their daughters six months ago.

“We don’t know how true it is until we prove it,” Bana Lawan, chairman of the Chibok local government area, said.

“We will know the negotiations were successful when we see the girls physically. And then we will know it is true. And then we will celebrate.”

Community leader Pogu Bitrus said “people rejoiced, but with caution” after the military announced the ceasefire with the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram on Friday.

“We are waiting, hoping that it is really true and that the people who negotiated on Boko Haram’s side, that they are the genuine leaders.”

But even as the community leaders were speaking, Boko Haram fighters were attacking another town in Borno state about120 km southwest of Chibok.

The militants struck the town of Shaffa first on Friday, killing at least eight residents, wounding several more and putting hundreds of people to flight, according to residents who escaped.

Yesterday morning, as members of a civilian self-defence group were collecting the bodies of victims, the insurgents struck again. Many were killed, including at least one extremist, residents said.

Several villagers were beheaded in another Boko Haram attack on Friday on Abadam, an isolated town on the border with Niger. Among the victims was the septuagenarian father of a local politician, resident Aminu Abdullahi said.

“Boko Haram have taken over Abadam. They ... hoisted their flags on Friday after killing many prominent people and forcing others to cross over to Niger,” he said.

There has been no official announcement from Boko Haram of a ceasefire, and it could take days to get word out to fighters in the field split into different groups under various commanders.

Communications in Nigeria are poor at the best of times. There are no landline telephones and often patchy mobile phone service frequently is cut by the military in areas of operation.

In Chibok, the community leaders said people are sceptical of the government’s ceasefire announcement because they have been disappointed too many times in the past by reports of progress by Nigeria’s government and military.

Some reports said the truce includes an agreement to free the girls abducted from Chibok

But government spokesman Mike Omeri would say only that authorities are “inching closer to the release of the Chibok girls”.

He said talks will resume in Chad next week.

On Friday, French president Francois Hollande welcomed the “good news” and said the girls’ release “could happen in the coming hours and days”.

France has been involved in negotiations that led to the release of several of its citizens kidnapped by Boko Haram in Cameroon.

Boko Haram - the group’s nickname means “education is sinful”- drew international condemnation with the April kidnapping of 276 girls and young women from a boarding school in the remote north-eastern town of Chibok.

Dozens escaped in the first couple of days, but 219 remain missing.

Boko Haram had been demanding the release of detained extremists but Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan originally said he could not countenance a prisoner swap.

Yesterday, an official at the presidency said the current negotiations are about releasing Boko Haram members in exchange for the girls.