Doubt over release of Nigerian schoolgirls

2014-10-19 19:19
(Sunday Alamba, AP)

(Sunday Alamba, AP)

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Lagos - Nigeria's announcement of a ceasefire with Boko Haram has surprised many and convinced few, particularly when talks with the militants on the possible release of 219 kidnapped schoolgirls had been at a frustrating standstill.

The insurgents have had the upper hand in fighting in the far northeast in recent months, reportedly seizing at least two dozen towns and villages as part of their quest to establish a hardline Islamic state.

And in the aftermath of Friday's declaration by Nigeria's military and presidency, reports of attacks continue to emerge, casting further doubts about the credibility of the ceasefire claim.

The announcement has been greeted with scepticism by security analysts, those with knowledge of previous negotiation attempts with Boko Haram and ordinary Nigerians suspicious about their government's motives.

"The kinds of claims have been made [by the government] a number of times before," said Shehu Sani, a lawyer and civil rights activist who has been involved in previous back channel talks.

Identity issues

The main question mark was the identity of the purported Boko Haram envoy, Danladi Ahmadu, who claimed to be the group's chief of security and to have been involved in talks to broker the deal.

"Danladi Ahmadu is NOT part of #BH Shura [ruling council] or speak for them as far as I know," said Ahmad Salkida, a Nigerian journalist said to have high-level contacts among the group's leaders.

He "does not speak" for Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, he wrote on Twitter on Friday.

Further doubts came after Ahmadu failed to announce explicitly that Boko Haram had agreed to a ceasefire or give concrete details about the girls' release in an interview broadcast on Voice of America radio's Hausa language service on Friday.

"It is not clear who the said Boko Haram negotiator is and whether he has the mandate of the entire group or just a faction of the entire group," said Nnamdi Obasi, Nigeria researcher for the International Crisis Group.

Talks and deals

Ordinarily, a clear statement about such a development would be expected from Shekau, who has previously refused to end the violence until strict Islamic law is imposed across northern Nigeria.

He has also said the schoolgirls would only be released if Nigeria agreed to a prisoner swap of jailed militants.

Talks on that issue broke down in recent months over Abuja's refusal to accept such a demand, several sources involved have indicated to AFP.

"There are no immediate details about what Boko Haram is getting out of the deal - and it is unlikely that it would give up all the girls for nothing," added Obasi.

"If we see Boko Haram getting a major prisoner swap as part of the deal, that would dampen some of the excitement."

Claims of amnesty deals in the past with Boko Haram to end the five years of violence have come to nothing and exposed the apparent factional nature of the group, several analysts noted.

Previous military statements about the conflict that have been contradicted by reports on the ground have also increased doubts.

In the days after the mass kidnapping, for example, defence officials maintained that most of the girls had escaped but were forced to retract.

Cynical politics

Many observers viewed the announcement as politically motivated, with President Goodluck Jonathan expected to announce that he will stand for re-election in coming weeks.

Positive news about the insurgency and the kidnapped girls - whether true or not - would likely give him and his ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) a political boost even if violence continues.

Ahmadu indicated in his interview that any further violence would be perpetrated by "hooligans and thieves" and not Boko Haram, which could sow enough doubt to get the government off the hook.

The timing also comes just days after the six-month anniversary of the girls' abduction, with renewed domestic and international attention on their plight.

But Ryan Cummings, chief analyst for sub-Saharan Africa at risk consultants Red24, said even if confirmed, Boko Haram's upholding of a ceasefire should be seen as temporary.

"Boko Haram has not been pressured in any way to lay down their arms and it remains highly unlikely that the Nigerian government would cede to all of the sect's demands," he said in an email exchange.

Read more on:    goodluck jonathan  |  nigeria  |  west africa  |  abductions  |  nigeria kidnappings

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