The biographer of “Muhammadu Buhari: The challenge of leadership in Nigeria,” Professor John Paden, revealed that the leadership of Boko Haram demanded 5 billion Euros as ransom for the release of the abducted girls, based on today’s exchange rate this comes to about 1.7 trillion Naira. Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Information, took it further in a recent press briefing. According to him, “on 4th August 2015, the persons who were to be part of the swap arrangements and all others involved in the operation were transported to Maiduguri, Borno State. This team, with the lead facilitator, continued the contact with the group holding the Chibok girls… All things were in place for the swap, which was mutually agreed. Expectations were high. Unfortunately, after more than two weeks of negotiation and bargains, the group, just at the dying moments, issued new set of demands, never bargained for or discussed by the group before the movement to Maiduguri.”
I am not sure I understand why our leaders choose to declassify important aspects of this negotiation when the girls are still in captivity, but I can categorically say that the claim of a demand of 5 billion Euros as published by President Buhari’s biographer gravely undermines the truth in a manner that jeopardizes the credibility of the Presidency. And while it is true that the captors of the Chibok girls have shifted the goal post several times when a swap deal was near, we must ask ourselves, what was responsible for the volatility that has denied the rest of the surviving Chibok girls and other captives’ freedom? How did I know this and write with such audacity? I was the only negotiator that was flown to Maiduguri with some detainees in an Air Force plane, and I stayed in the Maimalari military barracks for over three weeks with the detainees, trying to reach a deal, it was the window I presented that Lai Mohammed spoke about. The Nigerian security and political authorities have repeatedly called my professional assess with the leadership of both the “Jama’atu Ahlus-Sunna Lidda’Awati Wal-Jihad,” and the “Islamic State West Africa Province,” both are called Boko Haram that are operating in the Lake Chad, to their use. And from my professional experience with both parties, namely government authorities and the insurgents, I can state that these abducted girls would long have returned home if political and security officials in government have shown better understanding of what is at play. However, the insurgents are heavily rigid, and would normally give windows that are tied to timelines. Never, even from the days of former President Goodluck Jonathan to today’s dispensation has government accepted a window of say two, three weeks and abide by it. Never!!! So we are dealing with insurgents who do not recognize your bureaucratic heritage and continue to shut out the windows each time the indicated timelines elapsed, and also dealing with political and security authorities that never considered it expedient to do their housekeeping ahead of acceptance of negotiation windows that are tied to timelines.
There is no point to delve into much detail at this point, but suffice it to state that both sides have their share of the blame. My experience is that both the Buhari led government and the preceding Jonathan administration desired a negotiated end to this imbroglio, but none has ever showed any hunger in tracking the footprints and understanding the tendencies of the enemy. Left to each, the negotiator would be directed or ordered to go tell those insurgents to bring over those girls before dinner time. That has always been the attitude.
Ordinarily, I would have never joined issues with the government on such a sensitive matter or disclosed all these, but the issues have already been declassified by Mr. Mohammed. I am a journalist, negotiation is secondary, and it is also my credibility and life that is at stake here whether I chose to speak out or chose to remain silent. I was not only involved in one or two attempts to free the Chibok girls with the current government, but on three separate occasions and even as recently as May/June, 2016, few months before I was declared wanted for allegedly refusing to cooperate with the same government and for having “links to terrorism” by the Nigerian Army. On each of these occasions, I have always been involved on invitation by the government. Never mind if you ended up being stranded for their failure to pick up requisite bills related to the very reason for which you were invited.
So why has the series of engagements not been able to yield any meaningful outcome? I can imagine only advice officials on the strength of their convictions and motivations. I cannot force government neither can I force the leadership of the insurgents to do what it doesn’t want to do. Worse, there is a clique of vested interests that can scare anyone into silence within and around government; they have exploited my silence to develop a false narrative. There is so much misinformation that officials have weaved and made members of the public to be basking in.
Have I been made rich by my service in this respect? I just mentioned above that hardly was there any time I was invited by the Federal government that I was not compelled to borrow money to tidy up basic bills in the course of my assignment. In all the revelations about who pocketed what, it would have been necessary to open the books to where Salkida received that atrocious sum from the government or anyone representing the government. Today, I am stranded with my family in Abuja, after I was declared wanted for my decade-long professional relationship with the leadership of the insurgents, a relationship the government took advantage of several times. At least, today, I am probably the only one that has gone to location of swaps with detainees and had set my eyes on the girls in their early days in captivity, under a presidential cover to negotiate.
It is possible for Nigerians who hear or read of the outlandish sum quoted by Buhari’s biographer as demand for ransom to take liberty in linking such figure with today’s publicly known negotiator. Therefore, it would be a great thing if officials of government in line with the declassifying process also let Nigerians know how they came about such figure as a ransom demand by the insurgents. I want to categorically state here that there are many people that can negotiate an end to this debacle and it is also not beyond the bounds of possibility to rescue the girls militarily.
I am today being treated as an enemy of the state and denied the official communication to return to the UAE and continue my hustle. I was even denied my international passport as I write this article, worse still; I was denied any form of official intervention to settle down in my own country after I lost everything and returned to Nigeria. I am being deliberately strangulated by the same officials that made me to embark on self-exile in 2013.
I am from Borno State. This protracted crisis has affected my family and me directly. I have no stake in it other than to be able to return home and live peacefully there. If I die today, as my life is clearly in danger, my death will be a peaceful one because so far it is integrity that has saved me from snares of the powerful officials who run businesses that are tied to the spiralling bloodbath.
Salkida is a freelance journalist, now back in Abuja.