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, and on the basis of the present 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 chose 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 jeopardises 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 also 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 access to the leadership of both the “Jama’atu Ahlus-Sunna Lidda’Awati Wal Jihad,” and the “Islamic State West Africa Province” (both of which are called Boko Haram and are operating in the Lake Chad), to their use. And from my professional experience with both parties, namely the 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 till today’s dispensation has the government accepted a window of, say, two, three weeks and abided by it. Never! So we are dealing with insurgents who do not recognise your bureaucratic heritage and continue to shut out the windows each time the indicated timelines elapses. We are also dealing with political and security authorities that have never considered it expedient to do their housekeeping ahead of the acceptance of negotiation windows that are tied to timelines.
There is no point delving into much details at this point, but suffice it to state that both sides have their share of blame. My experience is that both the Buhari-led government and the preceding Jonathan administration desired a negotiated end to this imbroglio but neither did nor has shown any eagerness 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.
At least, today, I am probably the only one that has gone to the location of swaps with detainees and set my eyes on the girls in their early days in captivity, under a presidential cover to negotiate.
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. Lai Mohammed. I am a journalist, first, negotiation is secondary, and it is also my credibility and life that is at stake here, whether I chose to speak out or 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, a 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 have the series of engagements not been able to yield any meaningful outcome? I can 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 they don’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 bask 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 government or anyone representing 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 the location of swaps with detainees and set my eyes on the girls in their early days in captivity, under a presidential cover to negotiate.
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.
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 who 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 have even been 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 who made me to embark on self-exile in 2013.
I am from Borno State. This protracted crisis has affected me and my family 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.
Ahmad Salkida, a freelance journalist, is now back in Abuja.