There are indications that the Federal Government has begun moves to exchange the Chibok girls with some Boko Haram.
According to Punch, as part of the moves, security agencies had started conducting a fresh profiling of the Boko Haram detainees in line with a directive of the Federal Government.
It was learnt the profiling would include the time they were arrested and the de-radicalisation programme they had undergone.
Findings showed that besides the military, the police, the Nigeria Prison Service, the office of the National Security Adviser and the Ministry of Justice would be involved in the swop talks.
It was gathered that although the government had not decided on the militants that would be released in exchange for the Chibok girls, insurgents, who had not been tried could be the first beneficiaries of the swop deal.
It was also learnt that detainees, who had undergone the “de-radicalisation” programme of the government, would be considered under the arrangement.
Investigations showed that the government had started addressing problems that could hinder the swop talks with the sect following its split early this month.
Boko Haram had, on August 3, 2016, split with ISIS naming Abu Musab al-Barnawi as the leader of the group.
But a few days later, the former leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, in a video, dismissed the appointment of the new leader and insisted that he remained the authentic leader of the group.
Shekau, in a video released on Sunday, said the sect was ready to exchange more than 200 girls abducted on April 14, 2014 at Chibok Secondary School for its fighters that were being detained by the Federal Government.
The PUNCH had exclusively reported on Tuesday that the Federal Government was in a dilemma over the faction of the sect it should hold talks with.
A top government officer, who confided in Saturday PUNCH, said that the government had started addressing the problem.
He said, “I can assure you that the government is identifying genuine members of the sect it is negotiating with. We won’t repeat the mistake the immediate past government made by talking with those who will not produce the girls.
“Government is not opposed to swopping. Other countries, including Israel, have done it. In fact, security agencies are conducting fresh profiling of the sect members that are being detained. That is the first move. If there are sect members that have not been tried, they will be the first set to be considered under the arrangement.”
Attempts to speak with the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, failed as he did not pick calls to his mobile telephone. Neither he nor his Special Adviser on Media, Mr. Segun Adeyemi, replied enquiries sent as text messages.
But the minister had on Sunday said that the government was in touch with members of the sect.
“The government is in touch with those behind the video. We are on top of the situation,” he had stated.
Military operations will continue —Defence headquarters
The Director of Defence Information, Brig.-Gen. Rabe Abubakar, has said that the military operations against Boko Haram will continue.
According to him, the military is profiling the arrested Boko Haram members.
He said, “The issue of dialogue rests with the political leadership of this county. If they decide, fine. But our own activities would surely go on in any security threatened location.”
Abubakar said the military would continue to search for the Chibok girls and other people abducted by the sect, adding that the armed forces were being professional in handling the issue.
He said, “Whatever the government wants is what we are going to do and we are very sure that we are doing enough to ensure that we push forth carefully, professionally and cautiously in order not to jeopardise the ongoing efforts by the military vis a vis the lives of our loved ones.
“We are being very careful. You know we are profiling all these people who we arrested or those who surrendered. We are profiling them properly. The issue of saying that they are going back to the bush does not even arise.
“The most important is that we are able to put them where they belong and put them under maximum care so that there would not be any apprehension.”
On the claim by the sect that some Chibok girls had been killed in military bombardment, he stated, “The Nigeria Air Force uses precision equipment against only registered targets. So, how are we going to randomly bomb where they are? The military is doing all it can without jeopardising their lives.”
Abubakar also commented on the latest video released by the sect. He said, “The person that appeared in the video is not Shekau. He is just a replica. He is just trying to work on the psychology of people. They all know that people know that we have completely dealt with these people so they are now doing this media war. That is what they are doing.”
When asked about the profiling and the number of Boko Haram detainees in prison custody, the Nigeria Prison Service spokesman, Francis Enobore, directed all inquiries to the military.
The DSS has yet to get a spokesman.
Experts ask FG to get credible negotiators
Some security experts have urged the Federal Government to involve credible people in the negotiation for the swopping of the Chibok school girls for Boko Haram detainees.
They also cautioned the government to consider national security before finalising a deal with the insurgents.
A retired Commissioner of Police, Abubakar Tsav, said that it was important for trusted and credible persons to be involved in the negotiations with the violent sect.
He said, “One thing the government could do is by asking the Boko Haram detainees that would be released to sign an agreement that they would not engage in violence after they are released, but if they did, the alternative is for military action against them to continue.”
Tsav said it was necessary to engage Boko Haram for the release of the 219 schoolgirls, whom he described as precious souls.
Another security analyst, Ben Okezie, said the proposed negotiation must involve the best hands in the security circle, including psychologists and criminologists.
While expressing reservations over the move to swop the girls for insurgents, Okezie cautioned the government against releasing hardened and unrepentant insurgents who he said would likely go back to the trenches.
“If you are going to release Boko Haram insurgents, now that they are trying to regroup, they would surely go back (to fight) and the insurgency will be worse than before,” he said.
A security expert, John Enweliku, said the Federal Government should first verify whether Boko Haram was serious about the swop deal.
He said if the group was serious about it, the government could then go ahead in the deal.
Enweliku, however, cautioned the Federal Government against negotiating with the wrong party.
He said, “The authenticity of the negotiation claim is the issue here. The other time when the Federal Government tried toeing the path of negotiation with the militants, they ended up meeting with the wrong party.
“Swopping the Boko Haram members for the Chibok girls is a welcome development. It happens even in advanced countries, but we should ensure we negotiate with the right people this time around.
“The girls’ lives are important, but the Federal Government should tread cautiously. Their abduction has brought pain to their families and to the country as a whole.
“And I am sure that with the present leadership of our various security agencies, they are capable of containing the activities of the militants when released.”
Also, a counter-terrorism expert based in the United States, Sunday Ogunlana, said it was not wrong for the Federal Government to swop the Chibok girls for Boko Haram detainees.
Ogunlana, however, cautioned the government against negotiating from the position of weakness.
He said, “If these people (Boko Haram) are sincere that they want to release the girls, I don’t see anything bad in the negotiation, but it should be done with caution. And the Federal Government also must be transparent about it. They have to tell us who is setting the rules of the negotiation? How many Boko Haram members are they swopping for the Chibok girls? Are we negotiating from a position of strength or weakness?
“If the girls are united with their families again, it is something good and no amount of sacrifice is too much to rescue them. Look at what happened in the United States few days ago, when the US sent $400m in cash to Iran to free four American hostages held in Iran. These countries will tell you they don’t negotiate with terrorists, but that they dialogue.
“We can try that as well. We have used force before and we are still using it, but it has not been working. So if truly the Chibok girls exist and they are still being held, the Federal Government should verify and negotiate with the right group, and this time around, from the position of strength.”
But a security consultant, Patrick Agbam, said the Federal Government should look for a new way to rescue the Chibok girls.
He said releasing Boko Haram members to the public again could create more security problems for the country in the future.
He said, “Everybody is eager to see the Chibok girls released to their families. Their lives are in danger now and they need to be rescued. It is very easy to say they should swop, but how are we sure that the Boko Haram members released will not create another problem in the future? Are we sure they will keep to their end of the deal? We should be cautious.
“We want to see the girls back, but I think the government should look for a new way to rescue the girls. When you release criminals, they will come back to haunt you.”