Why are we negotiating with dead terrorists, Mr President?
The president's administration has confused Nigerians about the terrorist group's status.
From President Muhammadu Buhari himself, to the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, and the Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, Major-General Rogers Nicholas, the tune has been the same: Boko Haram is dead and buried.
From the president claiming the group had been "technically defeated" in 2015, to describing the army's takeover of the group's primary base in Sambisa Forest as the "final crushing of Boko Haram terrorists in their last enclave" in 2016, the president has always talked tough on the army's success.
On February 3, Maj-Gen Nicholas had also boasted about Boko Haram's complete defeat.
"We have broken the heart and soul of Shekau’s group, taking over the camp and its environs. My soldiers are in the heart of Boko Haram enclave that is Camp Zairo. The gallant troops have taken total control of Sambisa forest," he said.
Weeks prior, the Director of Army Public Relations, Brigadier-General Sani Usman, had disclosed how Shekau was in a terrible state of health and how the army had started focusing some of its attention on another influential factional terrorist leader, Abu Musab al-Barnawi.
There's an overwhelming amount of evidence of self-appraisal from the government for a reasonable person to draw the conclusion that Boko Haram is truly, completely dead.
Actual evidence suggests that might be a premature leap.
Release of prisoners
On February 10, the Federal Government secured the release of 3 members of staff of the University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID) and 10 other police women abducted by Boko Haram within the space of a month in 2017.
In July, the lecturers were abducted during an oil exploration trip in Barno Yasu area of the Magumeri Local Government Area of Borno State near the Lake Chad region.
The attack was one of the group's most gruesome attacks in 2017, as at least 69 people, including soldiers and civilians, died as a result of the ambush.
A month earlier, the women were also ambushed by militants on the Maiduguri-Biu highway as they were part of a police convoy on their way to bury a deceased colleague.
The women's abduction had been a little bit controversial as police authorities kept being evasive about the nature of the abduction, despite Shekau's boasts and display of his victims in a couple of videos.
History of terrorist deals
As part of his campaign promise to ensure the safe return of all the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram from Chibok in 2014, President Buhari has secured the release of 103 girls.
While the details of the negotiation for their release were kept sketchy by the government, reports indicated that it was a prisoner exchange that resulted in the release of five Boko Haram commanders going the other way.
In a report that was published by the Wall Street Journal in December 2017, Nigerians discovered that the deal took so much more.
According to the report, the president approved the payment of €3 million to the terrorists to facilitate the release.
He approved the sum of €1 million for the release of 21 schoolgirls in October 2016, before approving another €2 million for the release of a further 82 girls in May 2017.
The WSJ report indicated that even though the president was not happy with the deal, he hoped that it would be a great step towards negotiating peace with the terrorist group.
The report read, "The President was eager for a victory. He also loathed the idea of paying Boko Haram. No one knew if he would sign off.
"In the end, he approved the deal, with a condition: He insisted that any money that reached Boko Haram would be a step toward a comprehensive peace agreement."
Is the FG 'funding' Boko Haram
Make no mistake about the fact that the release of the new set of prisoners did not come cheap for the Federal Government.
Boko Haram didn't just release them out of the goodness of their hearts, especially not with the media annihilation they've had to endure from the government.
This is made even more plausible by the fact that the Federal Government had to negotiate with two different factions to secure the release of the two abducted parties.
While Shekau's faction abducted the women, al-Barnawi's faction had kidnapped the men.
For the Federal Government to negotiate what appears to be a drawn out negotiation process with two factions that don't see eye to eye must be quite a feat made possible by incentives it is not eager to make public.
What did it take this time? A couple million euros? Another set of imprisoned Boko Haram commanders deemed safe enough to return to the insurgent fold? The options are all incredibly sour.
Pros and cons
The problem here is not that the Buhari-led Federal Government negotiated the release of 13 people who have been the unfortunate victims of terrorist abduction, the issue is that the Federal Government, led by Buhari, has refused to be completely honest about its dealings and bragged and postured publicly about the complete annihilation of its mortal enemy to whose table it still returns to make deals from a position of considerable weakness.
While the government continues to inaccurately report the extent of the destruction of Boko Haram in the media, the grim reality is that the group still holds a lot of sway.
This means that while the government harps on the fact that they are on the run, the group, split into at least two warring factions, continue to hold onto their kidnap victims.
More alarmingly, the government has only negotiated deals for the release of victims that have appeared to hold some sort of political relevance.
Over 700 people abducted by Boko Haram escaped from their captors due to the intensified onslaught against the insurgents under Operation Deep Punch II which weakened their positions and enabled the captives to escape.
According to the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, earlier in February, no fewer than 30,000 women and children have been rescued from Boko Haram by the troops of Operation Lafiya Dole in Sambisa Forest in the past two years.
These are staggering numbers that hint at a bigger problem than the Federal Government is painting as there's no way to even reliably estimate how many hostages the group is holding.
What is Boko Haram's status?
It'll be a disservice to the soldiers on the front lines to ignore the obvious fact that the war against Boko Haram's insurgency has been a considerably successful one, especially since Buhari's inauguration in 2015.
However, it would appear the present administration has resorted to politicising its military campaign by stretching the imagination a little too thin.
There's no way of determining how strong Boko Haram currently is except for what the army says, but it appears to have, at least, two operational factions that are negotiating deals with the government.
It appears to be strong enough for the government to pull $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account to intensify its operations against it.
Boko Haram's nine-year insurgency has been a really dark chapter in Nigeria's history of trial and error, and some of its ugliness have been caused by one government misstep or the other.
While President Buhari and his cohorts keep toeing the same line proclaiming the absolute death of Boko Haram, the stark evidence to the contrary makes it demonstrably false.
So which is it, Mr President? Is Boko Haram completely dead, or does it still have just enough pulse to hold the country to ransom?
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