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Pulse Opinion The Miracle of Dapchi should relieve and worry Nigerians

The unknown cost of the release of the Dapchi girls should be a source of concern even while we 'celebrate'.

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Boko Haram buried 5 Dapchi girls in the bush play

A cross section of Dapchi schoolgirls released by Boko Haram terrorists

(NAN)

For a great portion of the past few months (or years, depending on who you ask), Nigerians have not had a great deal of good news to celebrate.

A 'soft target' Boko Haram attack here; a light corruption scandal there; a couple of herdsmen attacks claiming hundreds of lives everywhere, and even the most cheerful Nigerian will admit it has been a tumultuous few months.

That changed on Wednesday, March 21, 2018, when Boko Haram militants drove 104 students of the Government Girls Science and Technical Secondary School in Dapchi, Bursari Local Government Area of Yobe State back into the town after they abducted 110 of them on February 19, 2018.

The parents of the abducted girls and residents of the town were in a jubilant mood as they even reportedly acted a little familiar with some of the terrorists. It's a considerably great conclusion to a crisis that could have ended much more horribly.

As a forethought, there are going to be parts of this article where my humanity might be called into question; so for those that'll most certainly reach the wrong conclusion about my intentions, let me just state now that I'm extremely happy for all of the Dapchi schoolgirls that made their way back home to their parents after one month with terrorists.

With that out of the way, it should be time to audit the series of events that led us here, and what it all means in the big picture.

The Dapchi mess

When Boko Haram practically strolled into Dapchi with 18 gun trucks in February, they hauled away 110 schoolgirls with their ages ranging from 11 to 19 years.

When they strolled back in, again, into the town on Wednesday, they only returned with 104 of them and two other unknown hostages, a boy and a girl.

Dapchi schoolgirl tells Pulse how Boko Haram kidnapped 110 play Deserted dormitory of the Government Girls Science and Technical Secondary School in Dapchi after the girls were kidnapped (Pulse)

 

After the initial finger-pointing that followed their abduction last month, the confirmation of the girls' abduction brought back memories of when the same militants, of a different faction, invaded Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State and kidnapped 276 female students in April 2014.

Eager to avoid a repeat of the government's shambolic handling of the Chibok situation by a different leader, President Muhammadu Buhari swiftly announced that the government will negotiate for the release of the girls instead of pursuing military action that might endanger their lives.

Wednesday morning's surprising release is the result of that decision, but many Nigerians have not wasted time in asking the Federal Government what is the cost of this Boko Haram 'benevolence'.

The cost of Dapchi miracle

The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has been the face of the government in the handling of the release of the girls and he has had to battle a lot of questions about what the government had to give up to Boko Haram to secure the girls' release.

According to him, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

He has said and reiterated that the terrorists released the girls "unconditionally" after back-channel efforts and the help of some friends of the country.

With media reports indicating that the government might have paid around €5 million and released some terrorists to secure the girls' release, a familiar suspicion is spreading and it's going to be hard for Mohammed to quell it because we have been here before.

Lai Mohammed says Buhari was misquoted play Lai Mohammed has a history of alleged falsehoods with the Nigerian public (The Guardian Nigeria)

When Boko Haram released 82 Chibok girls in 2017 after an initial 21 were released the previous year, Mohammed was front and centre to dismiss reports that the government had paid the terrorist group.

"I can emphatically deny on behalf of the Federal Government that any form of ransom was paid in exchange for the release of the 82 Chibok girls," he said.

Months later in December 2017, a report by the Wall Street Journal insisted that President Buhari approved the sum of €1 million for the release of the initial 21 girls in October 2016, before approving another €2 million for the release of the 82 girls.

Even if that report was inaccurate, Mohammed did admit to a different kind of ransom that he refused to call what it was.

To secure the release of the girls, the government had to release five top Boko Haram commanders in what he called a prisoner swap.

Earlier this month, one of those commanders, Shuibu Moni, appeared in a propaganda video and taunted the government over the numerous claims that the terrorist group has been defeated and rooted out of Sambisa Forest.

4 policemen, 6 soldiers killed in Rann attack play

Boko Haram commander, Shuibu Moni

(Sahara Reporters)

 

He said, "They are spreading fake news around that they collected Sambisa and instructed people in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states (that they) should watch out for us.

"It is a lie. Where is this place we are in? Is it not Sambisa Forest? Just wait and see soon what will happen."

A history of blood money deals

When Buhari campaigned to be elected to his current position, security was one of his strongest concerns as Boko Haram attacks were commonplace; he even survived an attack himself.

With the Chibok incident happening around a year to the 2015 presidential election, Buhari pressed on the neck of the administration of then-president, Goodluck Jonathan, and used it to convince Nigerians of Jonathan's incapacity to deal with the problem.

Buhari touted his military past as proof of his pedigree to deal a decisive blow that'll be the end of Boko Haram if he was elected. The General would take no prisoners.

play President Buhari's overall handling of Boko Haram has left a little to be desired

 

It's only been three years into his tenure and the General has negotiated at least four high profile prisoner release deals with two different factions of Boko Haram.

Other than the deal to release some of the Chibok girls, the government also recently secured the release of three members of staff of the University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID) and another group of 10 policewomen in February 2018 after both parties were abducted by separate Boko Haram factions within the space of a month in 2017.

That same deal had raised eyebrows about what cost was incurred by the government especially since it appeared to have been coordinated with the warring factions of Abubakar Shekau and Abu Musab al-Barnawi.

ALSO READ: Why are we negotiating with dead terrorists, Mr President?

Even though the president ran on a mandate to crush Boko Haram into dust, he is starting to garner a reputation for being a financier in the form of clandestine ransom payments.

While many would often point out that "What is most important is that the girls are back and safe", the implications should make any right-thinking person realise how simplistic that is.

A house divided against itself

Shekau has long been known as the blood-hungry leader of Boko Haram since the group's insurgency escalated in 2009 after the extra-judicial killing of its founder, Mohammed Yusuf. However, the group has split up over the years into different factions.

This screen grab image taken on January 2, 2018 from a video released by Islamist group Boko Haram shows Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau speaking in his first video message in months play Abubakar Shekau has been responsible for much of Boko Haram's atrocities over the past nine years (BOKO HARAM/AFP/File)

 

The most notable faction apart from Shekau's is the one led by the deceased Yusuf's son, al-Barnawi, who has the backing of the global terrorist network, the Islamic State also known as, ISIS.

Al-Barnawi has reportedly been trying to build a base as influential as Shekau's and money does not harm his ambitions.

If the reports and suspicions of the government paying ransoms for these negotiations are to be believed, then al-Barnawi has received credit alerts from the Federal Government for two successive months for holding vulnerable people as hostages.

It should terrify Nigerians that they're living in a world where targeting schoolgirls and vulnerable Nigerians is perceived as an easy bargaining technique to squeeze money from the federal reserve. It should make it even more worrying that the government is more readily accommodating the practice and unwittingly encouraging it.

Which brings me to the calibre of prisoners that have been deemed worthy enough to be bargained for.

Who is worthy to be saved?

Nigeria's string of negotiation deals with Boko Haram has involved the Chibok girls, UNIMAID staff, the policewomen, and now, the Dapchi girls.

If there's any correlation between all of them, it's that they were abductions that have been heavily 'politicised' enough to keep the government on its toes.

The Bring Back Our Girls movement, championed by former Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili, has been a thorn in the government's flesh on the abductions of the Chibok girls, primarily, and the other abductions mentioned above.

In fact, the group is currently pursuing a legal suit against the government for gross negligence that led to the abduction of the Dapchi girls.

Basically, the history of the government's negotiated deals suggest that it only opts for that solution for abductions that appear to have political implications.

So, what happens to the hundreds of other people captured by Boko Haram all the time?

Out of the news cycle, out of mind

Around a week after the abduction in Dapchi happened, terrorists stormed Rann, a remote town in  Kala Balge local government area of Borno and killed six soldiers, four policemen, and three humanitarian workers.

They also reportedly abducted a yet-to-be ascertained number of people, including Hauwa Leman,  a 24-year-old nurse who was able to send a heartbreaking message of the abduction to a friend via Whatsapp just before she was taken away.

In the message, she said, "We are under attack in Rann. They are shooting everywhere please pray for me; please go and tell my parents that I am in trouble. Please, look for Fatima and tell her they are taking us away. They have entered here now…"

Last week, Hauwa 'sent a message' to her WhatsApp contacts urging them to 'return to the path of God'.

"O you people of this world, fear God, denounce infidelity. And if you don’t, Allah will give us victory over you and you will be among the misguided," the message read.

'We're under attack, pray for me', Boko Haram victim speaks play

Hauwa Leman

(The Cable)

 

It's common sense to conclude that Hauwa's phone was being operated by the terrorists to preach their message of intolerance, and that she's most probably in a place right now where she's dying to be saved; but who is negotiating for Hauwa's release? Is she politically-relevant enough to deserve the efforts of the government to secure her release and that of hundreds of people?

In December 2017, 700 farmers, fishermen and members of their families abducted by Boko Haram terrorists just escaped out of nowhere in the Lake Chad region, claiming that they were forced to be farm workers by the terrorists.

What this proves is that there are hundreds of captives just like these, and just like Hauwa, who are being held hostage by terrorists, and this makes a growing culture of ransom negotiations a dangerous, desperate path for the government to embark on.

Sure, the relatives of freed captives get reprieve and the government scores a 'quick win', but the gains the terrorists acquire in these deals are used to wreck more havoc and devastation in the lives of other Nigerians.

With the Federal Government's grandstanding about defeating Boko Haram, it is damaging that the group still commands enough influence to hold hostages and make demands from the government.

All Boko Haram has to do is carry out high-profile abductions and hope that they get big enough to get politicised and put the Federal Government in an uncomfortable position that'll mean negotiation and foreign currencies.

This almost always puts them in a strong position to make demands that should be getting laughed at, but are heeded by the government.

For instance, while maintaining that the government didn't pay any ransom for the Dapchi girls, Mohammed said the only demand Boko Haram insisted on was to drive the girls back to the scene of the abduction themselves.

Army offers Nigerians N5m reward for information on Boko Haram's bomb-making factories play

Nigerian soldiers fighting Boko Haram terrorists in northeast

(AFP/File)

 

So, to achieve this, troops of the Nigerian Army had to stand helplessly by as a bunch of terrorists drove dozens of kilometers into the heart of Dapchi to undo their atrocity by releasing the girls.

It has to register as one of the greatest embarrassments of any country's military in the modern history of fighting terrorism.

That Boko Haram could even be bold enough to make such an abominable demand means they know they have the upper hand in this psychological war that the government appears still massively unprepared for.

It's even more embarrassing when you think about the fact that President Buhari himself told Dapchi parents last week that he will make sure "Boko Haram meets its waterloo."

"We will not spare their members," he promised.

What will he say now to the parents of the six girls who have not returned with their mates, with five reported dead and the last one still held in captivity?

To remove all doubt, I am happy that 104 Dapchi girls are back, and their parents will undoubtedly not care about the bigger picture here because they are reunited with their children and that's all that matters to them.

However, the culture of caving in to terrorist demands for selected 'political' prisoners is not a good look for President Buhari or the country. You can either stick to your words and grind them to dust, or you can keep enriching them in money or in released commanders.

To those who believe Nigerians asking questions about the Miracle of Dapchi and the ugly culture it breeds are merely 'politicising' it, there is enough room to be happy about the girls' return and still question all of the government's failures that allowed the whole mess to happen to begin with.

With the Dapchi abduction, lightening has struck twice; and Nigerians should be worried that there's no guarantee it won't strike again.

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