Boko Haram’s liberation of 21 Chibok girls raises ransom questions

The release on Thursday of 21 Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in April 2014 has raised new questions over the ongoing negotiations with the Islamist militant group for the hundreds of Nigerian girls who remain captives.

Conflicting reports emerged Friday about whether the first negotiated release of some of the 276 Chibok students kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014 involved a ransom payment, a prisoner swap for Islamist commanders, or both.

A Nigerian hostage negotiator who was not involved in Thursday’s release told The Associated Press that a “handsome ransom” in the millions of dollars was paid by Switzerland’s government on behalf of Nigerian authorities. But Swiss officials said no ransom had been paid, only confirming that they had played a neutral, humanitarian role in the operation.

“Switzerland never pays ransoms in cases of hostage-takings,” Jean-Marc Crevoisier, a spokesman for the Swiss foreign ministry, told the Associated Press in an e-mail Thursday.

Daily Trust, the most widely read newspaper in northern Nigeria, also reported a ransom was paid.

The Nigerian government did not comment on the ransom reports.

However, officials did deny AP reports citing Nigerian military officers that the 21 girls were swapped for four detained Boko Haram leaders.

“There was no exchange of any kind … No such thing took place,” said Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

Forced marriages and unwelcome returns

Nigerian authorities have said negotiations continue for the release of close to 200 Chibok girls who remain Boko Haram prisoners.

But while worldwide attention has focused largely on the Chibok girls, hundreds of other kidnapped men, women and children also face violence and sexual assault at the hands of Boko Haram.

Of the hundreds of Nigerians who have been kidnapped since the group launched an Islamist insurgency in 2009, a few dozen have escaped on their own. They tell horror stories of forced marriages, captivity in earth pits and witnessing brutal murders, the Los Angeles Times reported on Friday.

“I never liked him,” a 14-year-old girl named Yakaka told the newspaper of her forced marriage to a Boko Haram fighter. “I was forcefully married, and if I refused, I would have been killed. I did it to survive.”

Some of the women who escaped received very different treatment than the Chibok girls, who were treated by doctors and counselors after their release. Some women were placed in military detention camps, interrogated, and then sent to displacement camps, the Los Angeles Times said.

Others have reported being ostracised by relatives and neighbours after their escape because of their marriages to Boko Haram fighters.

A weakened Boko Haram?

Boko Haram may be losing ground, however. The group is much more fractured than it was at the time of the Chibok kidnapping, Omar Mahmood, a security researcher at South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies, told AFP on Friday.

At the start of October the Nigerian military launched operation Forest Storm, a large-scale offensive in the Sambisa forest, a Boko Haram stronghold.

The militants, which last year pledged loyalty to the Islamic State group, controlled a swathe of land around the size of Belgium at the start of 2015 but Nigeria’s army has since recaptured most of this territory. The group still stages suicide bombings in the northeast, as well as in neighbouring Niger and Cameroon.


Date created : 2016-10-15

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