The Federal government is in talks with Boko Haram about a possible ceasefire, Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed said yesterday.
According to him, the talks have been going on for some time.
He told reporters in Lagos that ”unknown to many, we have been in wider cessation-of-hostility talks with the insurgents for some time now”.
“The talks helped to secure the release of the police officers’ wives and the University of Maiduguri lecturers recently. The talks did not stop thereafter. Therefore, we were able to leverage the wider talks when the Dapchi girls were abducted,” Mohammed said.
He did not give details of the talks. The popular thinking is that it is likely that the government has been discussing with the Al Banawi faction, which is believed to have abducted the Dapchi schoolgirls.
The minister said the Federal Government would reinvigorate national security to prevent further abduction of school girls in the Northeast.
He said efforts to bring back the remaining Dapchi and Chibok girls safely through negotiation and dialogue would be intensified to draw the curtains on the sad episode.
Mohammed said the early release of abducted Dapchi girls had rekindled public belief in the government’s ability to rise to the occasion in the period of emergency.
He said: “This Administration remains committed to the fight against terrorism and insurgency. The security services have since been directed to put in place further measures around all schools vulnerable to attacks to ensure the safety of pupils/students and teachers and school workers. The President has also tasked all the security agencies to work to ensure that we do not witness any recurrence of these incidents.
“While the military efforts are necessarily ongoing, we are willing to continue engaging in a meaningful dialogue, which is not only about the release of hostages, but intended at a broader engagement on conflict mitigation, reduction of the violence, possibility of ceasefire, protection of civilians, and increased humanitarian access. Government is therefore willing to engage on measures which can lead to stopping the bloodshed and finding long-lasting solutions to the conflict.”
The minister lamented what he described as the politicisation of security by the opposition, urging the media to refrain from disseminating materials that may sabotage efforts to end the insurgency and secure the release of remaining girls.
He frowned at the fake news about an Army Sergeant, David Bako, who allegedly claimed that he was part of a conspiracy by the government to abduct the Dapchi girls.
Mohammed said: “This is a classic example of disinformation and fake news. I can tell you categorically that this David Bako is fake. There is no such soldier in the Nigerian Army.
“There was no conspiracy anywhere. The intention of those behind the disinformation and fake news is to cause disaffection between Christians and Muslims, and between Southerners and Northerners.”
Shedding light on how the Dapchi girls were released, the minister said their release followed an “intense back-channel engagement”, adding that the feat was achieved through the cooperation of a friendly country, international organisation and trusted facilitators.
He said 107 persons, comprising 105 Dapchi schoolgirls and two non-students, have been released by the insurgents, adding that six school girls were still with the abductors.
Mohammed maintained that the government neither paid ransom nor swapped any Boko Haram member to secure the girls’ release of the girls.
He added: “The insurgents brought the girls back to the location of the kidnapping themselves as an apparent gesture of goodwill, following relentless efforts by the government to find long-lasting solutions to the conflict.
“The insurgents decided to return the girls to where they picked them from as a goodwill gesture. All they demanded was a ceasefire that will grant them a safe corridor to drop the girls.
“Consequently, a week-long ceasefire was declared, starting from Monday, 19 March. That is why the insurgents were able to drop the girls. This counters the conspiracy theories being propounded in some quarters concerning why it was so easy for the insurgents to drop off the girls without being attacked by the military.”
The minister emphasised that the girls were freed early, following prompt proactive actions, including fact-finding by a government delegation, presidential directive to Service Chiefs and the Police Inspector-General to take charge and aerial surveillance of the area by the Air Force.
Mohammed chided the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for turning the national tragedy into a platform for dirty partisan politics, instead of forging unity in an atmosphere of sober reflection.
He added: “A terror attack on any country is an attack on all countries. Perhaps we should ask the PDP what, indeed, the party knows about the abduction of the Dapchi girls, going by its statement that their abduction and release were stage-managed. The party made itself a laughing stock within and outside Nigeria with that statement.”
“What called for non-partisan celebrations was rather thoughtlessly turned into politics, bad, despicable politics that has no place in any democracy.
“At times of national tragedies, countries unite. This is the norm everywhere.
“Indeed, there should be a new criterion for withdrawing the registration of a party like the PDP which has failed both as a ruling and an opposition party!
“If a party cannot rule and cannot be in opposition, what else can it do?’’ he said.