Contrary to President Goodluck Jonathan’s public stance that the government would not negotiate with terrorists for the release of the 200 plus schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram, the federal government has sought the assistance of three independent negotiators to assist with their release in a prisoner-for-girls swap deal.
The government had repeatedly rejected the option of negotiating with the insurgents who had demanded the release of their members detained in federal government facilities in exchange for the abducted schoolgirls.
But THISDAY was reliably informed that the presidency has engaged the services of Messrs Aliyu Teshaku, Ahmad Salkida and an Australian, Steve Davies, to negotiate the release of the girls.
Presidency sources, who spoke exclusively to THISDAY, said Teshaku, of the Tiv ethnic stock in Benue State, was once a Christian but converted to Islam many years ago.
According to the sources, he is believed to have once been an adherent of Boko Haram and was also believed to be its spokesman after Abu Qaqa was captured by security forces, but now only “maintains a close link” with the sect and acts as go-between for the government and the sect.
He is said to have been introduced to the presidency and the Borno State Government by the Inspector General of Police (IG), Mohammed Abubakar, two years ago as one person who had great influence on the Boko Haram leaders and could open up peace talks with the sect.
But despite the high profile recommendation and introduction of Teshaku, the Borno State Director of the State Security Service (SSS) at the time was said to have expressed reservations over the genuineness of Teshaku’s claims and ability to negotiate a peace deal with the sect.
He was also recently named by the Nigeria Police Force as the Coordinator of the Peace and Reconciliation Committee in the aftermath of the Tiv/Agatu clashes with Fulani herdsmen in Benue State.
Another person, a security source said, that had been approached by the presidency is Salkida, a Nigerian journalist who had worked for Daily Trust and Blue Print, both Abuja-based newspapers.
But Salkida was said to have been sacked from both media organisations, ostensibly for his perceived closeness to the Boko Haram sect, which caused him to compromise his professional handling of news reports in relation to the sect.
Owing to his position, security operatives soon went after him, forcing him to flee to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where he has operated from for some time.
He had also made claims of being close to the leadership of Boko Haram.
According to security sources, Salkida was taken recently to see the president at the Presidential Villa, where the modalities on negotiations were discussed.
The Borno-born Salkida was also reported by The Mail of London last Sunday of having been nominated by both the federal government and the insurgents to carry out negotiations for the prisoners-for-schoolgirls swap.
The Mail reported that but for the sudden reversal of the position of the federal government on the prisoner swap deal, the girls would have been released in the week Jonathan attended the security summit in France, as Sakida had begun negotiations with the terrorists on how to secure their freedom.
Described as the group’s (Boko Haram) most-trusted and unbiased go-between with the federal government, Salkida, who is said to be “probably the only civilian with access to Shekau”, has been fingered as one of the independent negotiators for the release of the girls.
The third negotiator approached by the federal government is the Australian-born Davies, who is said to be an experienced hostage negotiator.
Presidency sources said Davies is working in conjunction with Mrs. Aisha Wakil, who had presented herself as a mother figure of Boko Haram adherents and had repeatedly pleaded with them to stop their attacks.
Wakil, who is of Igbo parentage, married a northerner and converted to Islam several years ago.
However, her self-acclaimed closeness to the Boko Haram apparatchik has hardly paid off, as she failed last year to connect the Tanimu Turaki-led peace committee (of which she was a member) to the Boko Haram leadership when the committee went round the country seeking how to dialogue with the insurgents in a bid to end the violence.
That botched attempt made many to doubt her claims of closeness or “maternal influence” to the terrorists.
However, despite the frantic efforts being made by the government to negotiate the release of the girls behind the scenes, security sources have expressed concern over the effectiveness of the said negotiators to reach a deal with Boko Haram, as they are alleged to be pursing their own personal agendas and are more interested in the monetary gains from the swap.
One security source told THISDAY: “The demands for cash has spurred suspicions that the negotiators are merely interested in the monetary gains they can make during negotiations, thus reinforcing the suspicion that they may not actually be as close to Shekau as they claim.”
Also, eyebrows have been raised over the fact that the presidency has failed to involve the Borno State Government in the back door moves to negotiate the release of the girls.
Another security official who spoke to THISDAY said the Borno State Government had been kept out of the loop possibly because the federal government believes that the issue of security is its exclusive prerogative as provided in the constitution.
He however wondered how the federal government hopes to strike a deal with Boko Haram without the local knowledge and insight that could be provided by the Borno State Government.
Meanwhile, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Alex Badeh, has disclosed that the military has located the whereabouts of the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram over a month ago.
However, Badeh also raised the alarm that both external and internal forces were fuelling the insurgency, with the ultimate aim of destabilising the country.
The CDS said this yesterday in Abuja, while addressing a group of protesters – Citizens Initiative for Security Awareness (CISA) – who came to support the efforts of the Nigerian armed forces in its fight against the Boko Haram sect.
He assured the group that the military was determined to salvage the deteriorating security situation and would “bring sanity back into the country”.
“The military already knows the place where the over 200 schoolgirls that were abducted by the sect are being held. But we won’t be disclosing this. The military, however, cannot invade the place in order to prevent collateral damage but the girls would be brought back,” he said.
He added: “People have come to the realisation that we don’t have another military other than this one, and it is either you support your military or you look for anarchy. This war is not fought by the military alone, this war is fought by Nigerians. Nigeria is at war and everybody must have all hands on deck.”
While commenting on the recovery of arms and ammunition by the military in various parts of the country, he said: “We are recovering them and you know some of the arms we are recovering, they are very alien to the Nigerian armed forces which means there are people from outside fuelling this thing. When Mr. President said we have Al-Qaeda in West Africa, I believed him 100 per cent.
“Because I know people from outside Nigeria are involved in this war, they are fighting us, they want to destabilise us. This is our country and some people in this country are standing with the forces of darkness. But we must salvage our country. We must bring sanity back to our nation.”
Badeh, however, explained that the fight against insurgency was different from a full-scale war, saying: “If we are fighting an external war, they would have been begging us to withdraw, we proved it when we were in Liberia and Sierra Leone and we returned democracy back there.”
Speaking further on the girls, he said the “good news for the parents of the girls is that we know where they are, but we cannot tell you. We cannot tell you military secrets here, so just leave us alone to do our work. But we are working to get the girls back.
“We want our girls back, our military can do it, but where they are held, we cannot go there with force. So nobody should say the Nigerian military does not know what it is doing, as we cannot kill our girls in the name of getting them back. So we are working, the president has empowered us to do the work and for anybody castigating the Nigerian military there is something wrong with him.”