President Muhammadu Buhari has expressed his readiness to swap Boko Haram prisoners for the release of about 200 abducted Chibok school girls if those coming for the swap could provide evidence they have the girls. He also said the sect could choose any NGO it prefers to mediate the swap.
The girls were abducted from their dormitory in April 2014 by Boko Haram sect members and their whereabouts have remained unknown since then.
But recently the sect in a video showed the Chibok girls and indicated their readiness to release them in exchange for their members arrested by the Nigerian army.
Parents of the abducted girls identified their wards in that video. The parents of the girls a few days ago pleaded with the government to swap the Boko Haram prisoners for the release of their girls.
Speaking in Nairobi, Kenya where he was attending an international conference on African development organised by Japan, President Buhari said on Sunday that the government would be ready to swap the prisoners for the girls.
He also said Nigeria would let Boko Haram choose a non-profit organization as an intermediary in any talks on the release of the schoolgirls.
Buhari first said last year that his government was ready to negotiate with Islamist militants Boko Haram over the girls, but the group has not commented on the proposal.
Nigeria’s failure to find the kidnapped children prompted an outcry at home and abroad. Critics of Buhari’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, said his government was too slow to act.
Any negotiations, according to Reuters, would be the first publicly-known talks between the government and Boko Haram, whose seven-year insurgency to create an Islamic state in the northeast has killed 15,000 people.
“The government which I preside over is prepared to talk to bona fide leaders of Boko Haram,” Buhari told reporters at the conference, in comments later issued in an official statement.
“If they do not want to talk to us directly, let them pick an internationally-recognized non-governmental organization (NGO),” he said.
Buhari said Boko Haram could begin negotiations on a prisoner swap if they could provide evidence to the NGO that they had the girls.
Around 270 girls were taken from their school in the village of Chibok in northeastern Nigeria in April 2014. Dozens escaped in the initial melee, but more than 200 are still missing.
Earlier this month, Boko Haram published a video apparently showing recent footage of dozens of the girls and saying some were killed in air strikes.
Authorities said in May that one of the missing girls had been found and Buhari vowed to rescue the others.
Nigeria is fighting the group on the ground and with air strikes. A multi-national joint task force – comprising troops from Nigeria and neighboring Niger, Cameroon, Chad and Benin – is also battling the militants.
On Tuesday, Nigeria’s air force said it had killed some senior Boko Haram militants in raids. Boko Haram pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS) last year, but there are signs of a rift emerging.
This month IS announced a new leader for what it described as its West African operations but Boko Haram’s hitherto leader Abubakar Shekau appeared to later contradict this in a video message.
Buhari said that if the Nigerian jihadists moved to start discussions “through the ‘modified leadership’ of Boko Haram and they talk with an internationally recognized NGO” then Nigeria would be prepared to discuss the release of militant leaders.
“We want those girls out and safe. The faster we can recover them and hand them over to their parents, the better for us,” he said.