Chibok schoolgirls and the swap dilemma

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Clem Oluwole

The federal government is presently caught on the horns of a dilemma over the bid to rescue the abducted students of the Government Secondary School, Chibok, who have been in the captivity of the ruthless Boko Haram terrorists since April 14, this year. It is needless boring you with the build-ups to the sorry situation we have found ourselves today. However, the bottom line is the government’s failure to live up to its constitutional responsibility of protecting the lives and properties of all Nigerians, irrespective of which parts of the country they reside in.

In spite of the hard proofs that starred us in the face, which were the ruins of the institution, the wailings by parents that trailed the abduction of the students and the accounts rendered by the escapees among the captives, Abuja chose to doubt, play blame game and politicise the incident. The tug-of-war (or was it tug-of-doubt?) was still on when the sect’s linchpin, Imam Abubakar Shekau, released a video in which he claimed responsibility for the abduction. He also told the whole world that was seething with rage that he was going to sell the girls…into sex slavery. More rage. Then, he followed up with concrete evidence: a cross section of the abductees clad in hijab and filmed while reciting the Quran.
A few days later, apparently bowing to international pressure, Shekau changed his mind and offered to trade the girls by batter. According to media reports, an arrangement had been concluded through a trusted intermediary to swap about 100 girls with an equal number of the sect’s detainees at a secret location. But the President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, changed his mind at the last minutes. It is not very clear what led to the president’s volt-face. But I know the disposition of the West towards negotiation with terrorists.

owever, in responding to Nigeria’s belated invitation to international intervention, we were told that the interventionists included experts inhostage negotiation. In other words, there was possibility that compromise might come into play in the process of securing the release of the abducted girls. So, why is Jonathan foot-dragging? What other safe option does he have to free the girls unharmed? Nigerians are tired of monotonous assurances from the president that the girls would be rescued unharmed when it is obvious that they are caught between the lethal jaws of Boko Haram. And they hold the aces as well.

Meanwhile, Shekau has vowed to start killing the abducted girls at the first sign of rescue operation by the security forces. This has been my biggest fear ever since we accepted the rescue offer from the international community some three or so weeks ago. Recall that in March 2012, two engineers, Chris Macnamus (a Briton) and Franco Lamolinara (an Italian), taken hostage on May 12, 2011, in Birnin Kebbi and kept in captivity for 10 months by Boko Haram terrorists, were killed by their captors during the rescue attempt by the UK and Nigerian security personnel in Sokoto.
Nevertheless, one cannot gloss over the implications of releasing the Boko Haram prisoners in exchange for the kidnapped girls. Will the sect cease fighting? Or will they take advantage of their swelling rank to escalate hostilities? Herein lies the Hobson’s choice. But can we afford to sacrifice these innocent lives endangered by the government’s inability to guarantee their security as demanded by the constitution?

Aside from the Chibok girls, there are several other girls held captive by the sect in various locations in the beleaguered axis. They are the human shields at the disposal of the sect. There is bound to be a collateral damage if total force is deployed to deal with the criminals.
Methinks the federal government should accept the fact that it has failed to handle the Boko Haram menace decisively when it mattered. The government should negotiate the release of the abducted girls and any such hostages in the custody of the sect. We need to chase away the hawks first before counting the chicks.

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