DID SWISS-MEDIATED RANSOM PAYMENTS REVIVE BOKO HARAM?
Following the abduction of another 110 girls by the Boko Haram insurgent movement in the North East of the country, the Nigerian media has been awash with claims that a Swiss-mediated deal to free an earlier group of abductees, the Chibok girls, revived the fortunes of the terrorist movement.
The girls were kidnapped on February 19 from Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi, in Yobe State, and there has been no news about their whereabouts.
The issue is particularly embarrassing and difficult for President Muhammadu Buhari because it gives the lie to his claim that the Boko Haram group have been totally defeated.
Now, the memory of the earlier negotiated release has come back to haunt the President and the Federal Government, which paid 3 million Euros for the release of some of the Chibok girls who were in Boko Haram custody.
It was this payment, and the release of some high-level commanders, that appears to have given new life to an organization that was militarily on the ropes.
In 2014, Boko Haram insurgents kidnapped 276 girls from Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, in Borno State. The abductions led to an international campaign to “Bring back our girls”.
Of the 276 kidnapped Chibok school girls, 163 are now free, including 57 that escaped in the early days following the abduction, three that escaped later, and the 103 freed by the Swiss-mediated effort.
Twenty-one of the 103 were freed on October 13, 2016, while the remaining 82 were freed on May 6 2017.
Though the ransom numbers have never been disclosed, the Wall Street Journal reported that while 1 million Euros was paid for the 21 giris who were freed first, an additional 2 million Euros accompanied the five Boko Haram commanders that were exchanged with the next batch of 82 girls.
President Buhari was said to have been averse to any ransom payment to Boko Haram but was pressured by some members of his kitchen cabinet to soften his stance.
He only accepted the deal after he was assured that any more money paid to Boko Haram must form part of a comprehensive peace plan.
That peace plan never materialised; instead, a monetarily replenished Boko Haram has gone on the offensive again – and the organisation regained some of its once lost strategic commanders.
Or as someone put it: “Since the insurgents collected their three million Euros, some Nigerian officials say an army that had struggled to feed itself seems replenished.”
The Swiss negotiator who pulled the deal together, Pascal Holliger, has come in for particularly tough public criticism for his “undercover” role in the release.
One security operative who was closely involved with the negotiations with Boko Haram over the years said: “It was my impression that Pascal was desperate to prove himself to the Swiss authorities. He was very keen to be in anything that might have a few dollars attached to it.
“He wasn’t “undercover” for anyone. It was a case of attention seeking and would do anything for money.
“We refused to countenance any payment for the release of the girls as this would simply put ALL other girls in the North in danger. This has proven to be the case. The precedent set with Chibok has come back to bite Buhari at the expense of more girls and their families.
“The Swiss need a good kick up the bum for the Chibok payments.”