by Peregrino Brimah
Have you seen “Pepper,” real name, Abubakar Adamu? He is a Boko Haram terror mastermind who was “just apprehended” by the Nigerian army. Pepper gives us a visual of the kind of Boko Haram terror masterminds the Nigerian government recently freed in a deal with the violent group. With that background, we scrutinize some of the information about the deal in public domain. I need mention that many of the points below are open ended. We may never know the full details and values or answers to these issues and events that concern our lives. But we must ponder and ask the necessary questions.
It Was a Deal, Not a Swap
A swap is just an exchange; but a deal connotes a bit more. According to SaharaReporters that broke the story of the release of 82 Chibok girls, a massive sum of FOREX was paid to the terrorists. Whoever gave the media agency the story, saw handcuffed terrorists dropped by two helicopters and being moved and also saw mint note sealed FOREX being offloaded.
“Our military sources also disclosed that the Nigerian government paid Boko Haram a significant amount in foreign currencies in addition to releasing two of the insurgent group’s detainees.” – SaharaReporters, May 6, 2017
We will never know exactly how much was paid. We will also never know exactly how much FOREX was released. These are two separate figures that only the NSA knows. In deals of this sort, if for instance the terrorists demand $40 million. $100 million may be earmarked and intermediaries may make cool cuts of $10 million pieces and the rest which could be the entire $60 million may be stashed in a cash-paid luxury apartment in Victoria Island; off record and never to be on any record until and unless a Whistle-blower exhales. This is the reality of under-the-counter deals.
The 3-year Prolonged Deal Was Initiated By Goodluck Jonathan
The Goodluck Jonathan government started the negotiations for the release of 234 abducted Chibok girls in early 2014, after the April abduction. In September 2014, media reports detailed the tenuous negotiations that the Buhari government would finally see half-waythrough this May, a year and half into it’s tenure, with the release of about 104 of 219 abducted Chibok school girls.
At the beginning of the negotiations in 2014, those involved included former Minister of Information, Edwin Clark, Fred Eno, now Senator Shehu Sani, Maiduguri-based lawyer, Mustapha Zanna, and PDP chieftain, Kaka Bolori, “along with three top officials of the International Red Cross headquarters office in Geneva,” PremiumTimes reported on September 26th 2014.
16 terror masterminds who were described as appearing “to have a holding grip on the imagination of the fighting forces,” were to be exchanged for all 219 abducted girls.
13 of the terror commanders’ names were:
1. Mustapha Umar
3 Baba Gana Mongunu
4.Mallam Bashir Kachallah
6. Mallam Baba Gana
7. Mallam Baba Mala
8. Mallam Abakar
9. Mallam Ibrahim
10. Mallam Awana
11. Mallam Yarema
12. Mallam Albani Jos
13. Mallam Tuja.
It is impossible to tell which lists of Nigeria’s Most Wanted the terrorists are on, because the Nigerian army releases images of pictures of posters and has no list of most wanted easily accessible on line.
FoxNews reported on July 9th 2015, that 5 weeks into Buhari’s tenure, the Buhari government kickstarted the negotiations initiated by the previous Jonathan government. The same negotiators continued the apparently arduous task for a year and half.
A Very Powerful Politician In Borno State Reportedly Obstructed Jonathan’s Swap Efforts– Ojougboh
Acting deputy national chairman of the PDP party, Dr Cairo Ojougboh told Naij news that someone powerful in Borno ensured the former Goodluck Jonathan administration could not see the swap negotiation deal through as early as May, a month after the abduction.
“When in May 2014 we were to receive these girls, we had already committed every resource available, logistics were made but when we got to the negotiating point, the International Red Cross, myself and lady doctor from the SSS, we were disappointed.
“Why were we disappointed? We were disappointed because somebody from within Borno state got wind about the development about the release and scuttled it.”
There has been considerable talk about the Chibok girls being utilized as political pawns. PDP party members have gone as far as accusing the Borno state administration of concocting the abduction to bring down the Jonathan administration. The Borno governor has been criticized for enabling the abduction in the first instance by opening the school for exam in spite of clear instructions not to by the Nigerian school board. [See: How Borno Governor caused kidnap of Chibok schoolgirls – WAEC; PremiumTimes, May 3, 2014]
Based on the leveled accusations, it would be of security essence to find out who the said “powerful Borno politician” is and what his reasons were for blocking negotiations the Buhari government sanctified and resumed.
The Main Deal Broker Was Foreign (French Geneva) Trained
Nigerians are very skeptical when foreigners and foreign trained persons are caught involved in national security events. There is typically a perception of the possibility of foreign spy agencies being behind involved. BBC reports that a certain 57-year-old Borno born Zannah Mustapha who runs an orphan school convinced the Federal government that he was the guy. The Swiss ambassador to Nigeria visited Mustapha’s “Future Prowess” school in 2012; Mr. Mustapha was then taken for “mediator training” in Zurich and Geneva. He has received foreign awards including the 2016 Robert Burns humanitarian award and a 2017 Aurora Prize Modern Day Hero award. Involved in Boko Haram “peace” negotiations since the Jonathan era, Mr. Mustapha bagged the Chibok girls deal with the FGN.
Geneva-Headquartered International Red Cross, ICRC Reportedly Sat In On Negotiations
The Nigerian government at the conclusion of the deal, thanked the Red Cross for their assistance. The ICRC immediately put out a statement via tweet:
“With the agreement of all the parties involved, we @ICRC acted as a neutral intermediary to facilitate their transport back” – Patrick Youssef, ICRC.
Further speaking to the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, Aleksandra Mosimann, Communication Coordinator of the ICRC further denied any role in in the negotiations,
“ICRC acted as a neutral intermediary based on the agreement of the two parties involved as specified in its mandate.
“We were not involved in the negotiation for their release, as negotiations often imply a political process which is contrary to the political and neutral nature of ICRC work.”
However the role of the red cross in negotiations with Boko Haram appears to have been more than just transportation.
According to news reports dating back to the beginning of the negotiations in 2014, as written by Collin Freeman in UK Telegraph, published on September 2014:
“The International Committee of the Red Cross has become involved in a secret prisoner swap deal to secure the release of the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram, the Telegraph has learned.
“Officials from the Geneva-based organisation have sat in on talks between the Nigerian government and a senior Boko Haram leader currently held in one of the country’s maximum security prisons.
“The Red Cross officials have also visited a number of other jails, identifying a list of 16 senior commanders that Boko Haram wants freed in exchange for its hostages.”
Party to the negotiations, Fred Eno said according to the Telegraph, that there were two or three Red Cross people at each meeting and they even went to the detention centers to check for the terrorists to be swapped. A certain “Omar” in Kuje prison was central to the discussions.
Downplaying an active role in negotiations involving the release of hardened terrorists and the transfer of a considerable sum to the terror organisation is expected. Members of the Goodluck Jonathan government objected to the release of hardened terrorists no matter what. This was partly blamed for the stalled negotiations. Many of us argue against such deals which put the lives of citizens within Nigeria and abroad at significant risk.
Senator Shehu Sani’s Role
While no official statement has presented the role of Senator Shehu Sani in the latest conclusions of the negotiations, at the beginning of the talks, it was revealed that the Senator and Barrister Mustapaha Mohamed were the ones who had contacts direct to the terrorist leaders.
Dr Cairo Ojougboh told Naij news:
“Senator Shehu Sani and a particular businessman and owner of a school in Borno that I cannot call his name for obvious reasons (now known to be Barrister Zannah Mustapha), were the people who contacted the persons to represent Boko Haram.”
It is important to note that on the eve of the revelation that the 82 girls were freed, the Kaduna Senator corrected the breaking report in SaharaReporters, stating that “five, not two” terror masterminds were released. Thus showing he was party to the negotiations or information about them.
Senator Sani tweeted on May 7th:
“No price is too high to pay for the release of the Girls.The swapped commanders are 5 and not 2 as reported.”
While the notably non-transparent Nigerian government admitted releasing terror masterminds for the 82 girls after the media made this known, it did not mention how many terrorists it released or give their names and identities. The statement by the Senator is the only by an official of the Nigerian government on the exact number released in the latest swap.
There has also been no mention to date of the number and names of terrorist commanders exchanged and likely FOREX cash pay-out in October of 2016 for the 21 girls released at the time.
Was President Buhari’s Life Just Put In Grave Danger?
The release of the 82 girls was coincidentally at the last minute before “chronically ill” President Muhammadu Buhari – on a media hot seat pertaining to his capacity to remain in office – jetted off to the United Kingdom for continued medical management of an undisclosed chronic medical condition(s).
The girls upon their release were rushed to Abuja state capital and arranged for a picture with the President before he departed. This has been described by security experts as quite unusual and a great threat to the nation’s security. The girls had not yet been thoroughly interrogated and possibly deradicalized. A video released on May 12th purported to show some more remaining abducted girls holding machine guns and declaring their desire to stay with the terrorists.
There is a great risk that among the 82 girls, some could have been trained to strike at the nation’s officials and President upon close contact. Nigeria’s President who has been notably frail could have been killed if one of the girls had pounced on him. This apart from the risk to his health of being in close proximity with girls with unknown ailments. At Buhari’s age and health state, his immune system is expected to be compromised.
Unless it was known that the girls possessed no risk, which would mean some form of cooperation between government officials and the terror organisation, experts opine that Nigeria’s security heads should be subpoenaed for placing the nation’s President and nation at large at such risk.
Such negligence must never be repeated.
The Five Released Terrorists Threatened To Bomb Nigeria’s Capital
Within days of their release, the terror masterminds released a video statement purportedly from Sambisa forest in Nigeria’s terror-ravaged Borno state, threatening to bomb the nation’s capital, Abuja. Shaibu Moni who was unmasked in the video laid out the threats, flanked on both sides by four remaining terrorists suspected to be the five Senator Sani said were released.
While the Nigerian government shrugged off the threats, A security expert, Dr Ekhomu Ona, according to Naij news, “expressed serious concern over Boko Haram’s recent threats.” He said, “the swapped commander now has a better inside knowledge to plot a good attack.”
ENDS investigators have found that parts of Sambisa forest are still thriving with terrorists as is “Ground Zero.” There is not comment from the military on this.
Boko Haram and the Girls
Few did not comment on how “well kept” and clad the released girls and ladies were. Peculiarly, Boko Haram went as far as establishing upon the release that none of the girls had been raped. This was done through individual questioning, negotiator Mustapha Zanna told the BBC. The terror group went as far as explaining that the one released girl with child had been impregnated before her abduction.
It is noted and condemned that Nigeria’s spokespersons unusually thanked and praised the terrorists for taking “good care” of the girls.
Boko Haram is known for rapping and selling off abductees. However it appears that with the 234 Chibok girls, the terrorists kept them as intact as they could because of the high premium based on the publicity that many of us including yours truly un-regrettably incurred on them.
The problem here is that the concluded negotiation swap and pay-off deal encourages terror and abductions for high premium. This is why some of us are of the opinion that in accordance with Nigeria’s Anti-terror bill, payments should never be made to free terrorists and only non combatant prisoners – with no rape or blood on their hands, – wives and children can be released in exchange negotiations.
The exchange deal took place at Banki, a Nigerian border town known for its notoriety. Banki is between Bama and Cameroon and near Sambisa forest. Among the conditions the French Geneva headquartered Red Cross was saddled with, was transporting to and from the terrorists’ location. Only the Red Cross and the other involved negotiators know exactly where that is and where the five freed terrorists told them to drop them off. As the terrorists were seen shortly after, purportedly in Sambisa forest and as Nigeria has no real borders, it is evident they were dropped off in Nigeria or anywhere just as good as within the nation’s borders. In an earlier write-up, I condemned the act of releasing hardened terrorists within the nation and indeed into any of its neighbors. I do not believe any responsible nation ever funds and frees terror masterminds within its territory. That would be impeachable and attract a colossal public class action law suit, I pointed out.
The United states in its recent noted Bergdahl swap, did not only free the Taliban into faraway Afghanistan, it also defended its position by asserting as the Time reported, that the Taliban are technically not terrorists. [See: TIME: Obama Didn’t Negotiate With ‘Terrorists’ for Bergdahl]
Again, the state of well being of the 219 girls brings to question how much Nigerian territory is still in the hands of Boko Haram and if the terrorists are also happily living well, safely in villages and forests within Nigeria’s neighbors’ boundaries. Feeding 219 girls as healthy as they looked takes up a large amount of resource as does the process of concealing such a number of girls and ladies of public interest.
“Top officials” who claimed to have been involved in the just concluded deal told the Vanguard that there are still thousands of Nigerian girls with Boko Haram. What price is to be paid for their release in the current policy of paying-for and releasing terror masterminds for abductees? Or do the rest not have value, being politically irrelevant? How much is Nigeria going to give up to Boko Haram in coming negotiations?
The story continues.
Dr. Perry Brimah; @EveryNigeri