The Federal Government and the Boko Haram Islamic sect will on Monday meet in Chad to further discuss the release of the over 200 schoolgirls abducted in Chibok, Borno State in April 2014.
This came a week after a botched ceasefire agreement reached by the Federal government and the sect.
The peace talk between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram sect, which is being mediated by the Chadian government, had been called into question since it was announced by the military last week following the refusal of both parties to respect the ceasefire deal.
Boko Haram has yet to comment on the ceasefire and its fighters have continued to attack villages in the North-East.
The insurgency group is responsible for the killings, abductions and the displacement of many Nigerians in the North-East.
The Chadian government, however, confirmed that Nigeria’s deal with the sect to free the schoolgirls would still go ahead despite the breakdown of a truce.
A very senior official, Chad’s foreign ministry, Moussa Dago, who spoke with Reuters on Friday, said that the key to the agreement would be a prisoner swap.
He said it appeared some Boko Haram factions were refusing to abide by the deal.
Dago said, “Quite possibly, those who are fighting are dissidents that even Boko Haram isn’t able to control. So far, there is no reason for others to doubt this agreement.
“What I can say is that those that negotiated with the Nigerian government did so in good faith … We are waiting for the next phase which is the release of the girls.”
Dago said he was confident that the negotiators had the authority to speak on behalf of Boko Haram’s reclusive leader, Abubakar Shekau, who has allegedly been killed by the Nigerian military more than once.
“They are envoys who answer to their leader Shekau, who himself confirmed that these emissaries spoke on his behalf. That was confirmed in writing to the Chadian government,” he said, confirming local press reports that the negotiators were named Cheikh Goni Hassane and Cheikh Boukar Umarou.
Dago admitted that it would be embarrassing for the Chadian President Idriss Deby’s government, which has played a lead role in diplomacy in Africa’s turbulent Sahel region in recent years, if the girls were not freed.
“It would be very disappointing. We are engaged in this now. If this negotiation doesn’t succeed, that would be damaging to Chad’s facilitating role,” he said.
Dago told Reuters that the two sides agreed verbally to a series of points summarised in a document he had seen, including the release of the schoolgirls and of jailed Boko Haram fighters.
Dago said, “The starting condition of Boko Haram was the liberation of some of their members; that is the compensation.”
He added that the specifics on the names and number of Boko Haram fighters still to be released had not yet been agreed.
He said he still expected the girls to be freed but he stated that the Boko Haram negotiators were no longer in Chad even though they had agreed to return in October after freeing the girls to hold more talks.
“We remain optimistic. The two sides agreed to find a negotiated solution and to show their good faith they already freed some hostages and announced a ceasefire,” he said.
According to him, Chad does not know where the abducted Chibok girls are being held, but Dago said it was likely they were outside of Chad and spread out over a wide area.
“The Chinese hostages freed earlier under the agreement were found scattered across northern Cameroon,” he said.
“They (Boko Haram) gave us guarantees that the girls are well but we don’t know physically where they are,” he said.
“But they have certainly dispersed them like the Chinese hostages, who were spread out over a large area.”
He explained that the two parties planned to meet again for a third time in Chad after the release of the schoolgirls to draft a roadmap to tackle more fundamental issues.
He said, “For the next stage of negotiations, the girls need to be freed. We cannot go into details as long as this question remains and it is a requirement of Chad that the girls are released before we start the next stage of talks.”
Similarly, the self-acclaimed Secretary-General of the sect, Mallam Danladi Ahmadu, confirmed that the group’s ceasefire agreement with the Federal Government was still on course.
Ahmadu, who spoke to the Hausa service of the Voice of America on Friday, said that the Chibok girls would be released on Monday to the Chadian President, Idriss Derby, for onward transfer to the Nigerian government.
He added that an enlarged meeting of the group had been fixed for the weekend to prepare grounds for the Monday meeting with the Federal Government, affirming that the final ceasefire and the release of the girls would be done by the group.
However, the group said it was unaware of the latest kidnapping of over 40 women and girls in the border villages between Adamawa and Borno states.
He admitted that many anti-social groups had infiltrated the sect.
Ahmadu also stated that political thugs, armed robbers, kidnappers, hired assassins and other anti-social groups now parade themselves as members of the sect.
He, however, added that all things being equal, all the factions would fizzle out once the ceasefire agreement was sealed.
The Chief of Defense Staff, Alex Badeh had issued an order last Friday, telling all service chiefs “to comply with the ceasefire agreement between Nigeria and Boko Haram in all theatres of operations.”
The text went out after Ahmadu told VOA that a cease-fire agreement had been reached.
Ahmadu and a close advisor to President Goodluck Jonathan, Ambassador Hassan Tukur, had told VOA that the sides were holding talks facilitated by the Chadian President and high-level officials from Cameroon.
Ahmadu, who said he was at a location on the Nigerian-Chadian border, had said the girls are “in good condition and unharmed.”
Nigerian President Jonathan has been criticised at home and abroad for his slow response to the kidnapping and for the inability of Nigerian troops to quell the violence by the militants, seen as the biggest security threat to Africa’s top economy and leading energy producer.
Boko Haram has said it is fighting to establish an Islamic state in Muslim-majority northern Nigeria.
The group has launched scores of attacks in the past five years, targeting markets, bus stations, government facilities, churches and even mosques. Militants recently took over some towns in the North-East for what the group’s leader said would be an Islamic caliphate.
The Nigerian military said the man who appeared in Boko Haram videos as Abubakar Shekau was actually an impostor, and that the real Shekau was killed several years ago.
It said the impostor was killed last month during a battle in the town of Konduga. A new video of the man appeared a few days later but the military had stood by its assertion that the Boko Haram leader is dead.