Nigeria’s former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo is believed to be strategizing to free the 275 female students of the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok in Borno state by Boko Haram on April 14 even as he is worried that President Goodluck Jonathan’s decision to bring in Western military help, including the United States has compromised Nigeria’s prestige in Africa as a major continental power.
Obasanjo is said to have met with the relatives of some senior Boko Haram fighters as well as intermediaries and the former president. The meeting was held in his farm in Ota, Ogun state.
sources at the meeting who would not want their names in prints hinted that the meeting was focused on how to free the girls through negotiation.
According to the sources, Obasanjo is in support of a prisoner-for-hostage swap that would see some of the girls released in exchange for a group of Boko Haram fighters held in Nigerian custody.
As a private citizen whose ties to the presidency have been damaged, Obasanjo does not have the authority to negotiate any deal on the government’s behalf.
The government, which has officially ruled out a prisoner swap, sent intermediaries to meet Boko Haram in the northeast to negotiate for the girls’ release.
The source identified one of the envoys as Ahmad Salkida, a journalist with ties to Boko Haram who had been close to Yusuf before his death.
“There was contact but it was bungled by the government,” according to the source, saying Jonathan backed away from the deal after returning from a security conference in Paris earlier this month.
The former leader, who left office in 2007, has previously sought to negotiate with the insurgents, including in September 2011 after Boko Haram bombed the United Nations headquarters in Abuja.
Then, he flew to the Islamists’ base in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital and met with the relatives of former Boko Haram leader, Mohammed Yusuf, who was killed in police custody in 2009.
The 2011 talks did not help stem the violence and some at the time doubted if Obasanjo was dealing with people who were legitimately capable of negotiating a ceasefire.
The sources said that Obasanjo felt concern about Nigeria’s acceptance of foreign military personnel to help rescue the girls.
“He said he is worried that Nigeria’s prestige in Africa as a major continental power has been diminished” by President Goodluck Jonathan’s decision to bring in Western military help, including from the United States.
Envoys met Boko Haram
Mustapha Zanna, the lawyer who helped organize Obasanjo’s 2011 talks with Boko Haram, said he was at the former president’s home on Saturday.
But he declined to discuss whether the Chibok abductions were on the agenda.
“I was there,” he said, adding that Obasanjo was interested in helping orphans and vulnerable children in Nigeria’s embattled northeast and that possible charitable work was on the agenda.
Zanna had represented Yusuf’s family in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the government following his death in police custody.
It was not clear if Obasanjo’s weekend meeting had been sanctioned by the government.
The conference saw Nigeria and its neighbors vow greater co-operation to tackle Boko Haram because of the potential threat to regional stability. [myad]