Going by President Muhammadu Buhari’s pronouncement in kenya last weekend, a swap deal between the government and Boko Haram may be a reality. However, in this report by Bayo Alade and NAZA OKOLI, political scientists believe that there is need for caution.
When President Muhammadu Buhari spoke on the sideline of the recently concluded Tokyo Internationla conference on African Development (TICAD 6) in Nairobi, Kenya last weekend, his statements represented the clearest intention to date, about the government’s plan to engage in a swap deal with Boko Haram.
Despite the fact that the girls have been in captivity for more than two years now, the Federal Government believes that they could still be brought back home alive, if the right people on the side of the terrorists or intermediaries are available.
President Buhari was reported to have said: “I have made a couple of comments on the Chibok girls and it seems to me that much of it has been politicised. What we said is that the government which I preside over is prepared to talk to bonafide leaders of Boko Haram.
“If they do not want to talk to us directly, let them pick an internationally recognised NGO, convince it that we want Nigeria to release a number of Boko Haram leaders in detention which they are suppposed to know.
“If they do it through the modified leadership of Boko Haram and they talk with an internationally recognised NGO we will be prepared to discuss their release.
“We want those girls out and safe. The faster we can recover them and hand them over to their parents, the better for us.”
We want our daughters back
No doubt the government has been under internal and international pressure to break the logjam over the actual location and return of the Chibok girls. Even in recent times the pressure has not abated with the Bring Back Our Girls group protesting at the entrance of the Presidential Villa in an effort to keep the travails of both the girls and their parents in public domain.
Esther Yakubu, mother of Dorcas, one of the abducted girls, said in a report: “We want our daughters back and now. Sadly, today we have to be here again at the seat of power to drum our pains to Mr. President and his team, that we are tired and are not ready to view another video again from the abductors of our daughters, pains and agony which is so traumatising and killing to us all.
“We want the government of Nigeria and the entire world to know that we are ready to receive our daughters in whichever form and shape they would be released; we are ready to reshape them back to what we all would be proud of.”
Recently it was reported that 23 of the girls’ parents had died, mostly out of frustration. Chairman of the Abducted Girls Parents, Yakubu Nkekki Mbalala, told a news medium in an interview that the twenty-third deceased parent of the girls, named Yakubu Daniel, was buried recently.
Sunday Tribune spoke with political scientists and university lecturers on what the proposed swap deal holds for both sides and what the outcome may be.
No sacrifice is too much
For Professor Francis Anifowose of the Department of Political Science, University of Lagos, “no sacrifice is too much” to be made in order to free the abducted girls. He, however, noted that for this kind of exchange to be balanced, the prisoners must be properly debriefed before they are set free, adding that the Federal Government must maximise the opportunity by asking for more concessions from the terrorists.
“On the part of the parents, the pain is immeasurable. Therefore, there is the belief that no price is too high to be paid in order to secure their release. But on the side of the nation, when you look back and reflect on the enormous loss that the activities of the terrorists have caused the nation, one wonders if it is right to release the insurgents who have already been captured.
“Personally, I believe that more bargaining needs to be done, in terms of swapping. What I am saying is, if there is more concession that has to be given by the terrorists, the Federal Government has to pursue that. How many terrorists, for example, are they asking the Federal Government to release? What is the calibre, the category, of the terrorists? Are they the most dangerous ones among them?
“For the sake of these parents, and for the fact that we are talking about young girls who are supposed to represent the future of this nation, it may be considered advisable that the government should just go ahead and exchange them. But if those terrorists have to be released, then they have to be seriously monitored; security agents have to collect a lot of information from them before they are released.
“So, the summary of what I have said is that the Federal Government should just overlook the consequences and share the pain with the parents. No sacrifice is too much to be made to secure their release.”
Asked if Nigeria has ever been faced with this kind of situation, Anifowose said: “Nigeria has never found itself in this kind of dilemma. Even during the Biafran War, there was no such case.”
Swap may not solve problems
Also speaking with Sunday Tribune, Professor Browne Onuoha, who also teaches in the Department of Political Science at the University of Lagos, said for the swap to be meaningful, a theoretical basis for it ought first to be established.
“When these issues come, we look at them from broader perspectives,” he said. “A nation that has focus, that has ideologies that guide it would know why it wants to swap. I give you examples. In cases in history where prisoners have been swapped to release captured citizens, pay attention to the structure, the organisation of that particular country.
“They are not banana republics; they are countries that have very high values for their citizens; countries that see citizenship as a principle; as part of their constitutionalism. So what I am trying to say is that it is not a matter of swapping. Swapping may not even solve any problem with the type of country we have.
“Do the leaders in Nigeria know the value or the purpose of swapping? Do they know the value of citizenship? If they knew the value of citizenship, then what happened would not have happened in the first place. So swapping is very good, but it has to be followed both philosophically and politically.
“Swapping is a very major national sacrifice that draws its strength from the life and the will of that particular country. United States could swap; Britain could swap; Israel could swap. But these countries that have what you may call parasitic leaders may not even know the value attached to swapping. So let them swap, but what good would it do our nation?” he queried.
Professor Wale Are-Olaitan, former Vice Chancellor, Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ogun State, while speaking on the isssue said: “I do not think that the issue of getting back the kidnapped Chibok girls should be looked at as strictly a security or terrorist issue. Lives and emotions are involved and to the extent that some of the girls are alive, it would be the responsibility of the government to attempt getting them back. That is part of the function of government – to cater to the interests of its citizens – and those abducted girls remain bona fide citizens of Nigeria who should attract the attention and action of the government.
“Unfortunately, the government is not in a position militarily to secure the release and return of the girls. So it must be operating under enormous pain of inability of being able to square up to the Boko Haram terrorists to get the girls back.
“In the circumstances in which the government finds itself, it wants to be seen to be making some gestures to get the girls back, hence the offer of swapping the girls with the operatives of Boko Haram captured and detained by the government.
“I believe this offer does not preclude the government from taking military action to free the girls if it becomes feasible. So, perhaps it is better to see this offer as one forced on the government by circumstances. Evidently not a good situation and indeed not palatable – but should be seen as a gesture dictated by circumstances.”
Is Nigeria negotiating from the point of strength in this situation? Professor Are-Olaitan believes that it depends on the peculiarity of the situation. “Every country has to relate to circumstances that cannot be cracked through pointed action, but only perhaps through offers,” adding: “And Nigeria is no exception to this. This necessarily happens many times in the conduct of national affairs as not every issue would be amenable to pointed action.
“When a plane carrying cash from Nigeria for the purchase of ammunition was seized in South Africa, with the cash confiscated, there was nothing that Nigeria could do other than to toe the line of diplomatic channels to seek for the release of the cash. And it was only when South Africa convinces itself of the acceptance of such moves by Nigeria – evidently with some reciprocity – that it agreed to release the cash.
“So when there is no power to achieve an end in any relations, the available means is through negotiation.”
However, the don believes that “the point has to be made that government does not just go into negotiation until it is satisfied that every other means has been exploited without success or it has the perception that no other means would work in the circumstance.”
Unfortunately, the alternative to a swap deal is not palatable – “the Chibok girls would continue to be in the captivity of the Boko Haram elements until the government is able to defeat them and rescue the girls. Which would be like saying the girls would continue to be there until a time nobody knows or indeed forever,” he added.
Asked if the outcome of the deal could be resolved to the satisfaction of everybody, Professor Are-Olaitan said it is not likely.”Unfortunately, a complex issue like the abduction of the Chibok girls could not be resolved to the satisfaction of all parties. Some girls are already dead and they could not be brought back to life. What government is doing is to ensure that not all the girls are lost finally to the abduction. There would be government efforts to see if they could recover the remains of the girls already dead, so that their parents could have some form of closure, but evidently there is nothing that could be done about the case of those dead beyond that.
“The psychological care for all the parents, of course, remains the responsibility of the government – so the government should be seen to be concerned with the welfare of all the parents including those who already lost their girls to death through the abduction.”
Speaking on the same issue, Dr. Emmanuel Aiyede of the Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan, said Nigeria might not have the experience in such a deal but it is a common occurrence in other countries.
“I am not aware of Nigeria being in a situation like this before. But some countries like the United States have been in a situation of this nature, where they have to swap prisoners for their citizens, sometimes those citizens are soldiers who are prisoners of war.
“A very recent one is the swap of five Taliban fighters for army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. Israel is known to conduct prisoner swap, including the swap of dead bodies. It has always been a very difficult situation and a difficult decision. There are cases where some of these swapped terrorists return to conduct an even greater offensive.”
Swap may be positive or negative
For Dr Aiyede, prisoner swap may be positive or negative and Nigeria must be careful as it goes into such a move. “A lot depends on who is swapped and what has happened between when the prisoners were arrested and when they are swapped.
“There is always a risk involved if it involves the swap of living men and women. It is really not a wrong signal to other militants. Rather, it is a risk to counter terrorism. Sometimes it might even be useful. The prisoner may have stayed with the terrorist army, understudied their mode of operation, suffered within it and, therefore, might provide useful information.
“On the other hand, the prisoner may have been traumatised and unable to relate well. So, Nigeria has to tread cautiously. These are religious fundamentalists who are already radicalised and may likely strike again.”
On what should be the fate of parents who have lost their daughters? Dr Aiyede believes it is the responsibility of government to support such families in a variety of ways.
“When it is established that their daughters have died, they should find a way of letting them know and provide emotional and material support,” he said.