Nigeria’s government says it is reaching out to Boko Haram after a new video surfaced online Sunday showing as many as 50 of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped in 2014. The militant group says several girls have died, and they are demanding a prisoner swap for the rest.
The 11-minute video, posted on YouTube early Sunday, shows a masked man wearing military camouflage with dozens of weary-looking young women wearing headscarves, sitting and standing behind him.
In Hausa, the man in the video calls for the Nigerian government to “release the people that they are holding in Abuja, Lagos and Maiduguri.”
It is a demand that Boko Haram has made before; activists say for the sake of the Chibok girls it is time for the Nigerian government to negotiate.
The man in the video holds up a microphone to one of the young women to ask where she is from.
VOA spoke to the girl’s mother, Esther Yakubu, who through tears said this is her daughter, Dorcas, though in the video the girl answers with another name given to her by her captors. Dorcas was 15 years old in April 2014 when she was taken with nearly 300 other girls from a secondary school in the town of Chibok in northeastern Nigeria.
Dorcas echoes Boko Haram’s demand to release its members in exchange for her freedom and that of her fellow abductees.
Olatunji Olanrewaju, one of the leaders in the Bring Back Our Girls group, which started in the Nigerian capital of Abuja before spreading around the world via social media, called the video “blackmail,” but says it also creates a moment for dialogue.
“The fact that they are still alive means that we should open a channel of negotiation with them,” Olanrewaju told VOA. “If we get the girls out of the way, maybe the government can go all out after them. We are not opposed to negotiations because we’re seeing negotiations all over the world.”
About 218 of the 276 girls kidnapped from a remote school in northeastern Nigeria remain missing despite more than two years of efforts by the Nigerian government to find them, and worldwide outrage at their abduction.
Through last year, the Nigerian military announced the rescue of hundreds of people who had been kidnapped by Boko Haram, but despite occasional reports to the contrary, the Chibok girls were not among them. For the parents of the missing Chibok girls, this video brings mixed emotions of sadness and relief that some of the girls are still alive.
But the video ends with graphic images of bloody corpses. The man says these bodies are Chibok girls who were killed by Nigerian airstrikes.
Nigerian defense spokesman Colonel Abubakar Rabe says that is unlikely.
“The precision airstrike is very effective at taking out targeted enemies because it is not a random operation. We are nevertheless studying the video clips to examine if the victims died from other causes rather from the allegation of airstrike,” Rabe said in a statement.
Nigerian human rights lawyer Emmanuel Ogebe is based in Washington, where he has been lobbying U.S lawmakers to not forget the Chibok girls.
“The bigger question is Boko Haram has again showed a proof of life video, why is not the government negotiating? I think that the group that can show a proof of life video is the group that should be talked to. That is what proof of life videos are supposed to be.”
Nigerian presidential spokesman Femi Adesina confirmed to VOA Sunday the government has seen the video and has reached out to Boko Haram, but said officials are being cautious.
President Muhammadu Buhari has previously said he is open talking to Boko Haram through a credible Boko Haram leader.
The video was the latest released by embattled Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, who has denied claims he has been replaced as the leader of the extremist group. Boko Haram is in the middle of a leadership crisis, which erupted in public last week after Islamic State announced Abu Musab al-Barnawi replaced Shekau.
In the past few days, the two men have posted strong statements condemning each other.
How this power struggle affects the possibility of negotiations may be just one of many challenges to bringing the Chibok girls home.
Source: Voice of America