The fate of more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped in April by Boko Haram remains unclear. Boko Haram / AFP
The fate of more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped in April by Boko Haram remains unclear. Boko Haram / AFP

Nigerian government claims ceasefire with Boko Haram

ABUJA // Nigeria’s government and Islamist extremists from Boko Haram have agreed to an immediate ceasefire, officials said on Friday.

But the fate of more than 200 missing schoolgirls abducted by the insurgents six months ago remains unclear.

Defense ministry spokesman Maj Gen Chris Olukolade said their release is still being negotiated.

Boko Haram negotiators “assured that the schoolgirls and all other people in their captivity are all alive and well,” said Mike Omeri, the government spokesman on the insurgency.

The chief of defence staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, announced the truce and ordered his troops to immediately comply with the agreement.

“Already, the terrorists have announced a ceasefire in furtherance of their desire for peace. In this regard, the government of Nigeria has, in similar vein, declared a ceasefire,” Mr Omeri said.

There was no immediate word from Boko Haram, which limits its announcements almost exclusively to videos of its leader Abubakar Shekau.

There have been unconfirmed reports that at least some of the girls have been carried across borders, and some forced to marry their captors. Mr Omeri confirmed there had been direct negotiations this week about the release of the abducted girls. Another official said the talks took place in neighbouring Chad.

Boko Haram had been demanding the release of detained extremists in exchange for the girls. President Goodluck Jonathan originally said he could not countenance a prisoner swap.

Mr Jonathan is also expected to declare his bid for re-election in the coming weeks, with positive news about the hostages and the violence likely to give him a political boost.

Multiple analysts cast doubt over the credibility of a man called Danladi Ahmadu, whom Hassan Tukur, a senior aid to Mr Jonathan, claimed represented Boko Haram at the two meetings in Chad.

“I have never heard of such a man (Mr Ahmadu) and if Boko Haram wanted to declare a ceasefire it would come from the group’s leader Abubakar Shekau,” said Shehu Sani, a Boko Haram expert who has negotiated with the group before on behalf of the government.

Ralph Bello Fadile an adviser to Nigeria’s National Security Advisor (NSA), said that the NSA has been inundated with fraudsters claiming to represent Shekau.

But Mr Tukur said he represented the government at two meetings with the Islamists in Chad, which were mediated by the country’s president Idriss Deby.

“Boko Haram issued the ceasefire as a result of the discussions we have been having with them,” said Mr Tukur.

“They have agreed to release the Chibok girls,” he continued.

Mr Ahmadu gave an interview broadcast on Friday in which he claimed to be the group’s “chief security officer” and in charge of publicity.

He made no mention of an end to hostilities and was vague on details of the apparent talks, even claiming not to have met Shekau.

He also referred to the militant group as Boko Haram, a name that means ‘education is sinful’ which was imposed on the Islamists by outsiders. The insurgents themselves never use the term.

The group’s known leaders have exclusively used the name the “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”.

Boko Haram attracted international condemnation with the April 15 kidnapping of the 276 girls and young women in the remote northeastern town of Chibok.

Dozens escaped on their own in the first few of days, but 219 remain missing. Their plight drew protests around the world with demands that the military and government get them free.

The United States, Britain, France and China sent experts to help find the girls, and US drones flew over the area they are believed captive. But Air Marshal Badeh said months ago that they feared a military campaign to free the girls would lead to many of their deaths.

Dozens more schoolgirls and boys, young women and men have been kidnapped by the extremists in a 5-year-old insurgency.

Mr Jonathan told the United Nations last month that the extremists have killed 13,000 civilians.

Hundreds of thousands have been driven from their homes, many of them farmers, causing a food emergency in the north-east of the country where the insurgency is centred.

But Boko Haram has struck elsewhere, with suicide and car bombing attacks in northern cities, in Abuja, the capital in the centre of the country, and one failed car bomb in Lagos, the commercial capital in the south-west.

This week, nearly 100 soldiers have been on trial before a court-martial for mutiny and conspiracy to mutiny by refusing to fight the insurgents.

Demoralised troops have said that Boko Haram is better equipped and better armed, and that their officers steal some of their pay. They complain that they are abandoned to fight in the bush with no food or waters.

But the tide appears to have turned in recent weeks, with the military wrestling some towns from the extremists and reporting to have killed hundreds of Boko Haram fighters.

* Associated Press and Agence France-Presse

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