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Nigeria rejects Boko Haram prisoner for schoolgirl swap deal

Boko Haram spokesperson Abubakar Shekau, speaking in the group's new video.
Boko Haram spokesperson Abubakar Shekau, speaking in the group’s new video.

In a new video, Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram demands for the exchange of prisoners for the more than 200 schoolgirls currently held captive by the group in north east Nigeria. The government of Nigeria announced that it would not accept the deal, a few hours after the news was reported.

“These girls, you occupy yourselves with their affair. We have indeed liberated them,” says Boko Haram spokesperson Abubakar Shekau in a video obtained by Agence France-Presse (AFP). “We have indeed liberated them.”

The video depicts Shekau speaking strongly against the Nigerian government, especially in regards to its treatment of capture Boko Haram members. It also shows what could be roughly 100 of the captured girls, all grouped together and singing to the camera. Identities of the girls have yet to be verified, meaning that it is possible the girls recorded are not the ones who were kidnapped.

Only a few hours after AFP broke the story, it reported that Nigeria was not going to take the exchange deal.

Nigeria has fought for years to put an end to the attacks carried out by Boko Haram. An offensive by government forces helped contain the group to the north eastern part of Nigeria, but attacks have persisted and both sides stand accused of human rights violations. The government’s mishandling of the problem came to further light when Amnesty International uncovered that Nigerian security forces had four hours notice that Boko Haram would conduct the raid.

“The fact that Nigerian security forces knew about Boko Haram’s impending raid, but failed to take the immediate action needed to stop it, will only amplify the national and international outcry at this horrific crime,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Africa Director, Research and Advocacy.  “It amounts to a gross dereliction of Nigeria’s duty to protect civilians, who remain sitting ducks for such attacks.”

Nearly 300 girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram members on April 15 from a school in the town of Chibok. The Amnesty report shames Nigeria and calls on the government to do whatever is lawfully possible to ensure that the girls are returned home safely. It adds to the increasing international attention, sparked in large part by the #BringBackOurGirls campaign on social media, to the ongoing standoff. President Goodluck Jonathan reached out to the international community for support following the kidnapping and the inability to recover the girls.

Assistance has come from France, Israel, the UK and the US in the form of direct help and military experts. France is also set to host a summit next Saturday in Paris to bring together Nigeria’s neighbors and Western nations on the issue of Boko Haram. Leaders and representatives from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, the US, EU and UK are expected to attend.

The new video sheds some bit of hope that Boko Haram are willing to negotiate with the Nigerian government. Attempts negotiate peace have long been unable to get off the ground. Some news organizations have come under criticism for showing the faces of the young girls in the video.

It mirrors similar concerns that followed in the wake of a released list that supposedly identifies all of the girls captured.

The few girls who managed to escape their captors when the raid occurred nearly a month ago told CNN that they still live in fear. The search continues to find those who are still missing.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]