Nigeria’s military and the country’s president are seemingly split over how to free the schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram extremists, now thought to number around 220 after some escaped, with the military saying any use of force endangered hostages and the President reportedly ruling out a prisoner-hostage swap.
Defence chief Air Marshal Alex Badeh announced on Monday night that the military had located the girls, but offered no way forward. “We can’t go and kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back,” he said.
Previous military attempts to free hostages have led to the prisoners being killed, including the deaths of a British and an Italian engineer in March 2012. According to one human rights activist close to mediators, a swap of extremists in return for the girls’ release was negotiated a week ago but fell through because President Goodluck Jonathan refused to consider an exchange.
Pogu Bitrus, a community leader in the town of Chibok, the town from which the girls were abducted on 15 April, said the authorities were speaking with “discordant voices”.
“The pressure is there if his own lieutenants are saying they cannot use force. The deduction isthat there must be negotiation,” Mr Bitrus said. “And if the President is saying that he will not negotiate, then they are not on the same page.”
The Borno state governor, Kashim Shettima, said: “We impress on the federal authorities to work with our friends who have offered to assist us to ensure the safe recovery of the innocent girls.” Nigeria’s military and government have faced national and international outrage over their failure to rescue the girls.
President Jonathan finally accepted international help, and US planes have been searching for the girls. Britain, France, Israel and other countries have sent experts in surveillance and hostage negotiation.