•I’ll deal with you, President warns Niger Delta militants
•IYC laments threat
From Julianana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Amid intense criticism over government’s inability to free over 200 Chibok schoolgirls held since April 14,2014, President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday in Kenya listed fresh conditions for Boko Haram to perfect exchanging the girls for detained terror suspects.
He said the government was willing to negotiate a swap deal with the terrorists. This is even as the President, adopting the carrot and stick diplomacy, warned the Niger Delta militants to negotiate with the government or face military onslaught, the same treatment being given to Boko Haram terrorists.
The parents of the girls had in the past two weeks been demanding Buhari’s resignation if he could not secure their release.
Boko Haram had in its latest video released on August 15 demanded the government free its members in exchange of the girls.
Buhari told journalists in Nairobi, Kenya at the weekend that the government was ready to dialogue with Boko Haram’s bonafide leaders who know the whereabouts of the girls.
‘‘If they do not want to talk to us directly, let them pick an internationally recognised Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), convince them that they are holding the girls and that they want Nigeria to release a number of Boko Haram leaders in detention, which they are supposed to know,” he was quoted as saying in a statement by his spokesperson, Garba Shehu.
“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 Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), convince them that they are holding the girls and that they want Nigeria to release a number of Boko Haram leaders in detention, which they are supposed to know.
“If they do it through the ‘modified leadership’ of Boko Haram and they talk with an internationally recognised NGO then, Nigeria will be prepared to discuss their release, he said.
Buhari said the government will not waste time and resources with “doubtful sources” claiming to know the whereabouts of the girls.
“We want those girls out and safe. The faster we can recover them and hand them over to their parents, the better for us,” he said.
The President maintained that the terror group, which pledged allegiance to ISIS, has been largely decimated by the Nigerian military with the support of immediate neighbours from Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin.
Meanwhile, the military said yesterday it was being cautious not to harm the girls while trying to free them from the terrorists’ camp in Sambisa Forest, Borno State, saying it deserved commendation.
Defence spokesman, Brig. Gen. Rabe Abubakar said: “Boko Haram may be using them as human shield, but we are equal to the task. Nobody is more committed to solving this problem than the armed forces.”
The spokesperson said he could not give a definite period of success of rescue operations. He said with ongoing operations, hope of rescuing all “Boko Haram captives, not just Chibok girls” should be kept alive.
“The operation is still going on. Our soldiers are there and we are on daily basis rescuing human beings. On daily basis, we destroy IEDS they planted on the road, on daily basis we kill terrorists.”
On the negotiation with Niger Delta militants, the President threatened them the same treatment he is giving Boko Haram terrorists. His threat came just 72 hours after Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, said the militants had asked him to intervene in the Niger Delta crisis. This is even as the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) regretted Buhari’s threat.
Buhari, whose government has dealt a heavy blow on Boko Haram insurgents and largely limited their activities to Borno State, stated this in Kenya.
Niger Delta militants have claimed responsibility for several attacks on oil and gas installations that have reduced oil output by half, worsened the electricity situation and the nation’s revenue.
The Niger Delta Avengers (NDA which claimed responsibility for most of the attacks, recently indicated its willingness to negotiate with the government. It asked that an elder statesman from the region, Chief Edwin Clark to be part of the negotiation team that should also include officials of relevant multinational oil companies.
While speaking at a bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on the sidelines of the sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) in Nairobi, Kenya, Buhari indicated his government would use maximum force to deal with the militants if peace efforts failed.
“We are talking to some of their leaders. We will deal with them as we dealt with Boko Haram if they refuse to talk to us. As a government, we know our responsibility, which is to secure the environment. It is clear to us that lenders won’t fund projects in insecure environments.
“We realise that we have to secure the country before we can efficiently manage it,” the President added.
Meanwhile, Buhari expressed doubt in the unilateral ceasefire recently announced by the Avengers. ‘‘We do not believe that they (the militants) have announced ceasefire. We are trying to understand them more. Who are their leaders and which areas do they operate and other relevant issues,” he said.
The military has continued its offensive against the militants, whose demand include local control of oil resources, despite the ceasefire announced by the NDA.
On Saturday, Army spokesperson, Col. Sani Usman, announced some successes against the militants in an operation carried out last Friday.
“The 133 Special Forces Battalion of Nigerian Army troops have carried out a precursor operation to Exercise Crocodile Smile aimed at getting rid of all forms of criminal activities in the Niger Delta geo-political region of Nigeria.
“In the course of the operation, five militants that attacked the troops were killed in action, while numerous others were injured and 23 suspects were arrested,” Usman said.
In a related development, Soyinka told reporters in Lagos last Thursday, that he had accepted to intervene in the Niger Delta crisis for peaceful resolution, noted that the militants were not convinced the government is responding to them with a great degree of seriousness.
The literary icon said he was personally approached by some of the militant groups, hence, his appeal for a positive response to their demands.
“I wish to make an appeal to the government to respond positively to the outreach from the militant groups. That is the request which has been made by some of the groups. At the moment, they feel that the government of President Buhari is not seriously responding to them.
“And I will make a personal appeal to the government to respond positively and let us see where it ends. But I am not part of any international group, I was approached personally and I have been responding personally to some of these groups just as I did when President Jonathan was in power and MEND was the umbrella group of the insurgents.
“So, I make that appeal once more to the government to please respond to the efforts of these militant groups to arrive at a holistic and comprehensive solution. When I was ambushed at the Villa the other day, I did say that I would answer questions on my visit to the Villa at a press conference that I had already planned, which is this one as a matter of fact.
Reacting to Buhari’s threat yesterday, the IYC berated the government, describing the statement as anti-productive to the peace move presently being embraced by all stakeholders to bring about sustainable peace in the region.
Responding to the warning credited to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media Affairs, Mr. Garba Shehu, in Nairobi, Kenya that the government would not hesitate to clampdown on the militants, IYC in a statement by its spokesman, Mr. Eric Omare, said such threat was absolutely uncalled for at this critical moment when all stakeholders have embraced the dialogue option.
According to the statement, “we have just read a press statement issued by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media Affairs, Mr. Garba Shehu in Nairobi, Kenya wherein President Buhari while discussing with the Japanese leader warned Niger Delta agitators to negotiate or face the Boko Haram treatment.
“The IYC condemns the statement and state that it is reckless and prejudicial to peaceful resolution of the renewed militancy in the Niger Delta. The statement completely displays the Federal Government lack of commitment towards negotiation because there is no basis to threaten Niger Deltans with the Boko Haram treatment when discussions are ongoing and considering the fact that the circumstances of the Niger Delta are different from the Boko Haram crisis,” it stated.