Nigeria said it was considering a prisoner exchange with Boko Haram after the Islamist group threatened to hold schoolgirls it abducted last month until detained members are freed.
Abubakar Shekau, leader of the militant group, made the claim in a video sent to reporters yesterday that shows about 130 girls reciting lines from the Koran. It wasn’t clear where the video was shot and if the girls in the footage were those abducted. The U.S. has “no reason to question the authenticity of the video,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said yesterday.
“These girls have become our property, whatever we wish, we do with them,” Shekau said in the video, speaking in the Hausa language of northern Nigeria. “These girls remain with us until the Nigerian government releases our brothers and sisters being held in various detention facilities across the country.”
The kidnapping of the 276 schoolgirls from their dormitories in Chibok, Borno state, on April 14 has sparked international outrage and offers of help. Pressure has been building on President Goodluck Jonathan, whose administration was criticized in Nigeria for not speaking publicly about the incident for almost three weeks.
A prisoner exchange is “part of the options available to us,” Mike Omeri, director of the National Orientation Agency that explains government policies to the public, said yesterday. “If it is necessary that we use whatever kind of action to get our girls out of captivity, we will,” he said.
Authorities should give in to the kidnappers’ demands, said Enoch Mark, 47, who has a child among the abducted.
“The federal government should yield to the request of Boko Haram and release the prisoners in exchange for our daughters,” he said today by phone from Chibok. “With this development I think the end of Boko Haram has come.”
Nigerian authorities haven’t released official figures on the number of jailed Boko Haram prisoners. Military spokesman Major-General Chris Olukolade didn’t answer calls to his mobile phone today seeking comment.
Boko Haram on March 14 attacked the Giwa barracks in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, and opened the cells “to release the more than 1,000 detainees, who were arrested under suspicion of being members or sympathizers of Boko Haram” according to Amnesty International.
President Jonathan, in a letter read out by Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu today, asked parliament for a second extension of the state of emergency declared in northeastern Adamawa and Yobe states as well as Borno. Emergency rule was imposed in those areas in May 2013 and extended for a further six months in November. Another extension would expire just three months before Feb. 14 elections.
The African Union urged the Nigerian government, regional organizations and the international community to “urgently and decisively” act to bring the children home to their families, according to a statement e-mailed today.
“Attacks against the liberty of children and targeting schools are prohibited under international law and cannot be justified under any circumstance,” the continental organization said. “Not on our watch.”
Nigeria has accepted an Israeli offer to join countries including the U.S. and U.K. in helping to rescue the schoolgirls, Jonathan’s office said on May 11. France and China have also pledged support and a team from the U.K. arrived in the country on May 9. The U.S. has a group of 16 military personnel working on the mission, Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters yesterday.
“We are providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support,” Psaki said.
In a previous video, Shekau threatened to sell the girls in “markets” and marry them off, helping to galvanize a global campaign to free them joined by U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama and Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai. Social-media campaigners using the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls say they have organized marches this week in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, and Benin City in the south.
France plans to host a summit with Nigeria and its neighboring countries in Paris on May 17, French President Francois Hollande said yesterday. The meeting will discuss security and the Boko Haram threat, he said.
Boko Haram carried out the school raid on the same day it detonated a car bomb on the outskirts of Abuja that killed at least 75 people, the city’s worst bomb attack.
That blast was followed on May 1 by another bomb nearby, less than a week before Abuja hosted the World Economic Forum on Africa, a global meeting of about 1,000 executives and politicians.