BACK HOME: Some of the 21 schoolgirls freed by Boko Haram at the presidential villa in Abuja, Nigeria. They were kidnapped by the militant group in 2014. Pictures: EPA
BACK HOME: Some of the 21 schoolgirls freed by Boko Haram at the presidential villa in Abuja, Nigeria. They were kidnapped by the militant group in 2014. Pictures: EPA
WELCOME: Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari (second right) and Borno State governor Kashim Shettima meet released schoolgirl Amina Ali Nkeki (left) and her mother Binta Ali Nkeki.
WELCOME: Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari (second right) and Borno State governor Kashim Shettima meet released schoolgirl Amina Ali Nkeki (left) and her mother Binta Ali Nkeki.
The release of more than 100 schoolgirls, including 82 last week, kidnapped in Chibok, Nigeria, by Boko Haram over three years ago has put the government in a quandary.

While on one front, the Nigerian government is fighting the militant Islamic sect that abducted the girls, and thousands of other civilians, it finds itself negotiating with the group on another.

An unspecified number of Boko Haram kingpins were freed in exchange for the girls.

In October, Boko Haram, seen to have the upper hand in the negotiations, released 21 of the 276 girls it abducted at gunpoint in April 2014 from a government school in the Borno State. It freed a further 82 last week.

The Swiss government and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reportedly played a crucial role in the mediation which let to the girls being freed.

The ICRC is among the groups involved in helping relieve the humanitarian crisis that is a consequence of the years-long insurgency by the terrorist group.

As the issue assumed new dimensions, with Bern and the ICRC distancing themselves from the happenings, security experts this week raised concerns the release of militants in exchange for the girls had set a bad precedent and would embolden Boko Haram.

The Assessment Capacities Project (Acaps), dedicated to improving assessments of humanitarian needs, noted the deal was a double-edged sword.

“The success of negotiations between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram could be a promising sign for de-escalation of the conflict, peace and reduction of the humanitarian toll of wartime violence,” said analysts Shirley Igbinedion and Daniel Sneddon.

However, they were concerned it might encourage the terror group to do more kidnappings as leverage for the release of other militants.

“This will have a detrimental humanitarian impact.”

Lagos analyst Rochas Ikpeazu accused the government of “pandering to the whims of terrorists”.

“Government and the military claim to have defeated Boko Haram with such actions as Operation Lafiya Dole (Peace by Force). However, we see a government that has claimed victory going down on its knees to Boko Haram. This will boomerang badly.”

This week, Switzerland and the ICRC distanced themselves from widely-circulating reports they had “brokered” deals for the release of the Chibok girls.

“Please note the ICRC did not broker any deal but acted as a neutral intermediary at the request and with the agreement of both parties,” Aurélie Lachant, its Africa spokesperson, said.

“We were not involved in any negotiations that led to the handover of the young women. Our involvement was limited to transporting them to the Nigerian authorities (and the same was done in October),” Lanchant explained.

“At the request of the Nigerian government, Switzerland facilitated negotiations to enable the release of the Chibok schoolgirls, kidnapped by (Boko Haram) in April 2014,” Carole Wälti, Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, said.

She said Switzerland’s commitment was motivated by humanitarian concerns.

“Switzerland’s engagement in this operation was guided by the principles of strict neutrality and non-interference.

The facilitator does, as a matter of principle, not comment on the content of a negotiation. Switzerland calls for the liberation of the Chibok girls who are still in custody by Boko Haram as soon as possible.”

Nigerian Minister of Women’s Affairs and Social Development Aisha Alhassan insisted talks to secure the release of the remaining girls and others held hostage would continue. “We will not relent until all are back.”

Freed victims of kidnapping by the militants often have a hard time reintegrating.

Families and communities treat them with suspicion, fearing they have been radicalised and could carry out local attacks.

“The release of the Chibok girls will afford them the opportunity to reunite with their families It is unlikely to be without difficulties, as it is well known women and girls associated with Boko Haram are stigmatised and they do not always receive adequate psychosocial support to deal with the trauma,” the Acaps experts said.

The UN has pledged to provide the services the girls need to help them reintegrate, in partnership with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Social Development.

They will be part of a similar rehabilitation programme to that set up for the 21 girls who were released in October.

“The programme is tailor-made to meet each girl’s specific needs of counselling, to help overcome the trauma endured after being held in captivity for more than three years,” the UN said. – CAJ News