Ru­mours of huge ran­som sur­round Chi­bok girls’ re­lease

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - MICHELLE FAUL

CON­FLICT­ING re­ports emerged yes­ter­day about whether the first ne­go­ti­ated re­lease of some Chi­bok school­girls kid­napped by Boko Haram in Nige­ria in 2014 in­volved a ran­som pay­ment, a pris­oner swap for Is­lamic ex­trem­ist com­man­ders, or both.

A Nige­rian hostage ne­go­tia­tor who was not in­volved in Thurs­day’s re­lease said a “hand­some ran­som” in the mil­lions of dol­lars was paid by Switzer­land’s gov­ern­ment on be­half of Nige­rian au­thor­i­ties. He said the Swiss would re­coup the money from some $321 mil­lion (R4.5bn) it had said it would repa­tri­ate to Nige­ria this year from frozen funds looted un­der for­mer mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor Sani Abacha.

Swiss of­fi­cials did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to re­quests for com­ment af­ter con­firm­ing they had played a neu­tral, hu­man­i­tar­ian role in the oper­a­tion.

The In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross con­firmed it had re­ceived 21 Chi­bok girls from Boko Haram and handed them over to Nige­rian au­thor­i­ties.

Nige­rian au­thor­i­ties have said ne­go­ti­a­tions con­tinue for the re­lease of the re­main­ing 197 miss­ing girls, though at least half a dozen are re­ported to have died of ill­nesses.

Two mil­i­tary of­fi­cers said the 21 girls were swapped for four detained Boko Haram lead­ers. The hostage ne­go­tia­tor and of­fi­cers spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they were not au­tho­rised to speak pub­licly.

Nige­rian of­fi­cials deny any swap. Vice Pres­i­dent Yemi Os­in­bajo said “there was no ex­change of any kind... No such thing took place.” He did not men­tion a ran­som.

Some par­ents of the freed girls were mak­ing their way to Abuja, the cap­i­tal, where the girls were flown, to be re­united with their daugh­ters. At least 23 par­ents of the kid­napped girls have died since their ab­duc­tion, some from stress-re­lated ill­nesses and oth­ers in Boko Haram at­tacks.

The first ne­go­ti­ated re­lease of Chi­bok school­girls comes af­ter three failed at­tempts over sev­eral months broke down as ex­trem­ist leader Abubakar Shekau kept chang­ing his de­mands, ac­cord­ing to In­for­ma­tion Min­is­ter Lai Mohammed. Ne­go­ti­a­tions last year failed when Boko Haram de­manded a ran­som of $5.2bn, ac­cord­ing to a re­cently pub­lished au­tho­rised bi­og­ra­phy of Nige­rian pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari by Amer­i­can his­to­rian John Paden.

Daily Trust, the most widely read news­pa­per in north­ern Nige­ria, has re­ported a ran­som was paid for the 21 Chi­bok girls be­cause none of the detained Boko Haram com­man­ders wanted to be re­leased, fear­ing for their lives amid a lead­er­ship strug­gle in the ex­trem­ist group.

The girls are from a Chris­tian en­clave in the pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim north­east. Many of their par­ents are in­volved in trans­lat­ing the Bi­ble into lo­cal lan­guages and be­long to the Nige­rian branch of the Illi­nois-based Church of the Brethren. – ANA-AP

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