A mediator who is involved in the talks between the Federal Government and Boko Haram militants over the release of some 200 schoolgirls abducted from Chibok almost three years ago has said that the discussions could extend to negotiating peace in the conflict-prone northeast.
In October, the Islamist insurgents freed 21 of about 220 girls they kidnapped in April 2014 from the northern town of Chibok following mediation by Switzerland and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Mediator and lawyer Zannah Mustapha said negotiations with the group, which has waged a seven-year campaign to create an Islamic state in northeast Nigeria, must go beyond the fate of the estimated 195 girls still held captive.
“We need to be able to transform from the Chibok girls to a cessation of hostilities,” said 57-year-old Mustapha, who acted as an intermediary between the state and Boko Haram in October, and is involved in talks for the release of more girls.
“There will be no reconstruction as long as hostilities continue,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in the capital Abuja. “If you return the girls, how are you going to protect them? Are the military going to remain there for eternity?”
For more than two years there was no sign of the abducted Chibok girls, whose kidnapping sparked global outrage and a celebrity-backed campaign #bringbackourgirls.
But the discovery of one of the girls with a baby last May fuelled hopes for their safety with two other girls found in later months. The release of 21 girls in October was an additional boost for President Muhammadu Buhari’s government.
Buhari has said he is committed to ensuring the Chibok girls are reunited with their families, and the state says Boko Haram are willing to negotiate the release of more girls.
Yet Mustapha fears that the focus on these girls may detract attention from the suffering of countless other victims of Boko Haram’s insurgency, which has killed more than 15,000 people and forced some two million to flee their homes in the northeast.
“There are many girls who have gone through worse than what the Chibok girls have faced, yet nobody is advocating for them.”