The government of Nigeria is denying a report in The Telegraph that Boko Haram has offered to return the schoolgirls abducted in April 2014 in exchange for $56 million, noting it is still trying to verify similar reports, as well.
The Telegraph alleges that a source “close to Boko Haram” confirmed that, three months ago, the Islamic State-affiliated group offered to return the 219 girls for ten billion naira, or $56 million. “The ransom demand has split the government. Some think it would be worth it just to resolve the Chibok situation, but others say it will simply allow Boko Haram to hire yet more insurgent recruits,” the source claimed.
The Telegraph also claims the Nigerian government has a new video of the girls, abducted in the middle of a physics exam in Chibok, Borno state, in 2014, showing them “relaxed” and healthy, but clearly indoctrinated. The report cites a Nigerian senator as suggesting that Boko Haram would not give the girls up for a small sum, as the group “knows they are a prized catch.”
Speaking to the Voice of America, Nigerian Information Minister Lai Mohammed denied the report, noting that the government could not yet confirm it. “It appears we have several versions of this report. The one that we heard was from a source that Boko Haram wants to release 10 of these girls for N10 billion,” he said, noting that such rumors have been common for the past two years. “The most important thing is that we’ve gone through this route before, and until and when we establish the credibility of this source and the truth behind it, the government will not be in a hurry to make a statement,” he added.
The rumors follow bizarre months of Boko Haram public releases, including dueling propaganda videos. A video surfaced in late March allegedly showing the jihadi group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, gaunt and sickly, giving a “farewell” to his followers. The video was of low production value and undated. Less than a week later, a high-production video featuring masked men claiming to be Boko Haram terrorists surfaced on social media, stating that there will be “no surrender” for the group and that it remains operative. A Nigerian political group accused those making the video of being “paid actors” trying to con the government out of money, not actual Boko Haram fighters. The government has yet to confirm any facts regarding either of these videos.
Instead, government officials are continuing to insist that Boko Haram is severely diminished. Kashim Shettima, the governor of Borno State, said Monday that Borno is now “free” of terrorism, though it remains the group’s one stronghold in Nigeria. He said that “10 months ago, one could not travel for 10 kilometres without encountering terrorists.” He then stated, “Yes, we still have occasional hiccups, but Boko Haram has been so decimated that they can no longer threaten the corporate existence of Nigeria.”
The federal government in Abuja has been echoing this sentiment, pushing for a “soft approach” to Boko Haram now that they have been weakened. The government opened its first-ever Boko Haram rehabilitation camp this week, intended to help former terrorists learn trade skills and reintegrate into society. “The soft approach derives from our Countering Violence Extremism (CVE) programme, which is a strategic component of our National Counter Terrorism Strategy,” said National Security Advisor Maj.-Gen. Babagana Monguno.
UNICEF released a report on Tuesday denying that Boko Haram is no longer functional, however, arguing instead that statistics show a ten-fold increase in the use of child suicide bombers in the past year. Forty-four children were used as suicide bombers in the past year, compared to four the year before. Seventy-five percent of the children were girls abducted during village raids. Including Cameroon and Chad, which also have a significant Boko Haram presence, 151 children were used as suicide bombers last year.