By Jude Fuhnwi
Officials of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the International Committee of the Red Cross have opened negotiations with the Islamic militant sect, Boko Haram, about swapping prisoners of the terrorist group for the over 200 school girls kidnapped in April, CNN has reported.
Mentioning an unnamed source involved in the talks, CNN reports that the officials met four times in mid-August with two senior members of Boko Haram in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.
The swap would involve the release of 30 Boko Haram commanders in the custody of the Nigerian Government, according to the CNN source. Boko Haram reportedly submitted a list with the names of 30 members who were either convicted or awaiting trial on terror offenses.
“The two Boko Haram negotiators assured the ICRC and Government negotiators that the girls were never raped, were never used as sex slaves and were never sexually assaulted,” the CNN source is quoted to have said.
The group kidnapped an estimated 276 girls in April from a boarding school in Chibok in northeastern Nigeria.
Dozens escaped, but more than 200 are still missing.
Boko Haram has expressed willingness for a swap with the ICRC at an undisclosed time, according to the CNN source. However, it is reported that there was disagreement on some terms, including the number of girls involved in the swap.
Boko Haram had insisted on an even swap, 30 girls for the 30 commanders, but the Government refused, according to CNN.
“They were only ready to release one to one, which the Government was not going to accept,” the CNN source said.
Another hurdle in the talks was Boko Haram’s insistence on meeting the imprisoned 30 members involved in the swap, but they only had contact with six at a prison outside Abuja, the source said.
The six prisoners included Kabiru Sokoto, a senior Boko Haram commander convicted in December 2013 on terror charges related to the deadly Christmas Day bombing of a church in the town of Madallah in 2011.
“ICRC couldn’t find where the remaining 24 were being detained,” the source said.
The Boko Haram negotiators said they would get back to the Government after consulting with superiors.
The name “Boko Haram” translates to “Western education is sin” in the local Hausa language. The militant group is trying to impose strict Sharia law across Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa.