DAKAR, Senegal — The father of two girls kidnapped by Boko Haram was suspicious when friends told him that dozens of girls had been freed, because he had heard similar rumors countless times during the three years the schoolchildren have been missing.
But by Sunday morning, it became clear to the Rev. Enoch Mark that the news was true. The Nigerian government announced that 82 of the girls who had been taken from a school in Chibok, Nigeria, had been released in exchange for handing over as many as six suspected militants to Boko Haram.
While Mr. Mark was thrilled with hearing some of the girls were safe, his joy was mixed with the awful, gut-wrenching torment of not knowing if his own two daughters were among those released.
“We are hoping God will do something for us,” Mr. Mark said.
By midday Sunday, the released schoolgirls — some of the nearly 300 who were initially captured — had been handed over to intermediaries, taken from a town in the northeast near the border with Cameroon and flown to the capital, Abuja, where they met with Muhammadu Buhari, the president of Nigeria.
Only late on Sunday did an unofficial list of names begin to circulate, as well as photos that showed the faces of some of the girls. Some appeared sullen, and one had her arm in a sling, but they did not appear sickly.
The names of Mr. Mark’s daughters did not appear on the unofficial list.
Nigerians were anxious not only about the well-being of the Chibok girls on Sunday, but also the health of the president. Immediately after his meeting with the girls, Mr. Buhari announced he was going to London to visit with doctors.
Mr. Buhari left the country for weeks earlier this year for an undisclosed medical ailment and has missed recent cabinet meetings. Before he left for London, a photo of a gaunt-looking Mr. Buhari speaking to some of the freed girls was posted on his Facebook account.
The release of the girls was a victory for Mr. Buhari, who has promised to secure the freedom of all of them.
The handover began about 7 a.m. Sunday. Talks to free them had been going on for several months. The Nigerians worked with the government of Switzerland and the International Federation of the Red Cross to secure the release.
On Sunday, some parents quickly departed from Chibok by road on a long journey to the capital to see if their daughters were among the freed. Others stayed behind, joyful but anxious about whether their girls had been liberated.
For those in Abuja, the strain of not knowing the status of their loved ones was particularly acute. One mother of a missing girl sat at a rally in the capital, uncertain whether her daughter was across town, safe and in the custody of the government, or still in the bush in the clutches of the Islamic militants.
When she combed the list made available late on Sunday, the mother, Esther Yakubu, did not find name of her daughter, Dorcas, on the list.
The kidnapping by Boko Haram of nearly 300 girls from a school at a small village in a remote corner of Nigeria is among the countless heinous acts by a group that has carried out of a campaign of murder, rape and the torching of whole villages, largely against some of the world’s poorest people. More than two million people have fled their homes to escape the group’s violence.
Yet it was the singular act in Chibok that trained the world’s sights on this war in Nigeria. Images broadcast by Boko Haram not long after the kidnapping of the veiled girls sitting on the ground in captivity resonated with celebrities and everyday people alike and spread across social media, where a #BringBackOurGirls hashtag became popular.
More than 100 girls are still missing. Twenty-one others were released six months ago, and one kidnapped student was rescued after being found wandering in the forest scrounging for food. Officials did not immediately release their identities.
The newfound freedom of so many of the kidnapped girls is a major victory in the war and is a lift for Mr. Buhari, who vowed when he took office in 2015 to destroy Boko Haram.
While hundreds, if not thousands, of people have been kidnapped by Boko Haram, many of those have been rescued in recent months by military operations that have liberated entire areas from militant control.
The military has penetrated Boko Haram’s large encampments and forest enclaves. Large numbers of the group’s fighters have been killed or jailed in an aggressive campaign that sometimes has ensnared innocent civilians.
On Sunday, it was unclear precisely which or how many Boko Haram suspects had been traded in exchange for the girls’ freedom. Government officials declined to identify the suspects even as some media reported they were high-ranking Boko Haram commanders. Western diplomats said as many as six may have been handed over.
With their forces now scattered throughout the countryside, Boko Haram’s most effective strategy recently has been launching suicide attacks. They have strapped bombs to dozens of young girls and children as young as 7, sending them into crowded markets or camps for people displaced by the war. The group has also attacked military outposts and convoys and still is regarded as a threat to soldiers and civilians in the region.
But with many of their hide-outs gone, fighters can no longer gather in huge groups and instead exist in pockets in Nigeria and in bordering countries. Fighters are suffering from a lack of supplies and food, just like many of the residents, in an area that is experiencing famine-like conditions.
Boko Haram has also suffered infighting that has split the group into factions, one of which has been recognized by the Islamic State.
Another faction, run by Abubakar Shekau, known for his YouTube rants and vicious battlefield activity, was the one holding the 82 girls. Mr. Shekau’s brutality led to a major split in the group last year.
Last week, the Nigerian military said it seriously injured Mr. Shekau, one of many similar claims made by soldiers through the years. Mr. Shekau rushed to release a proof of life video titled “Sermon to the Lying Disbelievers of Nigeria,” that has not been verified as authentic.
Over the weekend as news of the girls’ release circulated, speculation was rampant that the government had paid a steep ransom in exchange for the girls. Government officials did not respond to a request for comment.
Ransom money has fueled the war chests of Al Qaeda offshoots operating elsewhere in West Africa and of the Islamic State. The American and British embassies recently issued a warning that Boko Haram intended to kidnap foreign workers in northeast Nigeria. The move would be a new strategy for a group that for the most part has targeted locals.
Advocates for the kidnapped girls were pushing to make sure the more than 100 still held captive were not forgotten. At a rally, a few dozen people, including several parents of the girls, chanted, “Bring back our girls now and alive!”
File this one under “oops.” The head of Nigeria’s spy agency had $43 million of cash just lying around in one of his apartments.
Anti-corruption investigators became suspicious of Ayo Oke, head of Nigeria’s National Intelligence Agency, after a tip-off that a “haggard” looking woman wearing “dirty clothes” kept taking bags in and out of his seventh-story apartment in Lagos. So, on April 12, they raided his apartment and stumbled onto the mother lode. In the four-bedroom apartment, they found “neatly arranged” stacks of $43 million in U.S. dollars, sealed and hidden in various wardrobes and cabinets. They also found $36,000 worth of British pounds and $75,000 worth of Nigerian naira.
Nigeria’s anti-corruption body, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, said it suspected the funds were linked to unlawful activities. Oke has’t yet made a public statement, but unnamed intelligence sources told local media there’s nothing to see here, and the cash was just being held for covert operations.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari isn’t buying it, and has suspended Oke pending an investigation. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo will head the investigation and report back to Buhari with findings in two weeks.
Buhari campaigned on rooting out corruption but has struggled to make good on those promises since taking office in 2015. (It’s an issue that has plagued Nigeria for decades, particularly the country’s corruption-addled oil sector.)
The country’s anti-corruption body has uncovered a slew of cash bundles linked to government graft in recent months, thanks in part to a new policy that entitles whistleblowers to a small cut of any misused public funds recovered.
Photo credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Like this article? Read an unlimited amount of articles, plus access to our entire 46 year printed archive, the FP App, and the FP Insights Tool when you subscribe to FP Premium for 20% off!
At least three people have been killed and 18 others wounded in multiple suicide blasts at a refugee camp on the outskirts of the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri, security sources told Al Jazeera.
Police said five male suicide bombers detonated explosives at the camp which is located at the Muna Garage area of the city in the early hours of Wednesday.
Those wounded were taken to hospital to receive treatment.
The blasts triggered fires which burned down tents in the vast Muna camp, Tijjani Lumani, a coordinator at the camp told the AFP news agency.
“There were four explosions inside the camp. The bombers struck at different locations around 4:30 am.” Lumani said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Maiduguri has been frequently targeted by fighters of the Boko Haram armed group.
According to eyewitnesses, the bombers had sneaked into the camps late on Tuesday night alongside those who sell charcoal to refugees, who use it to cook their food.
Most of the people living there are those who have fled their homes due to the spate of attacks by Boko Haram in the country’s northeast.
Wednesday’s blasts were the latest blamed on suicide bombers, who continue to pose a threat to civilians despite military claims of success against Boko Haram.
Four people were killed on Saturday when suicide bombers blew themselves up in a village near the city.
On Tuesday, Nigerian President Mohammadu Buhari met security chiefs in the capital Abuja to review the security situation in the country. The nearly seven years Boko Haram crisis topped the agenda of the review, according to a presidential aide.
Maiduguri, the state capital of Borno state, is the birthplace of the Boko Haram insurgency, which has claimed the lives of over 20,000 people and forced 2.6 million from their homes since 2009.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies
UPDATED: 2 HOURS AGO
Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna state has sent a powerful memo to President Muhammadu Buhari arguing that the All Progressives Congress (APC) has made the situation in Nigeria worse than it met it by failing to be proactive in taking key decisions in a timely manner.
According to Sahara Reporters the governor in a 30-page memo sent in September 2016, said “in very blunt terms, Mr. President, our APC administration has not only failed to manage expectations of a populace that expected overnight ‘change’ but has failed to deliver even mundane matters of governance outside of our successes in fighting BH insurgency and corruption.”
Among many others, the governor also noted that “The Chief of Staff is totally clueless about the APC and its internal politics at best as he was neither part of its formation nor a participant in the primaries, campaign, and elections.”
– Soludo delivered a keynote address titled ‘The hard facts to rescue the Nigerian economy’, in which he highlighted some of the failures of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government
– Speaking for the government, Oshiomhole said the ex-CBN boss reportedly helped some banks to illegal foreign exchange during his tenure
– Soludo denied the allegation and accused Oshiomhole of lying because he had no reply to give for the current government’s failures on the Nigerian economy
Former Edo state governor Adams Oshiomhole and ex-Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor have publicly disagreed over how the Nigerian economy is being managed.
The Punch reports that the ‘fight’ occurred at Vanguard’s Economic Discourse in Lagos on Friday, March 10 after Prof. Charles Soludo delivered a keynote address titled ‘The hard facts to rescue the Nigerian economy’, highlighting some of the failures of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government, particularly in terms of fiscal and monetary policies.
But during the panel session, the minister of solid minerals development Dr. Kayode Fayemi defended the government and Oshiomhole accused Soludo of wrongly allocating millions of dollars to two new generation banks shortly before the naira was devalued.
He said: “I got some intelligence from my comrades who worked in the system and we found out that the CBN under Soludo had just allocated couple of millions of dollars to two, as they were then known, new generation banks.
“And I asked Prof (Soludo), if you were going to devalue by Friday, why did you auction dollar at a lower rate on Thursday? I accused Soludo, I said you have enriched these two young men to the tune of N8bn, courtesy of your internal abuse.
“When the regulator behaved in this manner, then the Nigerian condition is much more serious than we can appreciate it. We need to deal with issues of attitude.”
Soludo fired back to the amazement of the audience, saying some people tend to change the subject when they did not have an answer.
“This debate has only begun. Adams made the point about exchange rate and exchange allocation to two banks. I want to say for the record that Adams Oshiomhole has lied. I didn’t say he misquoted anything; he has lied,” Soludo said.
He added: “Every bid produced a different exchange rate and there were different winners at every bid. We didn’t do devaluation as the case may be; we had the currency depreciating as the market determined day to day. With all due respect, I think if you (Oshiomole) don’t know what to say, sir, just don’t get into this kind of personal allegation.
“Whose plan is it? Ownership will determine whether the plan is just a public relations document or whether it will be implemented. To what extent is the plan consistent with the APC manifesto, which promised a conscious plan for post-oil economy and to restructure the country and devolve power to units with the best practices of federalism? Is this plan that plan?”
PAY ATTENTION: Get the latest news on NAIJ.com News App
He continued: “The plan envisages to continue the practice of the past government of borrowing to finance recurrent expenditure. Up until 2018, recurrent expenditure will continue to exceed total revenue. The deficit will continue to exceed capital budget, meaning that capital expenditure will continue to be borrowed, as done by the last government. So, what has changed?” he queried.
“The plan as packaged is a good effort, but in terms of our expectations as a plan for transition to a post-oil economy as promised by the APC, it is a missed opportunity.
“I am willing to bet that not much will happen in terms of the structure of the economy or the structure of fiscal and export revenue at the end of the plan.”
Soludo has been a top critic of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration’s economic policies which he says are too simple to save the country from the present recession it is in.