Almost a month after more than 200 boarding school girls were kidnapped by a militia group dressed as soldiers, a top Nigerian officer claimed to know exactly where the girls were being held.
But he downplayed prospects for a rescue. “We want our girls back,” insisted Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh. “But where they are held, can we go there with force?…We can’t kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back.”
“The good news for the parents of the girls is that we know where they are, but we cannot tell you.”
He took issue with sharp criticisms coming from the international community, retorting: “Nobody should say Nigerian military does not know what it is doing.”
A recent New York Times piece cited harsh critiques by foreign diplomats who said the Nigerian military was “so poorly trained and armed and so riddled with corruption, that not only is it incapable of finding the girls, it is also losing the broader fight against Boko Haram,” noting that the group now controls much of the northeast of the country.
“It’s not going to be easy or quick,” a senior diplomat told the Times regarding a rescue. Some Nigerian officials say privately that the best shot to save the girls would be a negotiated settlement with the Islamists, possibly including a prisoner release. President Goodluck Jonathan, however, has ruled out a deal.
A new twist in the case came this week with an anonymous tip that former president Olusegun Obasanjo met with people close to Boko Haram and was seeking ways to free the girls.
The meeting at Obasanjo’s farm included relatives of some senior Boko Haram fighters as well as intermediaries and the former president, the source told the AFP news service.
Obasanjo, who left office in 2007, has previously sought to negotiate with the insurgents, including in September 2011 after Boko Haram bombed the U.N. headquarters in Abuja.
Meanwhile, attacks by the Boko Haram insurgents continue relentlessly. Gunmen attacked various communities around Gwoza town of Borno State, killing nine and setting ablaze houses and churches in the area, residents and a public official said. A Nigerian military base and adjacent police barracks was attacked, killing 31 security personnel, security sources and witnesses said.
The insurgents have hoisted their flags in Ashigashiya ward of Gwoza Local Government Area and are currently celebrating in the area which they have now declared their headquarters.
A military offensive launched a year ago against Boko Haram, which initially seemed to be working, appears to have left the group stronger than ever. The insurgents occupy a vast, hilly terrain along the border with Cameroon, from where they have repeatedly launched devastating hit and run strikes.
Nigeria and its neighbors say Boko Haram now threatens the security of the whole region.