The kidnapped schoolgirls would have regained their freedom by now but President Goodluck Jonathan called off a prisoner swap deal with Boko Haram at the last minute, British tabloid The Mail on Sunday has reported.
Dubai-exiled Nigerian journalist, Ahmad Salkida — who reportedly fled to the United Arab Emirates last year following threats to his life on account of his closeness to the militants — was said to have been appointed by both the government and the extremists to broker an agreement for the release of the girls in exchange for Boko Haram members in detention.
“Sources in the Nigerian capital Abuja described how Shekau had agreed to bring the girls out of their forest camps in the remote north-east of the country in the early morning and take them to a safe location for the prisoner swap,” the paper wrote.
“They would have been dropped off in a village, one group at a time, and left there while their kidnappers disappeared. There was to be a signal to a mediator at another location to bring in the prisoners.”
Curiously, the federal government was only expected to release 100 “non-combatant, low-level sympathisers” of Boko Haram, rather than commanders and foot soldiers, the newspaper reported.
About 2000 Boko Haram members are said to be in detention.
Accused of being a Boko Haram sympathiser, the Borno-born journalist has always insisted he only maintains a “professional relationship” with certain members of the group whom he knew long before it became violent.
However, he was reportedly persuaded by the president’s aides to embark on a “secretive and dangerous” trip home to meet Shekau, after the president “personally signed a letter of indemnity” protecting him from arrest by security agents.
But while attending the May 17, 2014 Paris terrorism summit with leaders of four African countries and representatives of the European Union, United Kingdom, and the United States of America, Jonathan called home to halt the deal, the paper said.
The about-face, it is believed, has angered Shekau, raising fears that the girl might now be endangered.
“The next video we see from the terrorists could show the girls being killed one by one,” The Mail on Sunday quoted an intelligence source as saying.
The turnaround may as well spell the end of any peace deal with Boko Haram, as Salkida is about the group’s most-trusted and unbiased go-between with the federal government.
“He is probably the only civilian with access to Shekau. There is trust between them and Salkida had only one aim — to get the schoolgirls out,” the source further said.
“He reported afterwards that the group of girls he saw were alive and well, and being adequately fed and sheltered. They told him all they wanted was to go home.”
Presidential spokesman Reuben Abati was quoted by the newspaper as saying he was not aware of any attempted rescue plan.