All efforts to identify the location of the kidnapped schoolgirls have not yielded any lead, TheCable understands.
Initial enthusiasm that the involvement of the US, UK and France will deliver quick results has now given way to some pragmatism in government circle.
Government sources in Abuja said on Tuesday that the government may now be left with no other option than to negotiate with the Boko Haram insurgents “because the whereabouts of these girls are still unknown… they could well be out of the country”.
If the Nigerian government chooses the negotiation option, it may be led by the US, whose team includes FBI agents who specialise in negotiation with insurgents – although the US may not negotiate ransoms or prisoner exchange as this is against its official policy.
An unnamed US official said on Monday that the country had shared commercial satellite imagery with Nigerian authorities but there are still no sightings of the kidnapped girls.
“We have shared commercial satellite imagery with the Nigerians and are flying manned ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) assets over Nigeria with the government’s permission,” the official said.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki also said on Monday that “we are providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support”.
The US teams on the ground, she said, “are digging in on the search and coordinating closely with the Nigerian government as well as international partners and allies”.
Although the video released by the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, showed that the girls were in the open and not in a bunker, security agencies are finding it difficult to ascertain if the location was Nigeria or neighbouring countries.
An official told ThCable: “Knowing the way these insurgents have been operating, they could have shot the video a week ago and moved the girls around. It will be misleading to conclude that the girls are together or are still in Nigeria.”
In the video, about 120 girls could be counted – although the total number thought to be missing is 276.
Shekau did not say anything about the actual number of those kidnapped, but an unnamed cleric said recently that two of the girls had died from snake bites while 20 had fallen ill.