KANO, Nigeria (AFP) – Relatives of Nigeria’s kidnapped schoolgirls on Saturday dared voice cautious hope of seeing the teenagers finally freed after officials claimed to have reached a deal with Boko Haram militants.
Senior government and military officials on Friday said they had struck a ceasefire agreement with the militants ravaging the country’s north.
The deal reportedly included the release of the 219 girls whom the extremists seized from their school in April in a case that drew global outrage and sparked a #BringBackOurGirls campaign that included the likes of US First Lady Michelle Obama and Pakistani Nobel Peace laureate Malala Yousafzai.
“Chibok was thrown into a joyous mood yesterday with people prancing and jumping with happiness when the news was aired on the radio,” Enoch Mark told AFP from the town where the girls, including his daughter and two nieces, were kidnapped.
But Boko Haram’s leader has yet to comment on the deal and a precedent of previous government and military claims about an end to the deadly five-year conflict and the fate of the missing teenagers have left the relatives cautious.
“We hope it is not deception because we have some doubt,” Mark said.
“This is what we have been itching to hear for the past six months,” said Ayuba Chibok, whose niece is among those seized. “My prayer is that the two sides will honour the agreement.”
Friday’s announcement was made by Chief of Defence Staff Air Marshal Alex Badehand and Hassan Tukur, a senior aide to President Goodluck Jonathan. But the Nigerian government’s own security spokesman, Mike Omeri, said that no deal had yet been reached on releasing the girls.
And Ralph Bello-Fadile an advisor to Nigeria’s National Security Advisor (NSA), cautioned that the NSA has been inundated with fraudsters claiming to represent Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau.
The United States said it could not confirm whether a deal had taken place.
Jonathan is expected to declare his bid for re-election in the coming weeks, and positive news about the hostages and the violence would likely give him a political boost.
Jonathan’s aide Tukur said he represented the government at two meetings with the militants in Chad, which were mediated by the country’s President Idriss Deby. “Boko Haram issued the ceasefire as a result of the discussions we have been having with them,” said Tukur. “They have agreed to release the Chibok girls,” he said.
Leaders of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, which has been pressuring the government to act, gave a cautious welcome to a possible release.
“We are really cautious because there have been many times that such optimism has been expressed but did not materialise,” Obi Ezekwesili, a former education minister said in a television interview on Saturday.