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Nigeria

Chibok girls give much-needed boost to Buhari's leadership

The release of the Chibok girls is a fillip for the government of Nigerian President Buhari, which is struggling with low oil prices and an ailing economy. Buhari has evidently succeeded where his predecessor failed.

Twenty one of Nigeria's Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram more than two years ago have been released - the first to be set free as a result of government action. The news agency AP reported that the girls were swapped for four detained Boko Haram leaders, who were released in Banki, a town on the northeastern border with Cameroon. However, one Nigerian government official later denied that a swap had taken place.

Eunice Wanjiru has been talking to Thomas Mösch, head of DW's Hausa service. 

DW: What does the release of the girls mean for President Muhammadu Buhari in political terms?

Thomas Mösch: I would say it is quite a political success for him, because it comes in a situation where he is under much pressure from all sides, especially because of the terrible economic situation in Nigeria, for which the government has yet to find any solutions. It's been quite some time since Buhari was last able to announce any news of success in the fight against Boko Haram. So at least part of his promise to get the Chibok girls freed seems to have been fulfilled.

There is, however, the risk that this news could eclipse the current violence in northern Nigeria especially yesterday (12.10.2016) in connection with Ashura Day and the violence against the Shi'ite minority in which apparently more than a dozen people were killed. Nobody seems to be concerned about this anymore because everybody is talking about the release of the Chibok girls.

Is this deal a propaganda coup for Boko Haram. Four of their leaders were released, weren't they?

That's the interesting part of the news. It means that there have been negotiations, which they confirmed had taken place. Only a few weeks ago the government  had officially said there were no negotiations anymore and they had stopped all contacts with the groups. But  apparently there were still talks going on, and Boko Haram has always asked for the release of prisoners. If they are really - as we are hearing - high-ranking Boko Haram leaders, then I think a lot of questions will be asked about the future of these people. Will they return to the battlefield and is the price for release of the girls too high? 

Moesch Thomas Kommentarbild App

Thomas Mösch is head of DW's Hausa service

And what can you tell us about the negotiations that led to this particular deal?

What has been said so far is that the negotiations were carried out and facilitated by the Red Cross and the Swiss government. Experts were generally of the view that if there were to be negotiations with Boko Haram, they would definitely have to go through mediators that were acceptable to both sides. The government had said that it was willing to do this.

And why was it that Buhari was able to succeed where his predecessor Goodluck Jonathan failed?

Generally, I think the issue of fighting Boko Haram and the specific case of securing the release of the Chibok girls was important for Buhari personally. This is because he had personally promised to end the violence in the northeast and get the Chibok girls back and the many other hostages freed. Goodluck Jonathan never did that - he always seemed to be a bit far away, not just geographically but also emotionally from this whole conflict. The whole manner in which Goodluck Jonathan dealt with the Boko Haram issue showed that he was not really interested in it. He had his people whom he had given the power to do whatever they wanted and that's what they did. They apparently channeled money meant for fighting terrorists in other directions. Buhari was very focused on a really efficient fight against Boko Haram from the very beginning. I think that's the real reason - he was interested and he took care of it.

Some 197 girls remain captive. How likely is it that they will be released?

There is, of course, much more hope now that we know that there seems to be a reliable channel through which negotiations can continue. The spokesman for the president, Femi Adesina, has said that they were expecting more girls to be released, which proves that the negotiations are supposed to continue. Maybe one wants to await the reaction of the public to the release of Boko Haram prisoners. If the public does accept this and the government sees the deal as a success, then other girls could probably be freed later.                 

Thomas Mösch is head of DW's Hausa service

Interview: Eunice Wanjiru

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