Negotiations in Saudi Arabia between Boko Haram and the government of Nigeria have reportedly reached a ceasefire agreement. While the exact terms of the ceasefire have yet to be fully disclosed, it does appear that the 219 school girls kidnapped by the terrorist group in April are a part of the bargain.
According to Nigerian presidential aide Hassan Tukur, Boko Haram “assured us they have the girls and they will release them.” He further noted that he was “cautiously optimistic.”
In a conversation with VOA, a man calling himself the secretary-general of Boko Haram, Danladi Ahmadu, said he was located along the Nigerian-Chadian border and that the girls were “in good condition and unharmed.” He did not specify the terms under which the hostages were to be freed. There is scant information available publicly on Danladi Ahmadu, and there has been no previous mention of a secretary-general within the structure of the jihadist group.
On Oct. 16, Boko Haram announced a unilateral ceasefire.
After the conclusion of recent negotiations, Nigeria’s Chief of Defense Staff, Alex Badeh, reportedly ordered all service chiefs “to comply with the cease-fire agreement between Nigeria and Boko Haram in all theaters of operations.”
Late on the night of April 14, Boko Haram militants kidnapped 276 girls from their school in Chibok. Since then, 57 of the girls have escaped, but 219 remain in the terrorist group’s control. Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau menacingly stated in video released in May, “I abducted your girls … I will sell them in the market, by Allah.”
Shortly afterward, Boko Haram released a video that showed the kidnap victims. Stoically seated outside, the girls were dressed in traditional Islamic garb as they recited a statement in Hausa followed by excerpts of the Koran.
Weeks after the girls were abducted, a social media campaign erupted to help #BringBackOurGirls. The campaign included prominent figures such as Michele Obama and recent Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. While the efforts did not obtain the release of the hostages, they elicited a response from Boko Haram. In July, Abubakar Shekau fired back at the campaign in yet another video, remarking that “Nigerians are saying BringBackOurGirls, and we are telling Jonathan [Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan] to bring back our arrested warriors, our army.”
It is unknown whether the idea of a prisoner swap played into the recent negotiations that were aided by Chadian President Idriss Deby and officials from Cameroon. Although the negotiations reportedly occurred in Saudi Arabia over the last month, Saudi officials did not participate in the talks themselves.
In recent months, Boko Haram has stepped up its campaign, particularly in the country’s northeast, to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria. The group’s tactics evolved from traditional guerrilla attacks to attempts to grab and hold territory. In September, it was reported that the group controlled 25 towns in the northeastern Nigeria states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa. The Nigerian armed forces have been attempting to wrest control of these areas from Boko Haram. They have achieved only limited success, and Boko Haram appears to hold many towns.