Freelance journalist, Ahmad Salkida, yesterday said he met the Chibok girls, who have been in the captivity of Boko Haram, during negotiations on how to rescue them.
Though he did not give the exact date he met with the abductees, Salkida said he met the girls and their captors at the instance of the federal government.
“At least, today, I am probably the only one who has gone to location of swaps with detainees and I set my eyes on the girls in their early days in captivity, under a presidential cover to negotiate,” he said.
Salkida is known for his access to Boko Haram and has been reporting on the Boko Haram insurgency for more than 10 years.
Salkida, who had been in the United Arab Emirates on self-exile since 2013, recently returned to Nigeria after he, with two others were declared wanted by the Nigerian Army for having “links” with the Boko Haram and refusing to divulge certain information.
In an email to Daily Trust on Sunday yesterday, Salkida faulted the narratives of the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and President Muhammadu Buhari’s biographer, Professor John Paden, on why the rescue of the Chibok girls remains problematic.
Salkida said it was not true that the leadership of Boko Haram demanded 5 billion Euros (roughly N1.7 trillion) as ransom for the release of the abducted girls as stated by Paden in his book “Muhammadu Buhari: The challenge of leadership in Nigeria.
He said as the chief negotiator, he was at a loss as to why the information minister addressed a conference where he shifted the blame of the failed swap mission on the Boko Haram.
He said the government and the insurgents had their shortcomings in the rescue effort.
“I’m not sure I understand why our leaders choose to declassify important aspects of this negotiation when the girls are still in captivity, but I can categorically say that the claim of a demand of 5 billion Euros as published by President Buhari’s biographer is not the truth.
“While it is true that the captors of the Chibok girls have shifted the goal post several times when a swap deal was near, we must ask ourselves, what was responsible for the volatility that has denied the rest of the surviving Chibok girls and other captives’ freedom?
“How did I know this and write with such audacity? I was the only negotiator that was flown to Maiduguri with some detainees in an Air Force plane and I stayed in the Maimalari military barracks for over three weeks with the detainees, trying to reach a deal.
“From my professional experience with both parties namely government authorities and the insurgents, I can state that these abducted girls would long have returned home if political and security officials in government had shown better understanding of what is at play.
“Never, even from the days of former President Goodluck Jonathan to today’s dispensation has government accepted a window of say two, three weeks and abided by it. So, we are dealing with insurgents who do not recognize your bureaucratic heritage and continue to shut out the windows each time the indicated timelines elapsed, and also dealing with political and security authorities that never considered it expedient to do their housekeeping ahead of acceptance of negotiation windows that are tied to timelines.
“There is no point to delve into much detail at this point, but suffice it to state that both sides have their share of blame. My experience is that both the Buhari led government and the preceding Jonathan administration desired a negotiated end to this imbroglio but none ever showed any hunger in tracking the footprints and understanding the tendencies of the enemy.
“I was not only involved in one or two attempts to free the Chibok girls with the current government, but on three separate occasions and even as recently as May/June, 2016, few months before I was declared wanted for allegedly refusing to cooperate with the same government and for having “links to terrorism” by the Nigerian Army”, he said.
According to him, there is vested interest within government circle undermining the rescue efforts.