by Ahmad Salkida
Ahmad Salkida, a Nigerian investigative journalist and close ally of the Boko Haram sect, has recently shared what he called “a rare insight” into the Chibok Girls captivity story.
Four years ago, a middle ranking Boko Haram commander led dozens of fighters in search of food and other supplies into the remote town of Chibok. Like an afterthought, they saw a chance to abduct school girls in GSS Chibok; the girls at the time were preparing for their exams.
The dozens of Boko Haram fighters faced no opposition during the abduction, as they struggled to convey their captives to the forest of Alagarno, the insurgent’s first war capital, which they named Timbuktu.
It was in Timbuktu that they organised most of the horror we experience today.
Some of the girls were lucky to have escaped on their way to Timbuktu that night, because there were fewer fighters to hold more than 200 girls.
At the beginning, the group didn’t know what to do with the girls, at least, not in the first one month of their captivity.
However, what many people did not know was that two weeks into the abduction, the Jonathan administration was already in touch with me for the peaceful release of the girls.
By the way, at that time, I was in self-exile after pressure from the same government.
I took an excuse where I was doing a menial job in the UAE (but still reporting the insurgency), to see the president, which was facilitated by Aliyu Gebi and Labaran Maku.
By the 3rd of May, I was already on my way from Abuja to Madagali, Marwa and finally to a Boko Haram camp.
I got a proof of life for the president and another for the media in case I didn’t get back. The demands of Boko Haram then were simple — they wanted their detained members be taken to Damaturu and they’d move the girls to Buniyardi for swap somewhere in between.
There was no word on ransom.
I was provided with full military escorts from Abuja to Damaturu; government was supposed to make sure that 70 detainees were ready on my arrival in Damaturu to meet 30 there.
The rest of the negotiating team was in Abuja, making sure the prisoners were on a plane before my arrival.
On arrival in Damaturu, the military commander there was not briefed about my work. He was merely told to expect a VIP?
At that time, the girls have been moved by Boko Haram, but there were no prisoners for exchange and I got a call from the former CDS to abort the operation.
The president later said before me that he did not call off the swap. There was a credible window, but zero will to rescue the girls.
Boko Haram were angry. I returned to the UAE to continue my hustle, but received invitations not only by the former administration, but the current government.
Four out of five processes that I was involved in, we came close to a swap deal, but government in most instances did not provide the platform I presented with the required expertise.
And whenever government dragged its feet, Shekau will shift the goal post.
I continued my reporting on the crisis, often critical of the (Jonathan) government and Boko Haram, with both sides raising concerns.
For me, I am a reporter before anything else. Many officials consider me as somebody who was too independent minded for a process that needs to be shrouded in secrecy.
Government began to look for alternatives to conclude what I’ve started and my former couriers stepped in as the primary ‘negotiators.’
It was a break for me because it is no longer negotiations, but mere transaction. Another reason was my insistence that the process must be domesticated.
I was a prickle in the flesh of our leaders with my counter claims of official narratives. A day after I exclusively released a video of the girls, something I’ve done in the past, I was declared wanted by same military that provided me with escorts and military aircraft for assignments.
I was amazed to learn later that the terms that saw the release of some of the girls was unfavorable than what I presented, but as my friend would say, even if we come up with a cure for cancer, the war economy and elites would rather die than accept a cure from a talakawa (ordinary person).
Today, my painstaking investigations on the Chibok schoolgirls issue revealed that just a handful of the 113 Chibok girls are alive.
Many of the girls have died as a result of crossfires and bombardments of the security forces that no doubt were intent on rescuing them.
I regret to state here that only 15 out of the 113 Chibok girls are alive today, based on my investigations in the last three months. We have already seen some of them in a video, which I exclusively obtained and was published on SR website.
What then is the status of the remaining 15 girls as far as negotiations are concerned?
My investigations also revealed that, they are no longer under the control of Abubakar Shekau.
According to sources, they are now ‘married’ and only their ‘husbands’ can decide their fates.
If they are divorced or the men are killed that is when Shekau’s decision takes precedence, and in this instance, since the girls have been indoctrinated, their leader has no right to negotiate for their release, no matter the ransom offered, reliable multiple sources informed me.
It will be unbearable to share the names of the 15 girls that are alive here; this is the responsibility of the government.
When I was involved I regularly provided proof of life. Government must demand that to prove me wrong or stop negotiating for many of the girls that no longer exists.
The secrecy around the condition of the Chibok girls and the most recent Dapchi girls debacle by those involved is the reason people like me are out of the picture.
The fact remains that under the present circumstances there is NO room for a peaceful settlement.
The way out for these girls, is a military rescue or negotiation with individual captors to release their ‘wives’ in return for some kind of deal.
But this will mean death to these fighters because the terror group now sees the girls as part of their own and must be protected.
How come there is little or no information about the girls and both the parents and campaigners are in the dark, one may ask?
Because, government resists independent reporting of the crisis. Most of the reports are choreographed and Nigerians are also not ready to hear the truth or stand by it.
Reporting the Lake Chad crisis is not just a job for me; Borno is my home and this crisis has affected me too.
I’ve invested 13 years of my 18 years in journalism career to follow this story in a way no other reporter or researcher has done before, hence my knowledge of this crisis can’t be dismissed.
I’ve risked my life and that of my family in the past and even now, not only to tell the story, but to play the role of a mediator and fact finder.
But as soon as the Federal Government found alternatives, my sacrifices got an official ridicule and I am being hounded.
I hold no other intention of doing this than the need to stir a debate to demand more insights and bring closure to the parents.
The nation must not fail you in rescuing your daughters and also fail to tell you the truth at the same time!
Ahmad Salkida is a Nigerian investigative journalist and close ally to the dreaded Boko Haram sect.