CHIBOK, Nigeria – Boko Haram’s call for the release of imprisoned Islamic terrorists in exchange for the return of some of the 223 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls is only a ploy to bide time to strategize, a U.S.-based expert on Nigerian relations told Baptist Press.
Boko Haram is more concerned with avoiding prosecution than the safety of their imprisoned members, believed to number hundreds, said Adeniyi Ojutiku, a Southern Baptist and co-founder of Lift Up Now, a Christian-based grassroots organization addressing political, economic and social challenges in his homeland Nigeria.
“The reason why they [Boko Haram] are probably just [now] wanting to negotiate … is because they have been cornered,” Ojutiku told Baptist Press. “… They just want to play for time, begin to work the system and … get feedback from the Nigerian government side so they know how to strategize.”
Boko Haram released a 17-minute video May 12 offering to release about 100 of the Christian girls, portrayed as Muslim converts, in exchange for the release of Boko Haram prisoners in Nigeria.
“It is now four or five years that you arrested our brethren and they are still in prison. You are doing many things [to them] and now you are talking about these girls,” Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau is translated as saying in the video released through French news agency AFP and reportedly deemed genuine by the U.S.
“These girls have become Muslims,” Shekau said. “We will never release them until after you release our brethren.” The girls are in Muslim dress, seated and praying Muslim prayers.
Ojutiku began tracking Boko Haram and Islamic jihadist killings in Nigeria in 2000. At the time, the terrorists were only loosely organized. Ojutiku joined other concerned groups in lobbying successfully for the U.S. State Department to declare Boko Haram a Foreign Terrorist Organization and a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, a designation made in November of 2013 and intended to greater empower the U.S. to weaken the group’s activities.
Boko Haram – whose name translates into English as “Western education is sinful” – started in 2003 as the “Nigerian Taliban,” but has resurged since 2009, killing thousands of mostly Christian Nigerians in hundreds of attacks across the country, according to the U.S. State Department.
“They have wiped out families. They have killed generations of people, even infants,” Ojutiku said. “They have maimed people for life. They have killed hundreds and thousands of people. And then to conceive that you would negotiate with such very, very despicable … people who commit such heinous crimes, it is unthinkable to me.
“These people must be prosecuted,” Ojutiku said. “There cannot be sustainable peace without justice.”
The U.S. is among a growing list of countries offering aid to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration in locating and freeing the girls who were kidnapped a month ago from the Government Girls State School in Chibok, a town believed to be almost entirely Christian.
Ojutiku has arranged for donations to be made to The Lift Up Now Fund #1395781, through the National Christian Foundation, based in Atlanta with several offices across the U.S.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.)