By Sola Ogundipe, with Agency Report
The Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, has said negotiations are ongoing for the release of more Chibok schoolgirls still in the custody of Boko Haram terrorists, expressing optimism that the dialogue would yield the desired result.
Vice President Osinbajo made this known, Tuesday evening, at an interaction with journalists and activists at the state house in Abuja.
“There is a lot of negotiation going on,” adding that government had “gone quite far” with negotiations to free more girls, but did not provide details of the negotiations for apparent security reasons.
This came as the United Nations Childrens’ Fund, UNICEF, reported that Boko Haram insurgents have used a total of 117 children, mainly girls, to carry out suicide bomb attacks in public places across Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon since 2014.
It called for stoppage of recruitment and use of children in armed conflict as ‘suicide bombers.’
During the meeting with newsmen, Vice President Osinbajo hinted that one of the challenges of freeing the girls was the existence of two factions in Boko Haram, with each faction holding on to some of the girls.
One of the factions is led by Abubakar Shekau, the erstwhile leader of the group, while a breakaway faction is led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi, believed to be a son of the late founder of the group, Mohammed Yusuf.
Osinbajo, however, said the Buhari administration was very committed to the release of the remaining Chibok girls and other captives held by the terrorists.
“It is a matter of conscience that concerns everyone,” he added.
It will be recalled that Boko Haram seized 276 pupils from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok on the night of April 14, 2014.
About 57 of the girls managed to escape in the immediate aftermath of the abduction, while negotiations between the Federal Government and Boko Haram led to the release of 21 of the schoolgirls.
Another three were freed by soldiers, while dozens others escaped on their own.
A UNICEF report entitled Silent Shame: Bringing out the voices of children caught in the Lake Chad crisis, said the increase reflects an alarming tactic by the insurgents.
It said: “So far, 117 children have been used to carry out bomb attacks in public places across Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon since 2014: four in 2014, 56 in 2015, 30 in 2016 and 27 in the first three months of 2017.
“Girls have been used in the vast majority of these attacks. The number of children used in ‘suicide’ attacks in the Lake Chad conflict has surged to 27 in the first quarter of 2017, compared to nine over the same period last year.”
According to UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier, “in the first three months of this year, the number of children used in bomb attacks is nearly the same as the whole of last year— this is the worst possible use of children in conflicts.
“These children are victims, not perpetrators. Forcing or deceiving them into committing such horrific acts is reprehensible.”