UK & World News

  • 12 May 2014, 18:40

Kidnap Video Opens Door To Boko Haram Talks

The children chant in unison. They chant Arabic verses to drive home their "conversion" to Islam.

One of the 130 girls, aged 12 to 15, is singled out to speak directly into the camera. She does so with fear leaping from her eyes.

In the sordid agony of the kidnapping of 276 Nigerian school girls from their dormitory a month ago, this is the first glimmer of hope.

Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar Shekau, appears in the same video, this one shot more professionally and uploaded to a higher resolution than the one that drove the story into the headlines ten days ago. He is still enjoying the limelight.

He claims to have split his victims into six groups. Some he says are in or near Abuja, Lagos and Enugu.

That claim is most likely to be entirely false. It would be near impossible to hold kidnap victims in the Christian dominated oil-rich and crowded south of Nigeria.

Nonetheless, he has offered to exchange the girls for members of his militant group and other relatives held by the Nigerian authorities.

The federal government in Abuja has ruled out paying a ransom.

But it has always maintained, and tried to improve, communications with the increasingly violent Islamist insurgents who have forced the creation of a state of emergency in the northeast of Nigeria's Borno, Lobe and Adamawa states.

For about a year a presidential commission has been charged with trying to reach a peace deal with Boko Haram.

Shekau, who has taken his movement from peace to one that has caused the deaths of 4,000 people over the last four years, has refused all overtures of negotiation.

But with this latest video release he has opened that door.

This is good news for the abducted girls and their families.

It is also good news for Goodluck Jonathan, the Nigerian president.

It gives him the chance to get intermediaries to talk directly to Shekau.

The bloodthirsty guerrilla leader has slaughtered children in their beds and tried to foment a religious war across northern Nigeria so there will be little chance that he can be personally rehabilitated.

That does not mean, though, that many of his henchmen cannot be peeled away from Boko Haram with the opportunity of amnesty and perhaps even offers of the hard cash that has always lubricated Nigeria's political wheels.