Nigerians take part in a protest demanding for the release
of secondary school girls abducted from the remote village
of Chibok. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde
Nigeria's government signalled willingness to negotiate
with Islamist militants holding more than 200 schoolgirls, a
month after a mass kidnap that has provoked global outrage.
"The window of negotiation is still open," said Minister of
Special Duties Tanimu Turaki, head of an amnesty committee
set up by President Goodluck Jonathan last year and charged
with talking to the Boko Haram militants behind a
"The government had set up a committee to negotiate with Boko
Haram, so if they have any negotiation to make it should be
channelled through the committee," Turaki told Reuters by
Turaki declined to comment on possible talks over the
kidnapping itself. Senior officials say the government is
exploring options and there has been no commitment to
negotiations for the release of the girls.
Boko Haram has killed thousands of people since 2009 and
destabilised parts of northeast Nigeria, the country with
Africa's largest population and biggest economy.
The abductions have triggered a worldwide social media
campaign under the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, and
prompted the United States, Britain, France and Israel to
offer help or send experts to Nigeria. U.S. surveillance
aircraft were flying over remote areas of the northeast on
The amnesty committee's initial six-month mandate expired
without holding direct talks with the rebels, though it has
spoken to them through proxies, according to senior
government officials. It has since been replaced by a
standing committee empowered to conduct talks.
Turaki was speaking a day after Boko Haram leader Abubakar
Shekau posted a video offering to release the girls in
exchange for prisoners held by the government.
The video showed more than 110 girls sitting on the ground in
a rural location. Though at least some of them are Christian,
and Shekau described them as 'infidels', they were wearing
full Islamic veils and singing and chanting Muslim prayers.
It was not clear when it was filmed or whether Shekau, who
sat in front of a green backdrop holding an AK-47 during part
of the video, was in the same location as the girls.
Those shown were among 276 abducted on April 14 from a
secondary school in the northeastern village of Chibok, in a
sparsely populated region near the borders with Cameroon,
Niger and Chad. Some escaped, but about 200 are still
missing. The group initially threatened to sell them into
Jonathan asked parliament on Tuesday for a six-month
extension of a state of emergency in the northeastern states
of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe due to persistent attacks by Boko
The emergency was declared last May and extended in November.
After being accused of a sluggish response to the kidnapping,
the government has sent thousands of troops to the region,
while the United States and Britain also have teams on the
ground to help with the search.
The U.S. State Department said Washington had sent in
military, law-enforcement and development experts.
"We have shared commercial satellite imagery with the
Nigerians and are flying manned ISR (intelligence,
surveillance and reconnaissance) assets over Nigeria with the
government's permission," a U.S. official said.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said U.S. teams
on the ground "are digging in on the search and coordinating
closely with the Nigerian government as well as international
partners and allies".
Britain's minister for Africa Mark Simmonds would travel to
the Nigerian capital on Wednesday for talks on further
assistance, the Foreign Office in London said.
Monday's video marked the first time the girls have been seen
in captivity, though it remained unclear where they were
being held and in how many groups.
A mother of one of the girls watched the video on television
and spotted her daughter among the girls sitting on the
ground, said Dumoma Mpur, parent-teachers' association
chairman at Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok.
"The video got parents apprehensive again after watching it,
but the various steps taken by the governments and the coming
of the foreign troops is boosting our spirit," Mpur told
Mpur said he was yet to see a soldier involved in the hunt in
Chibok, though he said what looked like a surveillance jet
and two helicopters were visible over the area.
Officials showed the video to a handful of other parents and
a few of the escaped girls in Maiduguri on Tuesday but
afterwards they made no comment.
Jonathan returned to Abuja on Tuesday from the Congo
Republic, where he held talks with President Denis Sassou
before a regional security summit in Paris on Saturday to
discuss Boko Haram.