Do videos released by Boko Haram spell the end for hopes of broader negotiations between the jihadi group and the government?
Two Boko Haram videos released less than a week after a deal to free more than 80 schoolgirls abducted by the group cast doubt on hopes for broader dialogue. They also give an insight into the ISIS affiliate's extremist ideology.
In the first, Chibok girls still in Boko Haram custody explain why they chose to remain with the jihadis.
The three-and-a-half minute video shows four girls in black veils covering their face and bodies. One girl, clutching an AK47 rifle, responds to questions put to her by a male voice, apparently that of a Boko Haram commander. The girl gives her name and says, in Hausa, that she is one of the 276 girls abducted from Chibok.
When asked why the girls refused to return to their parents, she replies, "Because they are in the town of infidels. We want them to accept Islam and join us to practice the religion and rest in the hereafter."
She also responds to the allegation that the abductees were forced to marry members of Boko Haram. "It is not true. She who wants, among us, gets married. (Only) if they love and consent." She then reiterates a call to her parents to accept Islam and calls on Nigerians to denounce every book that is not from God, and to hold onto the Kitab (book in Arabic, a reference to the Quran) and Sunnah (the sayings of the Prophet Mohammad), warning, "The religion of God will prosper whether you like it or not. If you refuse, you should die in frustration." Speaking her local dialect of Chibok in the second half of the video, the girl calls on Christians to denounce their faith for Islam, and warns that Jesus would disown them on the day of judgement.
Last October, the chairman of the Chibok Development Association, Pogu Bitrus, told reporters that more 100 of the abducted girls seemed unwilling to leave their captors. The clip seems to support that claim.
The girl's name, as given in the video, suggests her parents were Christian, a sign Boko Haram has managed to convert and indoctrinate at least some of the girls in their custody.
The second video shows five of the group's commanders, apparently the ones swapped for the girls under the release deal, addressing their target audience on a variety of issues, including the possibility of dialogue – or lack of it.
This five-minute video shows the commanders in military fatigues clutching AK47s and sitting on open ground. Their spokesman, who gives his name as Abud Darda (aka Money), says he is among those swapped for the girls. He adds that he was arrested in Gombe, north-eastern Nigeria, after detonating explosives that killed many people. He was referring to multiple bombings in two motor packs in Gombe in October 2014, in which about 30 people lost their lives and 67 others were wounded.
The commander goes on to dispute government claims that the insurgents have been dislodged from Sambisa Forest saying, "I am now back in Sambisa in the midst of my brothers in faith. You have been lying that you have finished Sambisa ... We go everywhere in Sambisa ... Sambisa is an Islamic caliphate." He threatens renewed attacks, particularly in Nigeria's capital Abuja, while closing the doors for any possible dialogue. "You disbelievers of the world! Know that we have nothing to do with reconciliation (dialogue). You should just repent and worship God," he says.
He also calls on Boko Haram members in detention to persevere and on Nigerians either to accept the group's interpretation of Islam or face more explosions. Further, he reiterates Boko Haram's position on conventional education, democracy, and living under a secular government.
This video clearly shows Boko Haram is committed to its jihadi ideology, and that the recent deal to release Chibok schoolgirls does not point to a softening of its stance. The group needed some cash and more commanders to continue its campaign of terror and violence. This, it seems, is what took Boko Haram to the negotiating table.
In its statement released the day the videos were uploaded to YouTube, the Nigerian Army confirmed that the commander in the video was one of the "beneficiaries" of the swap deal.
However, it dismissed the videos as mere attention-grabbing "propaganda." The military said the group has lost touch with "current realities" and called on the public to ignore it. Dismissing a threat from a terrorist organisation that has in the past made good on threats is at best, ill-advised, and at worst, dangerous.