If you are given a choice between believing your government via its mouthpiece, Lai Mohammed, and the United Nations, where would you stick your neck? Okay, your choice wouldn’t be surprising if you are not a rabid supporter of this government.
Many people would also believe the United Nations even if it is likely that Lai Mohammed, as an insider, knows more about the workings of the government than any foreign organization.
But this is the choice that Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information, is putting before a Nigerians. That we should take his word that Nigeria did not pay a dime for the release of the Dapchi girls.
This whole thing started when it was reported that, according to the United Nations, Nigeria paid a heavy ransom to secure the release of the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram.
Back in February, some members of the Boko Haram group had invaded the town of Dapchi in Yobe State and kidnapped 110 female students of Government Girls Science and Technical College.
The government was thoroughly embarrassed.
Before this incident, the government had gone to town with the news that Boko Haram had been defeated. This kidnap put a lie to that narrative and reminded people of a similar incident when 276 girls were kidnapped in Chibok town by the same terrorists.
It seemed nothing had changed.
The government swung into action. They were able to secure the girl’s freedom in about six weeks after intense but secret negotiations with the group.
However, five of the girls had died and one, Leah Sharibu, is still being held prisoner on account of her Christian faith.
For the government, though the absence of Leah was a black spot, getting the terrorists to release all the girls was a fat PR cow which they milked happily.
Forget that many people thought the whole affair was a setup by the government to score cheap political points.
At the time, the government never stopped hammering it that it did not pay any money to the terrorist group. You would have to suspend incredulity or be really naive to believe that.
Why would Boko Haram, whose main source of income is kidnapping for ransom, reject what amounts to a huge chunk of cash? Have they suddenly grown a conscience?
Come on! Boko Haram stormed Dapchi for the sole purpose of kidnapping those girls. They needed the money badly because the armed forces had been making life unbearable for them.
Reports at the time said local residents were forced to show them the way to the school. They were there on a mission to make money. And the easiest way was to kidnap a bunch of girls.
They knew the current government would do anything to avoid a repeat of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign that exposed the gross incompetence of the previous regime.
And ‘anything’ meant shelling out a lot of money to get the girls back.
The back and forth between Lai Mohammed and the United Nations is simply quibbling about water under the bridge.
Governments all over the world take the public stance of never paying ransoms to terrorists/kidnappers to free hostages. That is done not to encourage others to go on a kidnapping spree.
Secretly though, ransoms are regularly paid after lots of bargaining. Most times, the kidnappers are in a position of strength. They have the governments over a barrel and can pretty much ask for anything.
Sometimes, instead of money, the terrorists opt for a swap to have some of their captured or jailed colleagues freed. It happens all the time.
No matter how many times Lai Muhammed shouts about it, those who know won’t change their minds. Money exchanged hands.
Keen watchers of the situation in the North East of Nigeria had made the link between the release of Dapchi girls and the resurgent of violence in the area.
The feeling is that Boko Haram used the cash to get in more weapons which enable them to escalate the violence which at a point was only restricted to soft targets using suicide bombers.
Lai Mohammed should embrace the wisdom of keeping quiet sometimes. There is so much on his plate at the moment he should learn to pick his battles wisely.
Whatever amount of money was used to secure the release of the girls is the least important issue at the moment. The friends and families of the girls don’t care. Their girls are back home. That is what matters in the final analysis.