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Amid Negotiations With Boko Haram In Nigeria, Violence Continues

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It has been almost two weeks now since Nigeria's surprising announcement of a cease-fire with the extremist group Boko Haram, a deal that the military said would lead to the speedy release of more than 200 schoolgirls that the group abducted in April. But killing, kidnappings and bombings have continued, and skeptical Nigerians are waiting for the promised freedom of those missing girls. NPRs Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is on the line from Nigeria's main city Lagos. Ofeibea, good morning to you.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings.

GREENE: So are there still negotiations happening between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram to try and free these girls?

QUIST-ARCTON: This is what we're told. The Nigerian authorities say they are still meeting Boko Haram. The question is, which faction? Is it the faction that is holding these schoolgirls from Chibok, who were abducted way back in April? And when is this going to happen? They said it was an imminent release as soon as they got through the truce, but nothing so far.

GREENE: So the government could actually be negotiating with the wrong people? Is that what you're saying here?

QUIST-ARCTON: This is what many Nigerians are saying, and why? Because, David, Boko Haram - this group whose name means Western education is sinful - has not come out to say that it has any sort of deal with the authorities. There has been no word from Boko Haram, and as you said, there have been more kidnappings of women and girls. There have been more killings. The foreign minister - Nigeria's foreign minister said on Monday to journalists that Boko Haram has denied recent kidnappings, and he suggested it might be the work of dissidents wanting to break the cease-fire or rascals and miscreants, as Nigerians calls others. But it's totally unclear exactly what's going on. The fact that there has been no word from Boko Haram, who often come out with videos to say what they want to say, has Nigerians very doubtful indeed.

GREENE: Well, Nigerians are very doubtful, and I can't even imagine what the families of these girls are going through with sort of the feeling of anticipation and now this reality setting in that the government might not even be negotiating with the people who are holding their loved ones.

QUIST-ARCTON: Especially since girls who did manage to escape said that there were conversions to Islam - many of them are Christians - that there were forced marriages, rapes, forced labor, forced participation in attacks by the insurgents. And Abubakar Shekau himself, the putative head of Boko Haram, said in a video that they were going to be made into slaves and that they were going to be married off to fighters. So there is, you know, absolute devastation and grief among the families. And of course this huge campaign, bring back our girls, that went global, with even the first lady Michelle Obama joining it - people saying, we have got to get these girls back, the government has got to do more.

GREENE: How much patience is there among Nigerians, Ofeibea, with this government, as they say that they're trying to free these girls?

QUIST-ARCTON: There is a lot of frustration, and, David, we've got to put it into context. We've got elections coming up in just a few months, next year in Nigeria. Many Nigerians saying, was this a political ploy by President Goodluck Jonathan? Are there negotiations going on that are going to lead to the release of these missing girls and many others who have been abducted in the past year also? Many, many unanswered questions here.

GREENE: All right, we've been speaking with NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. She's in the Nigerian city of Lagos. Ofeibea, thanks very much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.