President Muhammadu Buhari last night acknowledged that he had no new intelligence on about 200 schoolgirls kidnapped almost two years ago, and that his government would negotiate with any “credible” Boko Haram leadership for their release.
A total of 276 girls were taken from their school in the northeastern town of Chibok in April 2014 by Boko Haram fighters, in a case that made global headlines.
Several dozen girls managed to escape soon afterwards, but nothing has been seen or heard from about 200 of them since a video released in May 2014.
“We are prepared to negotiate with them (Boko Haram’s leadership) without precondition,” Mr Buhari said in his inaugural media chat broadcast on radio and television.
“We wanted to make contact but we insist on identifying the bonafide so-called Boko Haram leadership,” he said.
The president said he had no firm intelligence on where the girls were or the state of their health, adding: “That is the honest truth.”
Before any negotiations could begin “we are looking for a credible Boko Haram leadership that will confirm that the girls are alive”, Mr Buhari added.
“We want to be sure that they (the girls) are complete, safe” before holding any talks, he added.
More than 17,000 people have been killed in Boko Haram’s six-year quest to create an independent Islamic state in Nigeria.
Last week Mr Buhari said the Islamist group had been “technically” defeated, but a 48-wave of Boko Haram attacks in northeastern Nigeria that killed more than 50 people since then has undermined his claim.
During two-hour chat with journalists on Wednesday, he hinted that he could ban the wearing of hijabs or other head wear by Muslim women if insurgents continue to use veiled women to carry out suicide attacks.
“Hijab will have to be banned if this continues,” said Mr Buhari, himself a Muslim.
Mr Buhari also said that his government was doing “quite well” in its fight against corruption, one of the cornerstones of his administration.
The former dictator, who took office in May, said his government had found documents “showing where public funds were diverted into personal pockets” and other forms of corruption.
He vowed that nobody, including his cabinet ministers, would be spared in his anticorruption crusade.
Mr Buhari also sought to justify his detention of former national security adviser, Sambo Dasuki, and the founder of outlawed pirate “Radio Biafra”, Nnamdi Kanu, despite recent court orders granting them bail.
He argued that the charges against both men were too weighty to allow them to enjoy bail or travel out of the country.