By Ange Ngu Thomas
One of any of the following four paid a handsome ransom of $3.15 million before Nigerian Islamist Militant Group Boko Haram released a French family of 7 kidnapped in Northern cameroon; the Nigerian, Cameroonian, French or French utility company GDF-Suez. Tanguy Moulin Fournier, head of the kidnapped family works for GDF- Suez.
A secret memo by the Nigerian government which Reuters conveniently saw claims Cameroonian and French negotiators paid ransom before the family that included four children was released.
The memo does not say who paid the money. The Nigerian government most probably did not, they will not be writing a secret memo about that. Paying such a large sum of money to violent Islamists militants the Nigerian government has been fighting is out of the question because it amounts to funding the activities of your rival to harm you.
France probably did not because officially, it does not pay ransom because this will endanger the lives of French people around the world. France has however paid ransom before and still does but officially, never accepts it does.
It is like the ambiguous position Israel maintains concerning nuclear weapons. It never accepts it has them, neither does it deny it does not!
French president Francoise Hollande and foreign minister Laurent Fabius claim they paid no ransom before the French family was released.
The French government, like all governments on earth, lies through its teeth but I somehow think they did not pay the ransom because they had a convenient fall guy to pay that to them.
Let me explain. GDF-Suez has enough money to pay the ransom but I don’t think they did this time. That leaves the Cameroon government. This might sound strange but the other name for the Cameroon government is Paul Biya.
He is the State. He represents Cameroon. That means he can do anything with Cameroonian money, without consulting anybody. Cameroon is a former French colony and Mr Biya owes his position to the French. If they no longer want him to be president, he will be gone tomorrow.
President Hollande recently showed his displeasure with the 30 year long (Mis)rule of Mr Biya when he forced him to call Senate elections so in case the 80 year old president Biya can no longer carry out his functions, the problem of succession will not be very critical.
The senate president takes over in case of death or incapacity of the president. The very suspicious Mr Biya has stubbornly failed to groom a successor.
Boko Haram steps in to give Mr Biya a chance
Mr Biya is an old fox who knows how to exploit any given situation. That is why he has managed to remain in power for 30 years.
He finished off his last remaining challenger opposition SDF chairman John Fru Ndi when his party defeated him in the senate elections.
Under pressure from the French to prepare a smooth transition and not exactly in the good books of President Hollande, Mr Biya saw the kidnap of the French nationals as a God-sent opportunity to please the French.
He not only agreed to pay the ransom money, but also freed some Boko Haram militants detained in Cameroon.
Nigerian and Cameroonian security forces could have mounted a rescue operation but this option was deliberately shelved after a similar attempt last year ended in the death of the hostages.
This Reuters report claims Boko Haram leader Abubaka Shekau actually wanted double the $3.15 million dollars that was paid and only agreed to half the amount when Cameroon freed some of its detained militants.
Following the April 19th release of the hostages, Cameroons’ Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma and Mr Biya have crowed about the role they played in their release.
They only stopped short of awarding themselves self-congratulatory messages. For the time being, Mr Biya is back in the good books of the French. That does not mean they still don’t want to see the back of him.
They will however, be less rigorous with him now and except he decides to step down voluntarily, might even allow him finish his present mandate that ends in 2018.
Mr Biya will be 85 then and it is generally accepted this is his last presidential term. The French might even allow him spend his last days in France because if he manages to finish his present mandate and remains in Cameroon, he might stand trial for crimes committed during his time in power.
Mr Biya therefore calculated paying the ransom was a good enough bargain and he did just that.
Boko Haram Strengthened
The crisis ended well for the family of the hostages but exposes one thing, the strength of Boko Haram. Three different governments including a super power were unable to take on a rag tag group of faceless militants.
Boko Haram now also has more fire power because they will use most of the money to buy more arms, bombs and grenades and kill more Nigerians. The Nigerian government has somehow, failed to curtail the extremely violent actions of its backyard nemesis.
Watching as a foreign government gives more firepower to that nemesis is a diplomatic outrage and probably the reason it conveniently released its confidential memo to Reuters.
The Nigerian government would have preferred to attempt to rescue the hostages but the French warned against a repeat of a similar rescue attempt last year during which two hostages were killed. Nigerian security forces have a bad track record in rescue operations.
With a GDP of only $25.5 Billion compared to the French equivalent of $2773 billion, it is a shame the French are allowing their poor former colony to pay its’ bills but this is no secret to anyone. France is almost entirely built on the sweat of its’ former colonies in Africa.
Apart from the Moulin family, Boko Haram are the main winners in this hostage saga.