Nigeria’s failure to #BringBackOurGirls

Women attend a demonstration in Lagos calling on the government to rescue kidnapped school girls of a government secondary school in Chibok, Nigeria. (AP Photo/ Sunday Alamba, File)

Two years have passed since nearly 300 schoolgirls were abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Most are still missing, despite an international outcry, a president elected with a promise to defeat the Islamist extremists and the popularity of the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. In two years the world has largely forgotten the girls while their families are left with little information about the safety of their daughters.

A video recently released by Boko Haram shows 15 of the abducted girls. Believed to be filmed in December, each of the girls is asked questions, including their names. They are just a few of the girls still held by the group since its forces raided a school in the town of Chibok on April 14, 2014. It is hard to learn much about the girls from the short video. They appear relatively healthy, but as BBC editor, Mansur Liman suggests, it may not be the same case for the other 204 girls still being held.

The Nigerian government has made positive gains to weaken Boko Haram in recent months, but it has not led to the recovery of the girls.

“Nobody knows where they are,” said Garba Shehu, a spokesman for President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, to the New York Times. “I don’t know where they are. I don’t know. But we are hoping if they are found in one location, they should be rescued.”

But according to the former British high commissioner to Nigeria, the government did know where some girls were at one point. Andrew Pocock told the Sunday Times that intelligence information gathered by the U.S. and U.K. showed where as many as 80 of the girls were being held. For four weeks air surveillance showed the group of girls in a part of the Sambisa Forest. The information was passed along to the government shortly after the girls were abducted, but nothing was done.

Inaction is not a new tactic for the Nigerian government. In a less publicized abduction, some 400 women and children were kidnapped in the town of Damasak in December 2014. Just like the Chibok girls, the whereabouts of the people abducted from Damasak are unknown. Human Rights Watch called the government’s response “inadequate,” in a report last month.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari defeated incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan in March 2015 by campaigning on the government’s feckless response to the threat posed by Boko Haram and rampant corruption. His historic victory was hailed as a seminal moment for democracy in Nigeria. After taking office, Buhari joined a Saudi-led Islamic anti-terrorism coalition in December 2015. Yet, Boko Haram remains a major problem.

Nearly 1 million children in Northern Nigeria are out of school because of insecurity caused by Boko Haram and the forces trying to defeat the group. More than 910 schools have been destroyed by the group since 2009 and another 1,500 closed, says another recent Human Rights Watch report. And the problems are spilling over into neighboring countries like Cameroon, where refugees are fleeing the violence and Boko Haram is carrying out attacks.

A young girl and woman were stopped by villagers in the border town of Limani, Cameroon, in March. The two were carrying explosives with the intent of detonating them in Cameroon. Boko Haram has taken to using women and girls to carry out suicide attacks. Early reports said that the young girl identified herself as one of the girls abducted from Chibok two years ago, but she really was taken from Maiduguri roughly a year ago.

The incident is indicative of the scope of the problem. While the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls brought international attention to the brutal tactics of Boko Haram, the incident and the inability to rescue the girls is just example of a much larger problem faced by Nigeria. When the government cannot #bringbackourgirls, what hope is for the more than 2,000 people, mostly women and girls, abducted by Boko Haram?

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.